Eight months ago, it seemed that everyone watching college basketball knew Stony Brook. The Seawolves ranked No. 1 in many hearts, having finally made the climb all the way to the NCAA Tournament, appearing in studio on the national CBS pregame show and playing a marquee matchup with Kentucky.
Consider it all a lesson in how vastly and quickly things change. Stony Brook recently was ranked seventh of nine teams in the preseason America East poll and rated 214th in the country by an online survey. Of course, that was guesswork, at best. Junior frontcourt player Tyrell Sturdivant said, “We’re not mad about the rankings or anything like that. They haven’t seen us play.”
That is the first word and bottom line heading into coach Jeff Boals’ initial season: Nobody really knows what this Stony Brook team is or will be. “And that,” Boals said, “is the exciting part.”
An era is beginning at Stony Brook without Steve Pikiell, the coach who built the program up from bare bones and parlayed the NCAA appearance into the head job at Rutgers two days later. It also starts without center Jameel Warney, the team’s all-time best player, and his fellow alumni Carson Puriefoy and Rayshaun McGrew. On top of that, the Seawolves lost their presumptive top returnee when Ahmad Walker was indefinitely suspended after his arrest for a dorm incident. No one has seen much of the remaining roster.
About all the defending America East champion can say for sure, along with acknowledging that it has no one whose scoring average was in double digits last season, is that the style will be drastically different. Stony Brook will look to run, shoot three-pointers and run some more.
“I also think we’re going to be pesky defensively, trying to get teams out of what they want to run,” said UC Iroegbu, a junior college transfer guard from South Idaho. “It’s something new and fresh, so at least fans will come and see what we’re going to be like. I think we’re definitely going to give them a show and give them somebody they’ll want to root for.”
One positive about being at Square One: Iroegbu and fellow transfer Junior Saintel (Chipola College in Florida) have had a smooth transition because the whole system is new for everyone.
That starts with Boals, who was an assistant for seven years at Ohio State, where he helped coach a Final Four team and worked with NBA-bound stars such as Evan Turner (who used some of his free-agent money from the Trail Blazers to make a big donation to Stony Brook this summer).
“Two things that are non-negotiable are attitude and effort,” the new coach said. On that score, he is pleased with Bryan Sekunda, a guard who missed the Kentucky game in Des Moines with a torn ACL. Sekunda completed grueling rehab and was cleared to return on Oct. 1. “You just have to accept it,” the junior said about having missed the thrill of a lifetime. “As bad as it is, sometimes you just have to have patience and come back even stronger.”
Boals also is impressed with Sturdivant, who has been a fixture in the weight room, dropping from 252 pounds to 225. “My goal was to get down to 230. Coach challenged me, and I can’t back down from a challenge,” Sturdivant said.
He had the biggest challenge last season, going up against Warney in practice every day. “He’s one of my biggest supporters. He has been since I came here,” Sturdivant said, adding that the two still are in contact daily. They have a lot to reminisce about, going back eight months.
“I can’t believe half of that stuff happened,” the current pivotman said. “CBS Sports, going out to Iowa, being on national TV, a packed house. I look forward to doing that two more times.”
Three to watch
BRYAN SEKUNDA Jr. G/F
Who knows if Stony Brook might have been a bit more competitive against Kentucky if Sekunda had not been out with a torn ACL? Just having another shooter on the floor might have helped. In any case, a third-generation Division I player (his dad, Glenn, also played 10 years of pro ball in Europe) brings range and touch that the Seawolves desperately need.
TYRELL STURDIVANT Jr. F
The understudy last year to Jameel Warney, the cornerstone of the school’s first NCAA Tournament team, Sturdivant said he learned just by watching and competing in practice. He particularly noticed Warney’s passing ability from the post and added, “Actually, one of my goals is to lead the team in assists this year.”
LUCAS WOODHOUSE Sr. G
A starter in 16 games last season and the team leader in three-point percentage (.449), the former Newsday Long Island Player of the Year and state Class A tournament Most Valuable Player at Harborfields will have the opportunity to really shine as a veteran leader in the new perimeter-focused offense.
Stony Brook men’s schedule
Nov. 11 Columbia 7 p.m.
Nov. 20 at Boston College 1 p.m.
Nov. 22 at Maryland 7 p.m.
Nov. 25 at Towson 5 p.m.
Nov. 26 xs. Hampton or Robert Morris (at Towson) TBA
Nov. 30 Loyola-Maryland 7 p.m.
Dec. 3 Northeastern 6 p.m.
Dec. 6 Lehigh 7 p.m.
Dec. 10 Rutgers 7 p.m.
Dec. 13 at Hofstra 7 p.m.
Dec. 17 at St. Francis Pa. 1 p.m.
Dec. 28 NJIT 7 p.m.
Dec. 31 at Brown 2 p.m.
Jan. 5 at New Hampshire TBA
Jan. 8 Albany 2 p.m.
Jan. 14 at Maine TBA
Jan. 16 at UMass-Lowell 2 p.m.
Jan. 19 Hartford 7 p.m.
Jan. 22 at Binghamton 2 p.m.
Jan. 25 UMBC 7 p.m.
Jan. 28 Vermont 7 p.m.
Feb. 1 New Hampshire 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 at Albany TBA
Feb. 6 UMass-Lowell 7 p.m.
Feb. 12 Maine 2 p.m.
Feb. 15 at Hartford 7 p.m.
Feb. 18 Binghamton 7 p.m.
Feb. 22 at UMBC 7 p.m.
Feb. 25 at Vermont 2 p.m.