Stony Brook guard Andrew Garcia drives the ball past Hartford...

Stony Brook guard Andrew Garcia drives the ball past Hartford guard Malik Ellison in the second half of an America East men's basketball semifinal at Island Federal Arena on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Four Stony Brook men’s basketball players — including the top three returning scorers — have put their names into the NCAA transfer portal in the past few days. Those departures were from a team that finished second in the America East Conference, would be returning every key player and is adding several quality transfers.  These new changes take Geno Ford’s Seawolves from a championship favorite into a major question mark.

The Stony Brook players now in the portal are 6-5 junior Elijah Olaniyi, an all-conference first-teamer who averaged 18.0 points and 6.5 rebounds; senior guard Makale Foreman, a Chattanooga transfer who averaged 15.6 points; 6-5 senior Andrew Garcia, an all-conference second-teamer who averaged 13.4 points and a team-best 6.7 rebounds, and 6-8 junior Anthony Ochefu.

Foreman, who announced his move in a Tuesday Twitter post, and Garcia are grad transfers who will be eligible to play immediately.

If all of them leave, it would bring the total of transfers off a 20-13 Seawolves team to six. Sophomore guard Miles Latimer already was transferring to Bucknell and 6-11 Jeff Otchere to Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

The exodus doesn’t come after a coaching change, a clash of personalities on the roster or a dispute with Ford. Olaniyi, Foreman and Garcia all seem intent on playing college basketball at the highest level. But Garcia’s initial decision may have set the others in motion this past week.

“I have always wanted to play at the highest level and I showed myself this past season I am capable of it,” Garcia said. “I have one year left and I want the challenge.

“What I worry about is that I messed up something great we built here together,” he added. “If I hadn’t decided first, I think we might have kept this together.”

“Maybe we would have held together,” Olaniyi said of Garcia’s statement. “But ‘Drew’ wanted to better himself, and no one can blame anyone for wanting to do that. After that, everyone had to make the best decision for himself, and that’s how it [happened].”

Olaniyi said his goal is to show he can play first-tier college basketball and maybe get to the NBA.

“We’re talking about a group of great players and good people who really performed for us,” Ford said. “There was a desire in each to play at the Power Five level, and once one decided to go, they all felt this was the opportunity . . . I don’t think it helped that we weren’t together and on campus because of [the coronavirus].

“Am I disappointed? Sure. But we are already bringing in some high-impact guys. We have a bunch of quality players joining this team, and [in 2018-19], Stony Brook had seven newcomers and won 24 games.”

The six departing players' scoring averages totaled 59.1 points on a team that averaged 61.9 points.

Before this transfer situation, the Seawolves looked quite formidable. They could have returned every key player and added Dayton transfer Frankie Policelli, who sat out last season; Akron transfer Jaden Sayles, Mount St. Mary’s (Md.) transfer Omar Habwe and Monroe (Junior) College transfer Juan Felix Rodriguez.

“I honestly looked at what we had and didn’t see anyone beating us,” Garcia said. “We’d be picked first. We were challenging ourselves with games against West Virginia, Kansas and Florida. We were playing a game at the Garden. But I always thought I would play basketball at the highest level and here is my chance and I wasn’t being true to myself if I didn’t try.

“I know what this could look like and it couldn’t be further from the truth,” Garcia added. “Coach Ford has been tremendous. It came down to a personal decision. It was a personal decision for all of us.”

“After talking to my family I have decided that I will be grad transferring for my last year,” Foreman said in his Twitter dispatch. “This was a personal decision that I felt like was the best for me. Please respect my decision. I will always have love for Coach Ford and his staff. Thank you Stony.”

Said Ford: “If these players were leaving and had a miserable feeling about our program, I would feel badly. But none of them expressed disappointment. Each wanted to prove themselves, and who would discourage that?”

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