With sirens blaring from their university police car escort, Stony Brook’s basketball players climbed aboard a coach bus to Long Island MacArthur Airport on Tuesday afternoon for a charter flight to Des Moines, Iowa, and a place they’ve never been before: the NCAA Tournament.
Stony Brook landed in Des Moines shortly before 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. Before the team departed, it was another day of meet the press as cameras and microphones abounded. On Thursday night, the Seawolves will face the nation against Kentucky on CBS.
The players greeted scores of well-wishers who waited outside Island Federal Credit Union Arena on a damp day. The fans screamed when the players appeared and walked down a red carpet leading to the bus. Camera phones were aimed at the Seawolves, who soaked in the adulation and pointed their cameras back at the fans, some of whom were holding placards reading “Let’s Dance.”
Jameel Warney didn’t speak like a player who expects his team to be Kentucky fried. “We’re going to give our hardest, the best effort that we have,” the 6-8 power forward said. “We’re coming with a great game plan and hopefully we can win and shock the world . . . No moral victories for us.”
There still are some “shock the world” T-shirts around from the Stony Brook baseball team’s 2012 visit to the College World Series.
Coach Steve Pikiell said, “We’re looking forward to showing the world that we’re a pretty good basketball program. They got a Hall of Fame coach [John Calipari], they got first-round draft picks, they don’t lose many games. Kentucky Nation always travels well. You’re going to see Seawolves Nation, too.”
The game against Kentucky could have implications for Warney and Pikiell. For Warney, it could be a chance to enhance his NBA credentials. After scoring 43 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking four shots to lead the Seawolves over Vermont in the America East Conference championship game on Saturday, Warney laughed at the suggestion that he could have an agent by Thursday night.
For Pikiell, it could mean opportunities to coach at a higher level, not that he has indicated a desire to leave Stony Brook. “Steve Pikiell is one of the greatest coaches in the country and one of the greatest people,” athletic director Shawn Heilbron said. “For his phone not to ring would be a shock. When you have the type of success he’s had and the consistency that he’s had, that comes with it.”
On the financial side, Stony Brook will receive an unspecified amount of revenue just by playing in the tournament. Heilbron said the money is shared by the conference. “I don’t know the exact numbers,” he said. “I know right now the numbers we’re looking at quite honestly are the 26 wins it took us to get here. And the fact that it’s the the first time in our history to go.”