DES MOINES, Ia. — The NCAA and CBS know a great opening act for March Madness when they see it, so, when Stony Brook finally made the tournament for the first time, they seized on the Seawolves’ story and the hype began.
On Sunday, CBS chartered a bus to deliver the entire team to their Manhattan studios for a pregame show and then carted them back to campus to track their reaction on the Selection Show when the pairing against Kentucky in an East regional game tonight was announced.
“Just to meet people that you see on TV all the time, getting star struck, this is the moment of a lifetime,” Stony Brook forward Jameel Warney said Wednesday.
The Seawolves’ first full day in Iowa began with an early-morning meeting with the CBS broadcasting crew of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson and former Duke and NBA great Grant Hill. That was big for senior forward Rayshaun McGrew who said he grew up a Duke fan and was hoping to play the Blue Devils in the first round.
“I got to meet Grant Hill today, and to see how down to earth he is was an amazing feeling,” McGrew said. “That was my best moment.”
Warney, who is considered undersized for a power forward at 6-8, had another reaction to Hill. “He was a wing man, and he’s taller than me,” Warney said with a smile. “So lack of confidence there on my part.”
For the past four days, it’s been a media whirlwind for the Seawolves, and Stony Brook sports information director Brian Miller said no one, including coach Steve Pikiell, has turned down a request. “Oh, yeah, we do everything,” Miller said. “We don’t say no. This is huge for the entire university, and being close to New York City makes it better.”
Athletic director Shawn Heilbron said the experience has been little short of a “magical” joy ride for a team that worked for years to arrive at this cherished destination. “I’d describe the mood of our team as extremely loose but mindful of the fact we’ve got a basketball game to play and a game to win,” Heilbron said. “We all packed for an entire weekend in Des Moines.”
That’s the hope, anyway. The Seawolves understand the magnitude of the task they face against such a traditional powerhouse. Kentucky’s players understand, too, that they get everybody’s best shot even from a relative flea like Stony Brook.
“I never heard of them before the tournament,” freshman center Skal Labissiere said, “ but apparently, they are pretty good and we’re going to have to respect them.”
Asked if he had watched game tape of Stony Brook’s overtime loss to fellow SEC member Vanderbilt, forward Derek Willis sounded perplexed. “Stony Brook played Vanderbilt?” he said. “I didn’t see none of that.”
But all of Kentucky’s big men have seen recent tape on Warney including his 43-point championship game against Vermont, and came away impressed. As forward Marcus Lee said of Warney, “He does a lot of things that have an ‘old school’ feeling. He doesn’t have that flair that everybody else has, which is good. He gets things done, and that’s it. Period. That’s what makes him really good.”
The buildup has been fun, but most expect the Seawolves’ magic carpet ride to end quickly. Warney said it’s “perfectly fine” if people want to believe that, but they remain confident.
“We’re giving us a chance,” Puriefoy said.
McGrew said it helps that they know the Wildcats from seeing them on every sports channel. “We kind of know what those guys are about,” McGrew said. “Us being a low program, we’re under the radar. So, I feel like we’ve got the first step on them right now.”