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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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SBU athletes: Seawolves in the pros and on the global stage

Forward Moses Bakabulindi takes a corner kick on Oct. 11, 2023. Bakabulindi is one of many Stony Brook athletes with foreign professional experience. STANLEY ZHENG/THE STATESMAN

Despite not being regarded as a top NCAA Division I athletics program, Stony Brook University has a famed history of its athletes competing on higher levels of their sports. 

This past summer, Stony Brook’s men’s track and field distance runner Carlos Santos Jr. represented El Salvador in the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games. In front of 35,000 people in San Salvador, he ran an 8:51.92 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase to earn third place and a bronze medal.

For Santos Jr., representing his country on a global stage carried weight.

“Seeing the people, the joy and how much love and support they gave you, that’s what made me fall in love with representing El Salvador,” Santos said in a past interview with The Statesman. “I did it for the country.”

After he graduates, Santos Jr. will attempt to compete in front of millions, as he trains for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Other current Seawolves who have represented their country include a pair of forwards on the men’s soccer team: Moses Bakabulindi and Olsen Aluc. Before putting on the Stony Brook jersey, both played for their native countries’ national teams. Bakabulindi previously represented the Uganda under-17 National Team and Aluc played for Haiti in the 2019 under-17 World Cup in Brazil.

Aluc’s experience gave him an inkling of what post-college soccer entails.

“It’s amazing,” Aluc said in a past interview with The Statesman. “Singing the national anthem, getting goosebumps [and] butterflies. It gave a hint of what playing professionally feels like.”

Jonas Bičkus is another men’s soccer forward to play internationally. The team’s top scorer for three years running played professionally in Spain for the Levante Unión Deportiva and in his home nation of Lithuania for Futbolo klubas (FK) Atlantas and FK Neptunas when he was only a teenager.

“It was a great experience,” Bičkus said in a past interview with The Statesman. “The level is high in both Spain and Lithuania and when you can compete against grown adults, it gives you a lot.”

Along with Bičkus, defender Jon Jelercic also played professionally in Europe in his home country of Slovenia. After playing for the Slovenian under-15, under-17 and under-19 national teams throughout high school, Jelercic had a short stint with Football Club Drava Ptuj in the Slovenian Second League. 

The physicality of playing against grown adults at only 19 was challenging for Jelercic.

“I needed time to adapt,” Jelercic said in a past interview with The Statesman. “In [professional] clubs, you’re playing against 35-year-old men. It was much more physical, less tactical.”

In the other locker room, many members of the Stony Brook women’s soccer team have also competed in international play, such as a pair of German-born players, defender Catharina von Drigalski and midfielder Linn Beck. Both stars played for Eintracht Frankfurt — one of the most established clubs in the country.

During her tenure with Frankfurt, Beck was starstruck by the players around her.

“It was amazing,” Beck said in a past interview with The Statesman. “I looked up to the players on the team. And even when I got there, there were still a few players that I used to cheer for watching their games. It was really fun.”

Another player, midfielder Kristina Garcia, represented the Dominican Republic under-20 national team in the World Cup qualifiers against the United States in 2018.

Further east, Kristi Boro of the Stony Brook women’s tennis team gained notoriety in her home country. Hailing from India, she played for the All India Tennis Association Super Series Tennis under-12 team and the Asia-Oceania World Junior Competition under-14 team.

When Leoni Kunz was just 15 years old, the outside hitter of the Stony Brook women’s volleyball team played professionally in Liechtenstein. She gained experience against grown women in Germany that was valuable in becoming a top player for the Seawolves.

Along with current Stony Brook athletes, many previous players have gone on to play at professional venues in both overseas and United States leagues. Concerning the latter, former Stony Brook men’s basketball power forward Mouhamadou Gueye most recently made his debut for the Toronto Raptors in the NBA in February.

Gueye was the second Stony Brook alumnus to appear in an NBA game, following in the footsteps of power forward Jameel Warney. The program’s all-time scoring leader appeared in three games for the Dallas Mavericks in 2018. Warney now plays for the Seoul South Korea Knights in the Korean Basketball League (KBL), where he is a KBL champion and three-time KBL Foreign Most Valuable Player.

Though Gueye and Warney are the only former Stony Brook players to log minutes in an NBA game, many former men’s basketball stars have played professionally overseas. Three recent graduates are currently playing for professional clubs in other countries: former point guard Kaine Roberts for the Hiroshima Dragonflies in the Japan B. League, former shooting guard Anthony Roberts for Alba Fehérvár in Hungary First Division and former small forward Omar Habwe for Astrali in the Georgian A League.

The Stony Brook women’s basketball program has also created some high-level products, as several former student-athletes are playing professionally overseas as well. Former shooting guard Annie Warren — the program’s all-time three-point leader — currently plays for BMS Herlev in Denmark.

Warren’s former teammates — power forward Nairimar Vargas-Reyes and center India Pagan — both play for the Puerto Rico women’s national basketball team. They recently played in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Women’s 2024 Olympic Qualifying Tournament, performing well enough to earn their team a bid to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. 

Vargas-Reyes also represented Puerto Rico in the FIBA under-19 Women’s World Cup and the under-18 World Championships in Mexico City prior to coming to Stony Brook. 

The experience was integral in preparing her for the NCAA Division I level. 

“It was unbelievable,” Vargas-Reyes said in a past interview with The Statesman. “I never thought that I was going to make the national team. But when I was called out, ‘You made the team, you’re going to have this experience,’ I was like, ‘Wow, this is my time to just shine.’”

Former Stony Brook soccer stars have made it to the professional level as well, with the most recent examples being alumnus defender Stephen Turnbull with New York City Football Club II in Major League Soccer. Fellow former Stony Brook midfielder Leo Fernandes was named the United Soccer League Championship Most Valuable Player for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2022.

Some other Seawolves in the pros include former offensive tackle Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (New England Patriots) and defensive end Sam Kamara (Cleveland Browns) in the NFL, outfielder Travis Jankowski (Texas Rangers) in the MLB and midfielders Challen Rogers (Utah Archers) and Ryland Rees (Philadelphia Waterdogs) in the Premier Lacrosse League.

Alex Streinger, Cameron Takmil, Nayden Villorente, Matt Howlin and Melanie Karniewich contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Kenny Spurrell
Kenny Spurrell, Assistant Sports Editor
Kenny Spurrell is an Assistant Sports Editor of The Statesman. He is a senior English major and journalism minor at Stony Brook University. He began covering sports for The Statesman during the Fall 2021 semester. Since then, he has covered men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s lacrosse and football. His passion for sports derives from his many years of playing basketball, football and baseball. He is a Long Island native from Selden, N.Y. and has dreams of becoming a sports journalist.
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    Stuart EberFeb 25, 2024 at 7:29 pm

    How about Joe Nathan?

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