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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Worst to First: A five-year plan, executed

Five years was all it took. Five years to take the Stony Brook men’s basketball program from worst to first. Head coach Steve Pikiell just needed five years.

Last season, in their fifth year under Pikiell’s leadership, the Seawolves recorded their best season in their 11-year Division-I history, winning their first America East regular season championship as well earning a berth in the National Invitation Tournament, the program’s first-ever postseason appearance.

Stony Brook set Division-I program records for overall wins with 22 and conference wins with 13. Pikiell became the first coach in school history to be named America East Coach of the Year, and he was rewarded after the season with a contract extension that runs through the 2014-15 season.

Despite inheriting a 12-17 team when he was hired, Pikiell said he was always sure of his ability to turn the program around.

“I absolutely believed that we could win this conference,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence in myself and my coaching staff, but more importantly in our administration.”

But it proved to be a difficult task as the Seawolves failed to win 10 games in their first three seasons under Pikiell. Still, he remained optimistic in his aspirations for each season.

“Even when we weren’t very good my goal has always been to get to the NCAA Tournament,” Pikiell said. “In this league, all you need is a great weekend in March, so that’s always been my goal.”

Trying to recruit players to join a program that had no winning tradition at any level, Pikiell said he had to sell his vision of where the program could be. He also said he was able to win recruiting battles by selling the players on playing time they would receive if they chose to play for Stony Brook as opposed to going to a bigger basketball program.

Going into his fourth season, Pikiell was able to recruit players that would prove to be instrumental in the retooling of the program. Junior college transfer Muhammad El-Amin  and high school recruits Tommy Brenton (Columbia, Md.) and Bryan Dougher (Scotch Plains, N.J.) believed in his vision and chose to come to Stony Brook.

“I wanted to be a part of a winning program,” Dougher said. “Listening to Coach Pikiell, I could tell this program was heading in the right direction.”

The Seawolves were able to turn the corner in the 2008-09 season, posting a then-record 16-14 season. El-Amin was named to the All-America East Second Team and Brenton and Dougher were named to the America East All-Rookie Team.

Then came the historic 2009-10 season. El-Amin was named the America East Player of the Year, the program’s first player to win the award. In addition, Dougher and Brenton were named to the All-America East Second Team.

Now the Seawolves are going into this season as the hunted, as opposed to the hunters. Stony Brook was picked to finish second in the America East in the preseason polls.

One of the biggest things Pikiell stresses in discussing the improvement of the team is the decrease in the phone calls he used to receive from teams asking to play Stony Brook. They stopped calling because they are no longer sure that facing the Seawolves will be an easy victory. Now Pikiell is making the calls, and he said his team is willing to play anyone.

As the program starts to achieve success on the court, Pikiell’s goals have also extended off the court.

“Now my main goal is to make sure kids graduate,” he said. “We’ve done a great job of that in the last few years.”

Indicative of the team’s growing national presence, a nine-game television package, including three national broadcasts on the ESPN family of networks, was announced for the team earlier this month. This is the largest television package in school history.

Going into this season without El-Amin, who graduated and now plays professionally in Hungary, and Brenton, who suffered a dislocated knee in an offseason pick-up game, the Seawolves will have to look to other players to step up if they want to make the NCAA Tournament. Stony Brook welcomes four newcomers: freshmen Anthony Jackson (Columbus, Ohio), Dave Coley (Brooklyn, N.Y,) and Anthony Mayo (Philadelphia, Pa.) and junior college transfer Al Rapier (Chicago, Ill.). Pikiell said this was the most talented recruiting class he’s had during his tenure at Stony Brook.

While Pikiell said it’s too early to determine if this year’s team can be as successful as last year’s, Dougher is excited about the talent level of the team. When asked if this year’s team can duplicate the success of last year, he replied with confidence, “I think we can be better than last year.”

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