You might have a hard time convincing Stony Brook fans — and critics — that it matters not whether the Seawolves win or lose to Vermont in Saturday’s America East championship game, that the important thing is how they play the game. To some, Stony Brook’s 0-4 record in title games is the only thing that matters.
Rayshaun McGrew has a different view. Together with his teammates, the senior forward suffered the heartbreak of losing the past two conference title games to Albany with a chance to earn Stony Brook’s first NCAA bid. It was especially tough last March when Albany’s Peter Hooley made a three-pointer with 1.6 seconds left in a 51-50 SBU loss.
As it turned out, life had a far worse loss in store for McGrew, who missed the Seawolves’ opener on Nov. 14 to spend time in Chicago with his mother, Ineater, whose battle with cancer had taken a turn for the worse. That day was her 46th birthday.
McGrew rejoined Stony Brook a few days later, but on Dec. 5, barely an hour before the Seawolves played Princeton, he received a call from his sister with news of his mother’s death. He insisted on playing and told coach Steve Pikiell not to tell the team until after the game. McGrew then scored 18 points to lead a Stony Brook victory.
Fellow seniors Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy III called McGrew after the funeral in Chicago and told him to take as much time as he needed to mourn, but he returned immediately without missing a game. “It was kind of hard to talk to them because I was in an emotional state at the time,” McGrew said. “I knew she would have wanted me to come back and not sit around in sorrow so much. She wanted me to stay strong because she was a strong woman.
“Every game, when I go out there, I just close my eyes and think of her saying, ‘Go play your hardest. Go do what you love to do.’ The words she told me just float through my head.”
Warney described McGrew as the team’s true “heart and soul” this season. He has averaged 10.9 points and 6.1 rebounds and earned America East all-defensive team honors.
“I feel a lot of things I did this season started with her,” McGrew said. “Before the tragic thing happened with her passing away, I was able to spend time with her. She was telling me, ‘Life is short, so do what you love to do.’
“I came back, and I was with guys I love to play with. They told me, ‘Let’s go out and compete like it’s our last,’ which it is for me, Tre [Puriefoy] and Jameel. So I just want to enjoy every moment of it whether I win or lose. And I know she’s looking down, and she’s proud of me and everything that I’ve done.”
Of course, the loss of his mother still hurts. McGrew got a call from Albany’s Hooley, who went home to Australia in the middle of last season to be with his mother when she died of cancer. Hooley offered his advice on what feelings to expect and how to deal with them, and McGrew has reached a calm acceptance.
“She fought the cancer for a long time,” McGrew said. “I guess God needed her more than I did.”
It would be maudlin to hope McGrew can experience the same sort of cathartic game-winning moment as Hooley. In the end, McGrew understands Stony Brook vs. Vermont is just a game, and there’s value enough in that.
“It’s a blessing,” McGrew said. “I enjoy every moment of it. I just love competing. It’s fun.”
Win or lose.