(West Hartford, Conn.) — Dave Coley only moved an hour away to attend college at Stony Brook, but Brooklyn native has traveled a enough to last a lifetime since setting foot on campus four years ago.
“I’ve come a really long way,” Said Coley with a smile following the Seawolves’ 73-50 road win at Hartford.
At some point during the final stretch of their last season of college ball, seniors who truly “get it,” take stock in their careers, looking back at the highs, lows and everyday in-betweens of four years of blood sweat and tears, over in an eye-blink.
Following a devastatingly dominant 20 point, seven assist, six rebound and two steal performance that served as the catalyst for Stony Brook’s win, Coley was introspective in talking about his personal journey, both on and off the court.
To say Coley was raw when he arrived at Stony Brook is a massive understatement. A four-year starter at Thomas Jefferson High, the 6’2” 190 pound guard was as quintessentially “New York street ball,” as it got – right down to the flashy crossover dribble. Coley was Incredibly talented, ultra-competitive, and capable of yo-yoing the ball in traffic with a flashy crossover and deft step-back jumper. He was also absolutely out of control with the ball in his hands and the words “defense,” “spacing,” and “selfless” did not exist in his hoops vernacular.
“Coming in as a freshman I had no idea how to play,” he said. “I came from a system where it was just up and down, run around, there were no timeouts or nothing,” he laughed.
Four years and an odyssey later and he’s completely reinvented himself on and off the court as perhaps the best backcourt defender in the league, a selfless distributor on offense and the true definition of a student-athlete.
“[He’s grown] As an academic student, as a basketball player, just his maturity – he’s a team guy – he just does a little bit of everything for us,” said Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell.
Coley’s first two years on Long Island were pockmarked by peaks and valleys as he adjusted to Division I college ball.
As a freshman, Coley buried the game-winning shot on a breathtaking drive with 1.2 seconds left at Holy Cross, scored a career-high 13 points at Boston University, and ignited the Seawolves with instant offense off the bench in the America East Championship Game at BU, propelling Stony Brook to the brink of the NCAA tournament, only to be lit up by John Holland in the game’s final 10 minutes of action as the Terriers went dancing.
As a sophomore, Coley moved into the starting lineup, dropped jaws when he put Vermont’s Clancy Rugg on a poster, literally jumping over the 6’8” forward for a tomahawk dunk in Burlington, dropped 21 points in a pair of statement wins over Boston-based teams (on the road at Northeastern and at home against BU), improved his shooting percentage by nearly 10-percent and averaged double-figures on the season to help the Seawolves to a regular-season title. But he still struggled to stay within himself on the court and in the Championship Game, played before nearly 4,500 fans in Stony Brook Arena, Coley shot just 4-of-16 from the floor and visiting Vermont dashed the Seawolves NCAA dreams.
The saying goes that you learn more from failure than success, and Coley has taken it to heart, adding new layers to his game and coming back better every season. As a junior, he emerged as an All-League defender, attacked the glass on both ends of the floor and became a threat from behind the arc.
“I wasn’t too defensive minded when I came here, but the drilled it in me and drilled it in me and now it’s become a goal of mine to try to defend everybody’s best player,” said Coley.
“I think he’s the best perimeter defender in the league and he’s taken that as a challenge,” said Pikiell.
As a senior, Coley’s scoring numbers and overall shooting percentage are down a bit, but he’s hitting a career-best 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. Far more importantly, he is averaging career-bests in rebounds (4.6 per game), assists (2.1) and minutes (33.3). Coley has admirably filled some of the void left by the graduation of Tommy Brenton, who quarterbacked Stony Brook’s offense and anchored its defense for four years, and is averaging a positive assist-to-turnover ratio for the first time in his career.
Most importantly, he’s playing within himself while making those around him better.
“Coming to Stony Brook helped me learn the geometry of the floor, the angles of how to play; when to go when not to go; when to play fast, when not to play fast,” Coley explained.
And on an unseasonably warm Sunday on a nationally televised game in West Hartford, it was Coley who put the Seawolves on his back and took over, turning a 20-10 deficit to open the game into a 23-point romp. After sophomore center Jameel Warney got the Seawolves going to start the second half, Coley scored seven straight points to turn a 3-point lead into a 10-point advantage. Coley first picked Hartford point guard Yolonzo Moore II’s pocket and went coast-to-coast for the hoop; on the next possession, he drilled his trademark midrange step-back jumper; and the next trip down the court drained a deep three.
But Coley’s biggest impact – and the evidence of just how far his game has progressed – came after Hartford punched back with a 5-0 run, when Coley paced the Seawolves’ counter punch, creating a 7-0 run seemingly out of thin air. Coley once again attacked the hoop off the dribble to draw multiple defenders, but where he would have forced off balance shots during previous seasons, he dished out three straight assists to open teammates.
With 16:21 remaining Coley drove down the lane before dropping a no-look behind the back pass to Carson Puriefoy for a 3-pointer. On the next possession, he made a no-look skip pass to Warney for an easy two points. 45 seconds later, Coley pushed the ball in transition, before slowing down to once again find Warney.
Coley once again extinguished Hartford’s spark after a Mark Nwakamma 3-point play with 14:14 remaining cut the lead back to nine, 42-33, when he flew above the fray to rip down an offensive rebound and went back up strong for a hard-fought hoop and then dropped another dime to find Rayshaun McGrew for an easy two on the next possession.
In all, Coley scored or assisted on 18 of Stony Brook’s first 20 points to start the second half.
“I just was locked in, just was focused, man” explained Coley after the game. “Just stuck to the game plan, let the offense come; I’m not really focused on the offense, I just want to try to be good on the defensive end.”
Stony Brook now stands at 2-0 in America East play, 9-6 on the season against Division I opponents and once again appears to be a frontrunner for a regular season title. But while Warney has emerged as the face of the program and the favorite for conference Player of the Year honors, no Seawolf will be more critical to the program’s quest for that elusive America East Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament berth than Coley.
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