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Veterans, freshmen help fill void left by Stony Brook graduating class

Steve Pikiell didn’t know what to expect from his Stony Brook team this year. After graduating four seniors last season, the head coach wasn’t sure the kind of team the Seawolves would be.

“We lost a great senior class,” said Pikiell, a former Connecticut point guard now in his eighth season as SBU’s head coach. “I was most worried that we graduated such veteran guys that have been around and won two league championships.”

Those four seniors – two of whom are etched in the Seawolves’ record books – each signed a contract to play professionally overseas in Europe and Australia. Even with their absences, Stony Brook (13-5, 4-1 America East Conference) has maintained its position in the upper half of the AEC. The leadership of fifth-year senior forward Tommy Brenton, coupled with the emergence of freshman Jameel Warney, has SBU in contention for the conference title and an NCAA Tournament bid.

But the Seawolves wouldn’t be where they are now without that group of seniors. The class’ first season at SBU, the 2008-09 campaign, was only Stony Brook’s second winning season since 1993-94, and first ever as a Division-I program.

“We kind of like to say we were the founding fathers in the basketball program because we kind of started a winning tradition and that was huge for Stony Brook,” Brenton said.

Forward Dallis Joyner graduated as the second all-time-leading rebounder and leader in blocked shots in SBU’s D-I history. Then-senior Al Rapier averaged almost eight points and five rebounds per game last season, while forward Danny Carter earned a professional contract in his native England.

But guard Bryan Dougher arguably had the biggest effect in that four-year span. He left Stony Brook as the program’s leading scorer in its Division-I tenure, which started in 1999, with 1,609 points. Dougher also holds the Seawolves’ record for most career 3-pointers with 337.

Dougher’s influence expanded beyond the numbers, Brenton said, pointing out the guard’s leadership qualities.

“He was always the one that we looked up to,” Brenton said. “If there was a big play in the game, we’d look to him.”

But with Dougher graduated and signed to play in Australia, a void surfaced in the Stony Brook locker room. That’s when Brenton assumed the role, continuing the legacy of the class that moved on without him.

Brenton, who redshirted after his sophomore season due to injury, ranks fourth in the AEC with 8.1 rebounds per game and third in steals with 1.7 per game, the two statistical categories in which he holds SBU’s career record.

On top of that, the versatile 6-foot-5 forward – the most “unique” player in the nation, Pikiell called him – leads the conference with 4.7 assists per game.

“You really have to play with him to appreciate all of the things he does on the court,” Dougher said of Brenton, his four-year roommate. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever played with.”

While Brenton, the AEC’s Defensive Player of the Year last season, supplies a veteran presence for the Seawolves, the next youth movement is well underway. Warney just garnered America East Rookie of the Week honors for the seventh time this year. The 6-foot-8, 255-pound forward has established himself as one of the conference’s premier big men. He leads Stony Brook with 12.4 points per game and tops the AEC with a 61.6 field-goal percentage and 1.8 blocks per contest.

Last year, the Seawolves boasted one of the AEC’s best defenses, and Warney has only improved it. SBU’s scoring defense ranks best in the league, as it was last season. After finishing last in blocks and fifth in opponents’ field-goal percentage, the Seawolves top those columns this year.

Brenton said Warney’s defensive presence allows the Seawolves to put more pressure on opposing guards, with knowledge that the big man is right behind them to block, or at the very least alter, any shots at the rim.

“Very rarely do you get big guys who are ready to go from day one,” Pikiell said. “We played Maryland, and he was the best big guy on the floor at Maryland. We played UConn, he was the best big guy on the floor against UConn.”

A week ago, Stony Brook was tied for first in the AEC. But a loss Friday at Vermont – which beat SBU in March for the conference championship and automatic NCAA Tournament bid – snapped a five-game winning streak and put a one in the Seawolves’ in-conference loss column.

The Seawolves finished 9-4 in the nonconference part of its schedule, but they have plenty of season left to work their way to the top of the standings. Pikiell emphasized his team’s need to play at its highest level during the remaining conference schedule and the AEC tournament to accomplish its dream of an appearance in the NCAA Tournament in March.

“That’s a hard thing to do that people don’t realize at this level – you have to have three great years to accomplish one goal,” Pikiell said. “Three home runs, I say to people. I think we have the ability and the talent to do that.”

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