Stony Brook works toward NCAA appearance after DII transition

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source: AP
AP

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Stony Brook has slowly built its men’s basketball program into a respectable annual postseason contender.

They just haven’t made the NCAA Tournament and drawn a lot of national attention.

But the vision is there for a successful long-term Division I basketball program.

If you look at the profile of head coach Steve Pikiell’s program during his 10 seasons as coach, and the history of Stony Brook basketball, you’ll see they’re on an impressive run.

Four out of the past five seasons have resulted in at least 20 wins and postseason appearances, three of those times in the NIT for the Seawolves. They’ve had three of the last five America East Players of the Year, led most recently by junior forward Jameel Warney, who won the award as a sophomore.

The problem is, Stony Brook has fallen short the last couple of seasons of making the field of 68 and they’ve watched teams like Albany and Vermont make multiple postseason appearances from the league.

Pikiell and Warney hope that changes this year. Stony Brook fell just short again last season, falling in the America East Conference Tournament title game at home against Albany, but they have no seniors on the roster and a talented group of returnees.

Warney is one of the most impressive mid-major front-court players in the nation. The 6-foot-8 junior forward averaged 14.5 points and 8 rebounds on 61 percent field goal shooting as a sophomore and worked very hard this summer. Pikiell said it was Warney’s first full summer on-campus in the weight room and he’s added muscle while losing weight.

“It’s his team now. He’s in as good as shape as he’s ever been in. He’s added a 15-foot jump shot to his game,” Pikiell told NBCSports.com. “He’s young. He came in as a young freshman and I think he’s really matured the last couple years. I think he has a chance to be a really terrific player on the national level, too.”

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Warney returns along with fellow junior Carson “Tre” Purifoy, who averaged 12.9 points last season and shot 43 percent from three-point range, as well as German import and redshirt freshman Roland Nyama, a 6-foot-6 wing who Pikiell called, “as athletic as any player we’ve had in the program.”

The urgency is there to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time because Stony Brook has historically never achieved success for any sustained number of years in men’s basketball. The Division III run produced some 20-win seasons and the Division II years only produced two total winning seasons.

In the first 10 seasons as a Division I program, since 1999, Stony Brook only had two winning seasons.

So this latest run of 20-win seasons and postseason appearances is historic for the school and a NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in school history would be big for the sustained future of the program.

“I’m most proud of where it started off (to now),” Pikiell said. “We had spots of success at Division III. At Division II we really struggled and then we jumped into Division I. I’m really proud to win 20 games and play in postseasons, which is not something we’ve ever done.”

The recent success has helped give the program unprecedented momentum as they move into a new 4,000 seat arena this season from a 1,700 seat arena. Pikiell said that season ticket numbers in his 10 years as head coach have jumped from 40 to 2,000 as the fan base is clearly enjoying this new era of success.

“It’s amazing. Now that it’s here more fans can come so we’re just excited,” Warney said. “Every year it keeps getting better and better. More fans; more support. It gets louder and louder.”

Success at Stony Brook would mean as much to Pikiell as anybody. He started his 10-year run as head coach with a four-win season, oversaw a program on probation, had academic casualties and didn’t sustain a winning record until year four.

Unlike a lot of administrations of Division I men’s basketball programs, Stony Brook stuck with Pikiell and their shared long-term plan to make the Seawolves successful.

Stony Brook finally reaching a national stage would mean the vision worked.