Jeff Boals’ Welcome to New York/Welcome to Head Coaching moment arrived immediately. Having been hired as basketball coach by Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron last spring, Boals received so many calls that his cell phone “blew up.” The problem was, he was trying to use an app on the phone to get him back to LaGuardia Airport.
He took a wrong turn and nearly missed his flight back home to Ohio.
Boals, the former Ohio State assistant, knows that he is headed into unmapped territory, succeeding Steve Pikiell (now the coach at Rutgers) without Jameel Warney, Carson Puriefoy, Rayshaun McGrew and others on the first Stony Brook squad ever to make the NCAA Tournament. Still, he is certain he has not taken a wrong turn.
“That’s the exciting part about it. Coming off last year’s historic run, you lose three great players, including arguably the best ever to play in America East [Warney], the biggest thing is it’s an opportunity for these guys,” Boals said Wednesday at New York College Basketball Media Day at Hofstra. “We don’t have a double-digit returning scorer. The interesting thing is, who’s going to step up?”
Until recently, the Seawolves did have a returning 10.2 points per game man in Ahmad Walker. But he is indefinitely suspended, the coach said, after his arrest on campus last month for second-degree harassment and resisting arrest after an incident in a dorm. His absence adds an extra layer of uncertainty atop a high pile of question marks.
“I think that’s life, dealing with the ups and downs and adversity. The thing is, it’s a privilege to play basketball and be at Stony Brook University, not a right,” Boals said. “There are certain standards that we’re going to have in our basketball program. I think it’s a teaching moment and learning experience for everyone.”
On the court, Stony Brook is learning a new culture and style. “I think it’s a faster pace, instead of jamming it into Jameel,” said Lucas Woodhouse, who started 16 games last year as did fellow returnee Bryan Sekunda. “It was so easy to score off that last year because he was such a dominant player.”
Woodhouse, the former Harborfields star, knows the value of being adaptable. Having been through a coaching change at Longwood University before transferring, he is playing for his fourth coach in four seasons. “I would say we just have to listen to our coaches. They have a plan and they want to win as badly as we do, obviously,” Woodhouse said. “I have a great relationship with Coach Boals. He’s a personable guy, very easy to get along with and learn from.”
Boals said this new era will require a different mind-set for reserves-turned-starters, adding, “We’re still finding our way in that sense. But their attitude every single day has been great.”