For the third time in 10 days Rutgers has landed a verbal commitment from a recruit in the Class of 2018.
Ron Harper Jr., son of the 15-year NBA veteran who won five championships with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, made his pledge to the Scarlet Knights. Harper Jr., a 6-foot-6 swingman, plays for Don Bosco Preparatory High School in New Jersey.
“He was real happy,” Harper toldRichard Schnyderite of the Rivals’ Rutgers affiliate site. “I also talked to [Head] Coach [Steve] Pikiell. He was really happy. He said he was really excited and happy to coach me. I love all the coaches’ personality and how they brought some solid new guys in the program. I think they’re heading the right direction with the right people.”
Harper, who is considered a three-star recruit by Rivals, held an offer from Nebraska as well as several mid-major programs. He joins center Mamadou Doucoure and guards Mac McClung and Montez Mathis, a four-star prospect, in the Class of 2018. McClung and Mathis both committed to Pikiell and his staff earlier this month.
This is the second commit Pikiell has received from the hotbed of New Jersey high school hoops since taking over the Big Ten program in 2016.
Stony Brook works toward NCAA appearance after DII transition
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.”
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.
In ten seasons as the head coach at Stony Brook, Steve Pikiell has amassed a record of 141 wins and 132 losses. That may not look all that impressive at first glance, but a deeper look into those numbers reveal just how good of a job Pikiell has done at the America East school.
Stony Brook’s finished above .500 in five of the last six seasons, winning at least 22 games in four of those campaigns. Also included in this current run of success are three regular season America East titles, with the Seawolves going 62-18 in conference play over the last five seasons. And with that being the case, interim athletic director Donna Woodruff announced Wednesday that Pikiell’s been rewarded with a contract extension through the 2018-19 season.
“Steve has always been an exemplary leader of our Stony Brook men’s basketball program, and I am thrilled to know that he will be leading our student-athletes to future success as we move forward,” Woodruff said in the release. “With the integrity and class that he demonstrates day in and day out, he is truly one of the great ambassadors for University and our Department of Athletics.”
Stony Brook won 23 games last season and reached the final of the America East tournament, where they fell to NCAA tournament participant Albany. The Seawolves will have to account for the loss of two double-digit scorers in guards David Coley and Anthony Jackson, but they’ll return rising juniors Carson Puriefoy and Jameel Warney in 2014-15. And in Warney, Pikiell will have a player who will likely be the preseason choice to win America East Player of the Year.
Warney, who was 2012-13 America East Rookie of the Year, averaged 14.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore with ten double-doubles. One of those ten double-double performances came in a 104-102 win at Detroit, with Warney tallying 32 points and 21 rebounds.
With the experienced tandem of Warney and Puriefoy leading the way for Pikiell, Stony Brook will once again contend in America East.
With the top two teams in the America East doing battle, it should come as no surprise that this one came down to the final possessions.
What may have been a surprise, however, is Stony Brook relinquishing a 17 point lead with 16 minutes remaining, and nearly giving the game away at the end with missed free throws. Vermont had three three-point opportunities in the final 16 seconds, but none would fall; the final effort by Ethan O’Day clanked off the rim.
Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell will be happy with this win, but probably not satisfied. He will have left the floor tonight breathing a sigh of relief, not pounding his chest. When he watches the game tape from the second half, he will find the staunch defense that Stony Brook threw at Vermont in the first half suddenly evaporated.
All that said, he just beat Vermont — the only other undefeated team in the league. As such, is there such thing as an ugly or bad win?
The Catamounts trailed 50-33 when the under 16 media timeout hit, but went on a quick 13-0 run over roughly a five minute stretch to close the gap. Ethan O’Day caught fire, scoring on four consecutive possessions to bring the deficit within single-digits.
Give the Seawolves credit, however; they didn’t flinch. A Jameel Warney layup and consecutive three-pointers by Anthony Jackson pushed the lead up to nine. While Vermont would continue to make runs, they never got over the hump and took the lead — Stony Brook never folded.
Pikiell and Vermont head coach John Becker wouldn’t tell you this, but their teams are — far and away — the two best teams in the league. Albany and Hartford are both solid and will challenge, but are a notch below.
These two America East juggernauts won’t meet again until late February in Burlington. The Seawolves held serve at home, but heading north is never easy, where they haven’t come away with a win since the 2009-10 season.
If one is to strictly judge a program’s success by berths to the NCAA Tournament, Albany and Vermont have been the top programs in the America East conference for the past 11 seasons as they have been there a combined eight times.
Will Brown has had sustained success at Albany, while Vermont’s success has been passed from Tom Brennan to Mike Lonergan and now to John Becker.
Many close followers of the America East would tell you that the top team may actually not be one of the aforementioned programs, but rather a school that has never even been to the NCAA Tournament: Stony Brook.
The Seawolves have accomplished a whole lot in a short time as a full-fledged Division 1 program: three regular season titles, three appearances in the NIT, and three 20+ win seasons in the past four years. Yet, no NCAA Tournament.
Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell understands getting to the NCAA Tournament needs to happen to help legitimize the program even further, but he isn’t about to discount the strides that have already been taken.
“I’m proud of the three league championships; we never had one,” Pikiell told NBC Sports after Stony Brook’s 68-63 loss at Columbia. “I’m proud of the guys in the program; they work hard and are great kids. Is there pressure? Yeah. I’d like to get there for Stony Brook University.”
The pressure Pikiell speaks of is a good pressure. The pressure signifies how far Stony Brook has come to the point of winning the America East is the expectation, and not just a lofty goal. However, real pressure — the kind that keeps a coach in his office late at night — is something he experienced in his first year at Stony Brook in 2005-06.
“My first year we started out 0-9. That’s pressure. Fighting for your life.”
Times have changed.
“We are going to compete for a league title this year. We have to hit three home runs. Our non-conference just ended, you want to have a winning record in the non-conference; we have that. Now we’re going into league play; we’ve won one game already. You have to hit another home run during the regular season. Then you’ve got to do it all over again in the conference tournament.”
It’s the usual suspects at the top of the nine team league as Albany and Vermont figure to be Stony Brook’s primary challengers.
“Vermont has I think like eight seniors; these guys have won a lot of games. And Albany, he does a great job – Will Brown up there. Last year, [the America East] had five teams in the postseason. You play tough non-conference games, so the record doesn’t indicate how good some of these teams are.”
When Stony Brook won 25 games last season — their most since they became a Division 1 program — the recipe for success was on the defensive end as they surrendered just 57.5 points per game. While the defense isn’t as strong this season with graduating claiming Tommy Brenton and Marcus Rouse, Pikiell believes his team can win in multiple ways.
“We’re a little bit young. We lost a lot of seniors last year, so we were kind of figuring ourselves out. I like our team. I think we can win in two ways this year, whereas last year it was defense, defense, defense.”
The Seawolves are already 1-0 in the America East having beaten New Hampshire earlier this season, but league play truly starts up this weekend on the road at Hartford — a team who handed them one of just two league losses a season ago.
Stony Brook hung around and, truth be told, outplayed Virginia Commonwealth in the first half of tonight’s game between the America East favorite and Atlantic-10 challenger.
Despite trailing 36-35 at the break, the Sealwolves controlled the pace of play and managed the game well with point guard Carson Puriefoy coming off the bench providing valuable minutes. They had 13 turnovers in the first half, but out-rebounded VCU 20-9. You can bet head coach Steve Pikiell was pleased with the effort.
Eventually, the havoc defense took its toll. It wore Stony Brook out, they had no answer for its relentlessness, and eventually succumbed to it by a final score of 81-63.
The Rams began the second half on a 22-4 run, all but putting the game away midway through the half. Stony Brook would never get within single-digits the rest of the way.
It was a challenge for Stony Brook to just get into their offensive sets, and even when they did, getting the ball inside to sophomore phenom Jameel Warney was a tall task. As active and tough as the Ram forwards are — particularly Juvonte Reddic — when Warney catches the ball on the low blocks, there aren’t many guys who have the ability to stop him; he’s that good. Warney finished with 12 points, four points below his season average.
It was an extremely balanced effort on the offensive end for VCU as five players scored in double figures, led by Treveon Graham with 20 points.
Perhaps most impressive, however, was Briante Weber’s stat line: 14 points, nine assists, and seven steals — the seven steals were a season-high.
This was a good test for the Rams to conclude the non-conference portion of their schedule. Stony Brook is solid, and has a good shot at finally earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their program history.
When VCU forces 20+ turnovers (21) and shoots better than 40% 3PT (well, 39.1% tonight), they are awfully tough to beat.