Evan Singletary makes his mark in latest installment of Stony Brook-Albany rivalry

Evan Singletary. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Evan Singletary. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Stony Brook-Albany has become perhaps the America East’s most intense rivalry of recent memory. With some of the usual suspects absent, both literally and figuratively, from the latest installment of this clash of conference titans, it was a newcomer who carved out his name in the matchup’s history book.

With Albany star guard and leading scorer Peter Hooley on an indefinite leave of absence as he flew home to Australia to be with his mother, who is suffering from colon cancer, it was junior college transfer Evan Singletary who stepped up to lead the Great Danes to a dominant 64-47 road win over the Seawolves on Monday. The junior point guard poured in 21 points along with four assists in 39 minutes of action to hand Stony Brook its first home loss of the season.

“You’re lucky if you have one really good player at this level. If you have two you’re very fortunate, like with have Peter Hooley and Sam Rowley and they have (Carson) Puriefoy and (Jameel) Warney,” Albany coach Will Brown said. “Coming into this game, when I knew we weren’t going to have Hooley, I’m sitting there thinking, this game’s probably not gonna come down to Hooley, Rowley, Warney or Puriefoy, it’s gonna come down to supporting cast. And I’m sitting there going, my third option is pretty good in Evan Singletary, so I thought we had an advantage there.”

“Let me rephrase that because I think he’s better than a third option,” Brown continued. “The known guys in the Stony Brook-Albany rivalry: Warney, Puriefoy, Rowley, Hooley; in my opinion four of the best players in the league. So if those guys all neutralize each other and get theirs, somebody else has got to step up. I think Evan is as good as any point guard in this league. Tremendous amount of respect for Puriefoy, but I love my guy, and he’s just continuing to get better and I’m proud of him.”

A transfer from Moberly Area Community College in Missouri, Singletary did not shy away from the bright lights of Island FCU Arena. He said he was already aware of how intense this rivalry can be and he knew he would have to step up in Hooley’s absence.

“Since last game got completed, all anybody could talk about was Stony Brook.  Coach and the veterans were telling me it’s gonna be a dogfight, a streetfight, based off them beating Stony Brook last year. They were gonna come out with an edge, wanting to win, so I already what kind of game this was gonna be,” he said. “Our leading scorer was gone so it wasn’t just me, everybody had to step up. With Pete out, that’s 14 or 15 points right there (missing), so I don’t think it was just me; everybody had to step up.”

Senior captain Sam Rowley dominated inside with 16 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Ray Sanders added 11 points and Dallas Ennema had 10 to give the Great Danes (10-7, 5-0) a balanced scoring attack.

“It makes the game a lot easier. Even with Pete here we like to balance the scoring, but with him not here Ray and Dallas stepped up big time,” Singletary said. “Ray has been playing real good in conference. Dallas—we all have faith in Dallas, we know what he can do—so him having this type of performance, we’re not surprised. And me, I just come out and play hard every day. Whoever’s out there, I just got to compete.”

Singletary also completely locked down Stony Brook’s star point guard Puriefoy, who was held to three points on one-of-nine shooting with five turnovers. On both ends of the court, in the words of the late, great Stuart Scott: Dude was straight ballin’! But like a true veteran, the Baltimore-native deflected the credit to the rest of his teammates.

“The gameplan was really to keep him in front—Coach was telling me he’s quick, fast, an all-conference guard,” Singletary said. “But it wasn’t just me, he beat me a couple times and my teammates were there to help me so it wasn’t just me stopping him.”

For Stony Brook (12-8, 3-2), Warney led with 16 points and seven rebounds. Rayshaun McGrew was the only other player in double-figures with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Rowley praised Singletary for making the transition from junior college to Division I look seamless.

“’Ev’s’ been massive for us, he’s stepped up in a lot of games playing fantastic and shooting the ball well. Especially today with Peter not here, for him to step up like that shows the caliber of player he is,” Rowley said. “People have always doubted those guards who transition from junior college in their first year. They always doubt whether they can [contribute] really quickly, but Ev. has done that and it’s just a credit to him because he runs our team.”

Singletary admitted it has been a learning experience, but is pleased with how he’s adjusted to Division I ball.

“It’s very different. I was a vocal leader last year, but here I have to take it to another level,” he said. “Making sure everybody knows where they’re at, making sure I’m leading by example, playing hard, talking and drawing fouls. Sam and Pete are the captains, but I’m the point guard so I’m basically the head coach on the court, so I have to make sure everybody’s in their position and I have to make sure I’m doing my job.”

Albany plays for Peter Hooley, goes wire-to-wire for win at Stony Brook

Albany head coach Will Brown and the Great Danes played for Peter Hooley and his family on Monday night. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Albany head coach Will Brown and the Great Danes played for Peter Hooley and his family on Monday night. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Prior to Monday night’s showdown, the last time Albany traveled to Stony Brook, Peter Hooley carried the Great Danes down the stretch, scoring seven points in the final 1:45 to lead Albany to their second straight America East Tournament Championship and on to the NCAAs.

On Monday night, the Great Danes were playing without Hooley and with something far larger than an NCAA Tournament berth on their minds. Two days earlier, Hooley took an indefinite leave of absence and flew back to Australia to be with his family to support his ailing mother, Sue, who is battling colon cancer.

“I’m not the most emotional guy in the world, but my wife emailed me before the game a picture that was sent by Peter’s sister of Peter hugging his mom in the hospital,” said Albany head coach Will Brown.

Hooley wasn’t on Long Island with his team on Monday night, but he was with every one of them as they thoroughly dominated Stony Brook, handing the Seawolves their first loss in their new $21 million arena.

“My wife, for about the last six months just about every other day, has been in contact with Peter’s mom,” said Brown. “I was coming back from a prep school game on Friday night at about 11:30 when he called me. I looked at the number and the name, and I took a deep breath. I talked to Peter for about 20 minutes and I talked to his dad for a while. As soon as I got back to the dorms I met with Sam Rowley, Mike Rowley and Peter. Peter was in no shape to travel, so it’s either gonna be me, Sam or Mike that went with him, and Mike said, ‘Coach, Sam’s a captain, you’re the coach, I’ll go.’ Being a great teammate, Mike went. I’ll be in touch with Peter every single day, multiple times. A 15-hour time-difference is tough, but he and I are close. Every stopover he’s calling me or emailing me,” Brown explained of the decision for Peter to leave for Australia, and teammate Mike Rowley to accompany him on the first leg of the flight to Los Angeles.

“I think on our part, we had to go out and play hard, not just for us or not just for our family, but for Pete and his family,” said Albany point guard Evan Singletary, who scored a team-high 21 points, in an interview with Big Apple Buckets’ Ryan Restivo. “I think that’s what gave us a lot of energy into the game.”

“We just wanted to show our support to Peter,” said senior Sam Rowley in an interview with Albany Times Union reporter Tim Wilkin. “We know what he is going through. This win was for them, for Peter and Sue. It’s tough.” Rowley finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Four Great Danes finished in double figures, and a balanced defense kept all Seawolves not named Jameel Warney in check in an extremely emotional 64-47 wire-to-wire Albany win.

In addition to Singletary and Rowley’s efforts, Ray Sanders and Dallas Ennema, getting his first start of the season in place of Hooley, pitched in 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Stony Brook (12-8, 3-2) entered the game with a plus-10 rebounding margin in their first four conference battles, but Albany (10-7, 5-0) matched the Seawolves on the glass all game long, finishing the game with a 36-34 advantage.

Warney, who entered the game averaging 17.8 points and nine rebounds in conference play, remained on target, finishing with 16 and seven, but a combined 13-for-47 from the floor from all other Seawolves, including 4-for-22 from three-point range, wound up being their downfall, as the pre-season conference favorite was held under 50 points for the first time all season.

Albany started the game on an 18-5 run, but Warney responded with eight straight points to kick-start an 11-0 Stony Brook answer. The two teams then went back and forth the rest of the half, with Albany taking a 31-25 lead to the locker room.

In the second half, the Albany lead would grow to 14 on a Richard Peters lay-up with 12:40 to go. The Seawolves clawed back to cut the lead to six, 53-47, on a Bryan Sekunda three-pointer with 2:46 to go, but those were Stony Brook’s last points of the night, as Albany made 11-of-12 free throws down the stretch to close out their first regular season win at Stony Brook since January of 2011.

Following the game, Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell spoke with Albany assistant coach Blake Metcalf, notifying him that Pikiell was praying for Hooley and his family. According to Brown, there is no timetable for Hooley’s return, and the team is preparing to play the rest of the season without him.

“You have to take it second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and there is no timetable. I just know that mom’s not doing well and we need to respect that and support that. He’s a great young man and we just have to keep him in our thoughts and prayers,” said Brown. “My mindset right now is, we just have to prepare every day like we’re not going to have him, that’s the tough part. You don’t have all that practice time right now and you want to do some things a little different, not having him, but we just didn’t have time to, so we just had to put our best foot forward today and the kids did a great job.”

Both teams will be back in action in road games Thursday, as Albany travels to Hartford, while Stony Brook will head out to UMass-Lowell for a showdown with the River Hawks.

Garet Beal and Chris Braley: A brotherhood forged in battle

braleybeal

It may sound cliché to say Maine natives Garet Beal and Chris Braley became best friends and forged an unbreakable bond while battling it out against one another on the hardwood. Except that’s exactly how it happened for Beal, a downeaster from Beals Island, and Braley, a native from Newport in the middle of the state.

“They’re like brothers; they really are like two brothers — they go beyond best friends,” says Braley’s grandfather, Gary Braley.

“He’s really my best friend,” says Braley, a sophomore forward at Stony Brook. “It’s funny how it developed from us competing against each other.”

“We’re definitely extremely close,” echoes Beal, “and the more we played against each other and pushed each other and tried to beat each other, the better friends we became.”

According to both Beal and Braley, a pair of burly, bruising forwards, who each stand somewhere around 6-foot-5, the duo knew each other for most of their young adult lives despite growing up more than two hours away from each other.

“Maine has a very small, tight-knit basketball community,” Braley says, “so if you are really serious about the sport and are good at it, you really know everyone else in the same who shares that same passion and talent.”

Beal and Braley competed in different conferences and different divisions in high school, with Beal playing all four years at Jonesport-Beals High School and Braley playing three years at Nokomis High School before reclassifying and playing two seasons at prep school Phillips Exeter. But the pair got to know each other on the AAU circuit over the summers.

“There are really two big AAU programs in Maine, and everyone who plays for either plays against each other a lot,” says Braley, who played for the Middlesex Magic.

“I think we both really went at each other and wanted to outplay the other because we were really similar players,” says Beal, who suited up for the Maine Athletic Club.

But very quickly that desire to outplay the other turned into a bond, built around pushing each other to new heights.

“During the summer times we spend a lot of time together working out and we’ve gotten to know each other really well,” says Beal. “We both knew how hard it was to go from Maine to Division I college ball, and it was a dream we both shared and we really pushed each other to getting better.”

“It’s pretty competitive. I like competing against him. Obviously, we’re really good friends and we usually bring the best out of each other,” says Braley of the summer training routines the two shared starting after their junior seasons of high school. “Since then we’ve been great friends,” he explained.

Beal was the first to commit to a Division I college, choosing the University of Maine during his junior season of high school.

“He actually recruited me to go to Maine,” says Braley, who chose to attend Maine’s America East rival Stony Brook.

Despite suiting up for opposing teams in the same conference, both Braley and Beal have only grown closer over the past two seasons. Last summer Beal opted to stay on campus in Orono and Braley spent the summer living with him so that the two could train together.

“This summer was definitely our closest because we lived together,” says Braley.

“I stayed up in Orono for most of the summer time and he actually stayed with me and we spent a lot of time in the weight room, getting up shots,” says Beal.

bealbraley

Putting two hyper-competitive players together for a summer meant that both Braley and Beal gave the other their best shot every day.

“It’s really competitive,” says Braley.

But both credit it with bringing out the best in each other.

“It was a great experience – we got after it a little bit,” laughs Beal. “He wanted to go at me in the weight room and I wanted to go at him – neither of us ever want to back down from each other.”

The first two seasons of college ball haven’t gone exactly how either Beal or Braley imagined, with Beal starting for a Black Bears team struggling to compete and undergoing a coaching change over the offseason, and Braley coming off the bench in a reserve role after staring in high school.

But both of their coaches have high praise for the roles they have played. And, no surprise, their work ethic.

“Chris works extremely hard to get better, he’s been a great role player, and he does anything we ask of him,” says Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell.

“Garet is a kid who works extremely hard and cares a tremendous amount about the team,” says Maine head coach Bob Walsh. “We need more kids with his mentality and mindset.”

Although they now live eight hours apart, Beal and Braley talk multiple times a week. On Christmas day, Beal was a guest at the Braley family Christmas dinner.

“I came home for about a day and a half or so, a little less,” Braley says. “And he was here, on campus, so I invited him down to my house and we had dinner and went and saw a movie afterwards.”

“I was fortunate enough to get invited down by his family, and that was a great time,” Beal says.

“We don’t have a big family, so we need him,” laughs Gary Braley. “He’s another grandson.”

On Saturday afternoon, Braley and Beal faced off in their home state when Stony Brook traveled to play Maine. The game quickly got out of hand, with Braley’s Seawolves thumping his best friend’s Black Bears 82-39.

But even after the game got out of hand, the crowd roared every time either of Maine’s native sons touched the ball, with Beal finishing with nine points, four rebounds, three assists and a block, and Braley chipping in two points four rebounds and an assist.

After the game, Braley and Beal shared an embrace, and lingered in the Cross Center talking with each other’s families late into the afternoon.

“We’re just so proud of everything Chris has done,” says Gary Braley, “but we’re also just so proud of Garet. And we know that neither one of them would be where they are without the other.”

bealbraley3

Photos by Sam Perkins

 

OBW America East Power Rankings v7

Dre Wills has been a beast for Vermont. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics
Dre Wills has been a beast for Vermont. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics

Just week after Stony Brook scored the biggest America East win of the season, the Seawolves fell to Vermont in the biggest America East game of the season (at least to date).

Looks like it’s going to be that kind of a year in the ol’ “AE,” which means we’re all in store for one wild ride.

Last week Stony Brook was riding high fresh off the biggest win in program history, an upset over then 13th ranked Washington, while Vermont was fighting the good fight but struggling to get over the hump against tough foes and Albany was struggling to find consistency. A lot can change in a week, and while the trio of true contenders (at least in our eyes) remains the same – the usual suspects of top America East dogs and cats – they’ve once again bunched back up, with very little separating them in our eyes. With that said, here’s a look at the latest OBW America East Power Rankings.

1. Vermont (7-8, 3-0 AE)
Results: W 68-54 at Maine; W 71-57 vs Stony Brook.
This week: Wednesday vs Dartmouth; Saturday at UMBC (AE)
The young, bloodied, bruised and banged up Catamounts took out what had been the America East’s top dog in Stony Brook and they did so in absolutely terrific fashion, executing a very bold game plan from head coach John Becker to perfection. Up until Saturday, virtually every team that had faced Stony Brook had thrown a “stop Jameel Warney at all costs” defense at the Seawolves, focusing on doubling and tripling the walking, talking double-double and nations leading rebounder. Becker, instead, opted to single cover Warney all night, and allow the unstoppable Juggernaut to get his while focusing on stopping every other player in a Stony Brook uniform. The end result: Warney finished with 26 and 10 on 10-of-14 shooting, but the Catamounts came away with a 14-point win. Certainly the game was closer than the final score, and a flurry of free-throws in the game’s final 90 seconds opened up the final margin, but Vermont won this game from start to finish and the Catamounts crazy athletic and relentless back court defense and transition offense is no bleeping joke.

As an aside, what in the world does Becker have to do to earn a contract extension at this point? Yes, the Catamounts head coach still has three more years remaining on his contract, but when you take a step back and look around the league, only Albany’s Will Brown has a more impressive resume at his current post. And, when you look around the league and see other coaches landing contract extension after contract extension for seemingly getting out of bed, brushing their teeth, and not mucking things up, you have to wonder if Vermont’s head coach is going to start to feel a bit slighted – and perhaps at least entertain the calls that are going to start coming in to bolt for greener pastures.

2. Stony Brook (10-7, 1-1 in AE)
Results: W 70-61 at Columbia; L 71-57 at Vermont
This Week: Wednesday vs UMBC; Saturday at Maine.
We all knew Stony Brook wasn’t going to go undefeated during the America East slate, and if you’re going to lose a game, losing a thriller on the road in the hostile environment of Patrick Gymnasium is as good as a loss can be. Jameel Warney is a monster and the most unstoppable player in the league, and not many teams can duplicate the kind of back court pressure the Catamounts threw at Stony Brook. Jameel Warney alone is going to make Stony Brook one of the favorites to win the America East, and the Seawolves have shown that when the supporting cast is carrying its weight, they are as good – and arguably better – than anyone else in the league. However, the blue print is now out to try to take down the Seawolves: Let Jameel Warney get his 20-25 points and shut down everyone else. Point guard Carson Puriefoy is in a funk and as long as he is sputtering, the Seawolves are definitely vulnerable.

3. Albany (8-7, 3-0 in AE)
Results: W 80-56 vs Maine; W 64-62 at New Hampshire; W 64-51 at UMass Lowell
This Week: Wednesday vs Binghamton; Monday at Stony Brook.
The Great Danes are on the mend after apparently going 12 rounds with the bubonic plague, and they are once again looking like a team to be reckoned with. The Great Danes are getting terrific play from the one-through-four positions, with power forward Sam Rowley and shooting guard Peter Hooley giving their usual, blue-hat and lunch pail performances. Small forward Ray Sanders is also making a growing impact defending the ball and knocking down open shots. But the difference maker, and quite possibly the team’s most talented and best player (quite the statement considering how good Rowley and Hooley are) might be point guard Evan Singletary, who has been taking over games with increasing regularity. Albany’s bigs clog the lane and put a body on opponents, and if head coach Will Brown can get even a little bit more out of them, Albany might find itself in the America East’s driver’s seat. Monday’s match-up at Stony Brook will be incredibly telling.

4. New Hampshire (8-8, 1-2 in AE)
Results: W 68-61 vs Brown; W 63-60 at UMBC.
This Week: Wednesday vs Hartford; Saturday at Binghamton.
This is definitely looking like Bill Herrion’s best team since the Wildcats were less than two-minutes away from hosting the title game. In true Bill Herrion style New Hampshire is defending like crazy, but in previous years that was only enough to make them a pesky nuisance to the top two-thirds of the league. The difference this year is that they can score – often in ugly fashion, but they are putting up points. Sophomore point guard Daniel Dion is creating and burying daggers from anywhere inside the building, and freshman forward Tanner Leissner as some of the craftiest and gutsiest moves in the league. But the big difference makers as of late have been senior shooting guard Matt Miller, who despite playing the first Division I hoops of his career has given UNH a long-range threat to stretch the floor, and bruising and athletic sophomore power forward Jacoby Armstrong, who is beginning to look like the All-Conference talent he was supposed to be.

5. Hartford (8-7, 1-1 AE)
Results: W 69-59 vs Binghamton
This week: Wednesday at New Hampshire; Saturday at UMass Lowell.
The Hawks won their only contest of the week, downing a hard-fighting but massively undermanned Binghamton squad. It isn’t that we’re down on Hartford as much as it is that we’ve seen a lot more from the four teams above them. Corban Wroe is beginning to score the ball again in the same manner as down the stretch last season, when he single-handedly gave the Hawks a new dimension. As always, when Hartford hits their three’s and senior Mark Nwakamma stays on the floor they can beat anyone, but can they do that consistently or devise a Plan B for emergencies?

6. UMass Lowell (8-8, 2-1 in AE)
Results: W 73-61 (OT) at UMBC; L 64-51 vs Albany.
This Week: Tuesday at Maine; Saturday at Hartford.
The River Hawks stand at 2-1 in league play, with seven Division I wins on the season – just two DI wins away from last season’s total, one amazing accomplishment for second year head coach Pat Duquette. The truth of it is, the River Hawks are incredibly limited overall, with red-shirt freshman Jahad Thomas – an undersized man-among-boys – as virtually the entire UMass Lowell offense. Team’s are beginning to throw the typical Jameel Warney defense at Thomas, AKA swarm, mug and stop him at all costs, and UMass Lowell has struggled to find consistent second and third scoring options. They may finally have found one, however, as freshman shooting guard Matt Harris has scored 29 points in the past two games and 39 over the past three, after scoring just 45 in the River Hawks first 12 contests.

7. UMBC (2-13)
Results: L 73-61 (OT) vs UMass Lowell; L 63-60 vs UNH.
This week: Wednesday at Stony Brook; Saturday vs Vermont.
The good news: UMBC is really, really defending the ball extremely well, junior forward Cody Joyce is beginning to come into his own as an automatic low-post scorer, and graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow has given UMBC a go-to scorer. The better news: Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, head coach Aki Thomas has the Retrievers playing harder and longer than they have at any point since Darryl Proctor and Jay Greene graduated back in 2009, and freshman Jourdan Grant is blossoming as a playmaking point guard. The bad news: UMBC is dressing just eight players for games, only six of them on scholarship, and one of them a recent addition to the team as a walk on, and playing just seven in their rotation. As long as UMBC keeps fighting, they are going to stay in games and will squeak out a few wins, but they really do not have the horses.

8. Binghamton (2-16, 1-2 in AE)
Results: L 69-59 at Hartford; W 65-46 vs Maine.
This Week: Wednesday at Albany; Saturday vs New Hampshire.
Binghamton is officially on the board in the Division I wins category, soundly steamrolling Maine in the second half for a 65-45 victory. Much like with UMBC, head coach Tommy Dempsey deserves kudos for keeping his very young, very impressionable squad fighting hard despite player defections and injuries. High-flying freshman wing Romello Walker has taken a step from impact defender to offensive threat, and forward Willie Rodriguez also appears to have found his second win. A season-ending knee injury to forward Dusan Perovic and a leg injury that has kept forward Nick Madray on the bench present large obstacles in the Bearcats’ short term prospects.

9. Maine (1-14, 0-3 in AE)
Results: L 68-54 vs Vermont; L 65-46 at Binghamton.
This Week: Tuesday vs UMass Lowell; Saturday vs Stony Brook.
It’s going to take time for head coach Bob Walsh to be able to recruit his own players and implement his demanding and complex system, so fans should not fret. To be blunt, this is the least talented team to suit up in Orono in a very, very, very long time – quite possibly ever – thanks to the revolving door of disenfranchised and disgusted players who jumped ship during previous years under the former regime. However, this Maine squad – despite it’s struggles to defend in the second half – is playing SIGNIFICANTLY harder than any Black Bears squad in recent years, which is a very positive sign in the long term.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

The favorite for America East Defensive Player of the Year honors continued to make a far larger impact than his raw numbers, propelling the Catamounts to a pair of wins. That’s saying something considering his numbers for the week: 26 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, eight steals and three blocks. In a huge grudge-match win over bitter conference rival Stony Brook, Wills completely locked down Seawolves point guard Carson Puriefoy, holding the dynamic playmaker to six points on 2-of-12 shooting, while forcing him into four turnovers.

OBW America East Rookie of the Week
Romello Walker, G/F, Binghamton

Walker is coming into his own, making a big impact as an extremely energetic and athletic disruptor on defense, while turning into a human-highlight reel on offense. In arguably the Bearcats best two games of the season – a hard-fought loss at Hartford and Binghamton’s first Division I win of the season in a dismantling of Maine – Walker combined for 35 points, 13 rebounds, and three steals.

OBW America East Fab Five
Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell
Romello Walker, G/F, Binghamton

Rayshaun McGrew — coming into his own

Junior Rayshaun McGrew has blossomed for Stony Brook after taking the road less traveled. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Junior Rayshaun McGrew has blossomed for Stony Brook after taking the road less traveled. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Coming into the season, Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell faced the daunting task of figuring out who on his young and inexperienced roster would step up to become a go-to player. Of course, he already knew what he had in preseason all-America East selections Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy, but he also knew how much he needed a third scoring option.

Little did he know that he already had a player who was not only willing, but also ready to make an impact in junior power forward Rayshaun McGrew.

“He came in and made that position his,” Pikiell said. “At the beginning of the year that four spot was an open competition. From the first day we started practicing, it was his spot.”

McGrew is currently in the midst of a stellar season for the Seawolves (10-7, 1-1), averaging 9.3 points and ranking second in the America East with 7.2 rebounds while starting all 17 games. He’s put together five double-doubles, including a 10-point, career-high 14-rebound performance in Stony Brook’s upset of #13 Washington. McGrew has developed into a true leader and one of the team’s best defenders.

“Just rebounding, working as hard as I can on defense and doing whatever I can to help the team win… and of course making some open shots,” McGrew said, downplaying his role after putting up 14 points and 12 rebounds in a win over New Hampshire.

But McGrew’s college career didn’t get off to the start he had foreseen for himself while growing up in Chicago.

Point of Pride

McGrew has a shy and reserved personality, but underneath his introverted nature lies a true sense of pride.

He starred at Chicago Vocational Career Academy as a four-year starter and was named All-State honorable mention as a senior. Despite his accolades, McGrew wasn’t satisfied with the schools that were courting him.

“I felt like the schools recruiting me, they weren’t what I saw myself playing for,” he said. “I felt like I could play at a higher level.”

Despite being academically qualified to play college basketball right out of high school and having scholarships on the table, McGrew decided to take the road less traveled and attend a junior college  with hopes of transferring to a Division I school.

“I felt that at junior college, I could develop my game more and maybe go somewhere higher,” he said.

A Year of Development

McGrew played one season at Cowley County Community College in Kansas and was part of a team that went 21-11 and made it to the second round of the NJCAA Region VI Men’s Basketball Tournament. His season averages of 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds hardly jumped off the page, but his reputation as a quintessential “glue” player helped land him on Pikiell’s radar. Pikiell sent assistant coach Lamar Chapman to get a closer look at McGrew.

“Coach Chap went out and watched him play and liked him a lot,” Pikiell recalled. “We loved the fact that he’s an unbelievable kid, that’s always important here, and also the fact that he had three years of eligibility, which is a bonus for junior college kids.”

McGrew said the biggest gain he received from his year at junior college also didn’t translate to a stat-sheet.

“I definitely got more confidence in myself,” he said. “I learned to not think too much about the last play, just go out there and play my hardest and just focus on the next play. I learned to just keep going, every possession, as hard as I can.”

That type of play helped McGrew earn the high-level offer he was hoping for and he was more than excited to join a Division I program.

mcgrew2
McGrew currently ranks second in the America East in rebounding at 7.2 rebounds per game. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

 

Joining the Crowd

Last year’s Stony Brook squad was stacked at the power forward position with experienced players already familiar with the team’s system. McGrew was playing behind fifth-year senior Eric McAlister, redshirt junior Anthony Mayo and redshirt sophomore Scott King. His learning curve relegated him to the bench for most of the season.

“You don’t ever want to count on first-year guys. I think that’s a tough way to make a living in this business,” Pikiell said. “We already had some good players and some veterans. We were an older team last year. He had time to figure it out a little bit, but I think it’s always tough, that first year for high school kids and for junior college kids. Players are good at this level and it takes some time to figure it out.”

Despite wanting to make an immediate impact, McGrew didn’t mind sitting on the bench, a true testament to his team-first attitude.

“I wanted to come in and contribute (right away), I wanted to do any little part I could to help us win,” he said. “Whether that meant me playing five minutes or playing 20 minutes, scoring no points or scoring 20 points; I just wanted to come in and be part of the winning program that Stony Brook always has been. That was the biggest focus for me.”

McGrew also had to get used to the transition of moving from juco ball to D-I, which he admitted was not easy.

“I feel like the biggest difference is the competition among the players. I feel like in Division I, every guy on the team is competition,” he said. “That’s not saying that junior college doesn’t have those types of players, but in junior college you really have to focus on one or two players. In Division I you have to focus on 10 or 11 players; everybody on the team can play.”

That difficult transition is one that Pikiell has seen many times throughout his coaching career.

“It’s the same problems that high school kids have,” Pikiell said. “Our season is three-times as long, we’re much more demanding, all the players are better, so the things you can do in high school you can’t do in college, and the things you can do in junior college you can’t do in [Division I]. The coaching is better, defenses are better. It’s just a whole different game.

“It’s very hard for a guy to translate his game from those levels to the college level,” he continued. “It takes time just to learn a system, but it also takes time to learn the intensity of what Division I is. Ray had to adjust, too, that there were good players in front of him. You don’t have that kind of depth at the junior college level.”

McGrew eventually hit his stride towards the end of the year and earned some big minutes during the America East tournament where he was able to give his coaches a preview of what he’s able to contribute to the team.

“Really towards the end of the year he started showing signs of being a good player and he got better in practice,” Pikiell said. “He carried that over in the summer and obviously carried it over to the court now.”

2015: The X-Factor

“McGrew killed us, I think he was probably the x-factor in the game, just the way he played. He played great, and he really hurt us,” New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion said after McGrew helped lead the Seawolves to a 71-61 win in their conference-opener.

“I think part of the deal is, McGrew has gotten better as the season has gone on, so now they have two guys that are really tough to deal with in the frontcourt,” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said after McGrew put up 15 points and six rebounds in Stony Brook’s 70-61 win this past Tuesday.

McGrew’s minutes have spiked from 9.4 per game last year to 25.5 this season. Through the early part of the season he has given Stony Brook a sort of secret weapon, a player teams aren’t accounting for because they’re so focused on Warney, leaving opposing coaches surprised and baffled after each 17-foot jumper he splashes home.

“It kind of feels good that all my hard work is paying off and people are noticing. But it’s also bad because a lot of teams are gonna start focusing on me more,” he laughed. “But it’s always good to hear other coaches, not just your coaches and your supporters, telling you you’re doing well. It feels good to be a part of a winning program and to know that my hard work is showing.”

“He’s been great, last year he had a limited role,” Warney said. “It’s great to see him grow during his time last year and now this year because he’s one of the x-factors on the team, like [Herrion] said. He’s only getting better.”

For Pikiell, McGrew’s play comes as no surprise because he was showing signs of being a great player throughout the preseason. Instead, Pikiell is most satisfied with the improvements he’s made on defense.

“I don’t know if I’d call him the x-factor because he’s been consistently good, it hasn’t just been one game, he’s been consistently good all season,” Pikiell said. “Ray’s gotten better on the defensive end of the floor, which I’m most proud of. He’s made his biggest gains there. You guys see the games and the box scores, but I watch the tape and from last year to this year he’s made his biggest gains on the defensive end. He’s able to guard a lot of different guys now, he’s got our system and our coverages down, and he’s so much better technically.”

***

The way McGrew has stepped up this season can be traced back to the lesson he learned from his year at junior college: to play hard, every possession, as hard as he can. His tattoo-covered arms and his curly ‘fro can be seen flying up and down the court, powered by a never-ending motor that has been developed by hard work and pride. But it’s McGrew’s team-first attitude that has his teammates and coaches raving about him.

“He’s a great team-guy, too, everyone likes him,” Pikiell said. “He’s a great chemistry guy, he’s a great huddle guy, a great locker room guy; I think those things are as important as what you see on the court.”

True to form, McGrew also downplays the growth in his individual play and instead focuses on the improvements he’s made for the betterment of the Seawolves.

“My leadership role, I think that’s the biggest difference; I feel like I’m more of a leader this year because we don’t have any seniors,” he said. “I feel like some of the younger players and some of the inexperienced players can look up to me and look up to my hunger and the motor I have and they can draw off of it and try to keep going, just like I do.”

mcgrew

Jameel Warney continues incredible dominance in Stony Brook’s 70-61 win over Columbia

Jameel Warney is all that is beast. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Jameel Warney is all that is beast. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

How many different words can be used to describe Jameel Warney’s dominant play this year? “Beast.” “Monster.” “Manimal.” “Juggernaut.” Those words have been used ad nauseam all season long, but the truth is that Warney has been all of that and more, and it was no different in Tuesday night’s game against Columbia.

Warney looked like a true giant playing among boys as he posted yet another outstanding stat-line with 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting, 13 rebounds and two blocks to help lead Stony Brook to a 70-61 win in its last non-conference game of the season. It was his nation-leading 13th double-double of the year, and he also leads Division I with an average of 12.3 rebounds.

“I just came in today thinking to be aggressive, my teammates trust me and they gave me the ball in great positions to score,” Warney said. “My first shot was a dunk and then I made a hook shot, so I felt like I was on today and I kept on shooting.”

Even Columbia’s head coach Kyle Smith was forced to sing the junior center’s praises after the game.

“Warney’s good, and he’s struggled to score over bigger people, to be honest. But he’s a load on the offensive boards, and he got six of those,” Smith said. “But if he’s making his jump-hooks over 6’10”, 6’11” guys, I don’t know many people who can beat them.”

Warney did a great job reading the defense and staying patient in the post. But on two occasions in Tuesday’s game, Warney did something he hadn’t previously done: step out and take a jumper. In the first half he took a shot from just inside the three-point line on the right wing that came up short. But in the second half, the 6’8”, 255-pound behemoth strolled out of the low-post, caught the ball at the foul-line and swished home a high-arcing jumper. On his way back up the court, Warney let out a scream and pumped his fist in excitement.

“As you saw, I was excited that I made that jumpshot because I don’t do that often,” he said with a smile. “It’s great that I can make that shot now because it’ll open a new world for me and for my teammates, giving us a new dimension to our offense.”

Rayshaun McGrew added 15 points and six rebounds and Carson Puriefoy had 13 points and three assists for the Seawolves (10-6), who have now won three straight. Puriefoy and Kam Mitchell combined to play excellent defense on Columbia’s leading scorer Maodo Lo, who was held to a season-low seven points on two-of-nine shooting.

Before the season started, Warney told One-Bid Wonders, “I have to step on the court every day, and know I’m the best player. I have to play like I’m the best player.” That change in his mindset has him playing like the beast, the monster, the manimal, the juggernaut everyone describes him as. And now with the conference season starting in full-swing, Warney will have to be all of those things and more to lead Stony Brook through the America East.

OBW America East Power Rankings v6

Stony Brook stands in the way of any America East team entertaining dreams of March Madness. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Stony Brook stands in the way of any America East team entertaining dreams of March Madness. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell led the Seawolves to that ever-elusive signature win, helping the America East knock off its first ranked opponent since 2006. Jameel Warney is the unstoppable Juggernaut, and after years and years of stubbornly refusing to helieve the hype, Sam Perkins is finally buying into the Seawolves. All that and much, much more on this week’s edition of the OBW America East Power Rankings.

1. Stony Brook (9-6, 1-0 in AE)
Results: W 59-47 vs American; W 62-57 at #13 Washington; W 71-61 vs UNH (AE).
This Week: Tuesday at Columbia; Saturday at Vermont.
Remember all those years that I didn’t buy into the Seawolves ability to win the big one and I got absolutely raked across the coals by Stony Brook’s fan base only to come up smelling like roses in March? Welp, I’m officially buying in. I won’t quite say Stony Brook is going to The Big Dance yet, but I definitely think they are the favorite to finally win it all. Why? Two words: Jameel Warney. Plus two more: Supporting cast.

Simply put, this is Jameel Warney’s world and we are all just living in it. The 6’8” 260 pound bruiser continues to lead the nation in rebounds at 12.3 caroms per contest, leads the America East in scoring (15.4 ppg) and blocks (2.5 bpg). But what has truly taken Warney’s game to the next level is his uncanny passing ability. Since his freshman season, Warney has drawn double – and now triple, and occasionally quadruple – teams on the blocks, but his ability to consistently find the open man for easy buckets has made the Seawolves so much more dangerous. Junior forward Rayshawn McGrew is quietly having a terrific season playing beside Warney, and is cleaning up around the glass and scoring at a solid clip, Carson Puriefoy has been very solid creating off the dribble, and the Seawolves are getting timely contributions from across their roster.

Did we mention they knocked off 13th ranked Washington on the Huskies home court? Yep, these guys are the front-runners right now.

2. Vermont (5-8, 1-0 AE)
Results: L 64-56 at USC; L 64-57 at UC Santa Barbara
This week: Wednesday at Maine; Saturday vs Stony Brook.
If only the Catamounts were at full strength, who knows how good this team would be right now. How good is this team going to be in another year or two? Scary. But in the here and now, even with the majority of their talent still cutting their teeth at the Division I level, this team is really fun to watch and could definitely make some serious noise come conference tournament, err playoff time in March. Yes, it definitely needs to be said that Vermont has now lost four in a row, but they were against four very quality opponents and all games the Catamounts could have won had a few things gone differently. Vermont likes, no loves, to play in transition, with point guard Trae Bell-Haynes pushing the tempo, but the Catamounts’ true strength is their ability to pressure opponents back courts and run opponents off of the perimeter, with Bell-Haynes, Defensive Player of the Year favorite Dre Wills and Kurt Steidl harassing the bejesus out of opposing guards.

3. Albany (6-7)
Results: W 77-66 vs Fairfield; L 65-47 at Niagara; W 80-56 vs Maine
This Week: Tuesday at UNH; Saturday at UMass Lowell.
Make. Up. Your. **** Minds, Great Danes. C’mon now! Albany has certainly been a Jekyll and Hyde squad up until now, alternating runs of terrific basketball with bouts of absolutely brutal hoops. Albany beat a bad Fairfield squad by double-digits and killed Maine in its conference opener, both expected results, but they were sandwiched around an absolutely embarrassing 65-47 loss to a really bad Niagara squad. Yes star shooting guard Peter Hooley didn’t play due to the flu and low post stalwart Sam Rowley gave it a go but was also violently ill, but this is a team that still should have been good enough to mop the floor with the Purple Eagles in their absence. With Hooley, Rowley and JuCo Evan Singletary, along with a talented supporting cast, this remains a team with the talent to win it all, but they need to start putting it together night in and night out.

4. Hartford (7-7, 0-1 AE)
Results: L 87-60 at #14 Notre Dame; L 58-49 at Texas A & M
This Week: Wednesday vs Binghamton.
The Hawks have been solid as of late, but they still haven’t “wowed us” to date (in fact, what looked like their best win in a Dec. 9 shellacking of Holy Cross is now looking fairly ho-hum as the Crusaders have been tanking ever since). As we continue to say, when the Hawks are hitting their threes and Mark Nwakamma is on the court and getting consistent touches, Hartford can beat anyone. However, in the confines of an America East playoff, where teams have to win three straight games to go to The Big Dance, inevitably something is going to go wrong and they are going to need to find a way to win outside of playing their A Game — especially when said A Game relies so heavily on voluminous outside shooting. We’ll get excited when Hartford beats an America East contender when their shots aren’t falling. As for the Hawks, one big point of concern is their bench production, or lack thereof.

Still, there’s no denying that when they get hot, Hartford can – and most likely will – beat anyone in the league.

5. New Hampshire (6-7, 0-1 in AE)
Results: L 73-72 (OT) at LIU Brooklyn; L 70-56 at William & Mary; L 71-61 at Stony Brook (AE)
This Week: Tuesday vs Albany; Thursday vs Brown; Sunday at UMBC.
After the best start the program has seen since the 1990s, the Wildcats have hit a four game skid. Their offense likely won’t ever be pretty, and they are still struggling to find consistency scoring the ball, but after giving Stony Brook everything the Seawolves could handle, it is also apparent that this UNH team is going to be a thorn in the side of just about everyone in the league. New Hampshire is back to playing Bill Herrion basketball: rebounding, defending, scrapping and clawing for the entire length of the floor and turning the game into trench warfare on defense. But with sophomore point guard Daniel Dion making it rain from downtown and freshman forward Tanner Leissner scoring from all over, the Wildcats might not be pretty on offense, but they can score.

6. UMass Lowell (7-7, 1-0 in AE)
Results: L 70-47 at Boston College; W 50-40 vs Binghamton; L 58-49 at Brown.
This Week: Wednesday at UMBC; Saturday vs Albany.
UMass Lowell’s roster is incredibly limited, and the fact that they have not only been competitive all season long, but already have six wins over Division I foes under their belt this year (two-thirds of the way to last season’s total) is a tremendous testament to the job that Pat Duquette has done and the fact that he’s got his entire team buying in. It’s also a tremendous testament to just how damn good redshirt freshman Jahad Thomas is. The pint-sized power forward is an absolute beast who has been facing constant double and triple-teams all year long, yet ranks second in the conference in scoring (14.8 ppg), second in field goal percentage (.568) and fifth in rebounds (5.6 per game). Whether the fact that team’s are running every junk defense in the book at him is a product of their respect for his talent, or disrespect for his supporting cast is completely irrelevant at this point, because whatever the reasons, he’s demanding attention and still dominating.

7. UMBC (2-11)
Results: L 58-55 vs Lehigh; L 70-55 vs NJIT
This Week: Wednesday vs UMass Lowell; Saturday vs UNH.
You’ve got to feel for head coach Aki Thomas, who is one of the true good guys in the game and who is pouring his heart and soul into trying to rebuild the program from the rubble, yet continues to have every bad bounce and bad break go against him. After losing star guard Rodney Elliot for the season to a torn labrum in their first game, and subsequently suspending three players for violations of team rules, the Retrievers fought with everything they had and started finding ways to win behind relentless defense and transition offense. Then sophomore forward Will Darley went down with a knee injury, dropping UMBC to just six scholarship players in uniform. Somehow, they are still fighting – a testament to their coaches and their character – and they are going to win a few games in league play, but every night is going to be an uphill battle against exhaustion.

8. Maine (1-12, 0-1 in AE)
Results: L 72-43 at Seton Hall; L 81-64 at Quinnipiac; L 80-56 at Albany.
This Week: Wednesday vs Vermont; Saturday at Binghamton.
First year head coach Bob Walsh inherited a skeleton crew from the Titanic so expecting him to turn them around this season is like expecting a miracle. Yet the coach refuses to look for silver linings or moral victories. Maine doesn’t have the depth or the talent to compete at the top of the conference this year, but I still believe the Black Bears will surprise some people in the conference. The team is playing harder than at any point during the previous five-plus years, and is showing a commitment to defense absent in Orono since Dr. John Giannini moved on to greener pastures.

9. Binghamton (1-15, 0-1 in AE)
Results: L 69-68 at Mount Saint Mary’s; L 76-50 vs Buffalo; L 50-40 at UMass Lowell (AE)
This Week: Wednesday at Hartford; Saturday vs Maine.
The roof, the four walls, the side-by-side washer-dryer, the sofa, the kitchen sink, all gone from when the Bearcats blew up their own program. Now head coach Tommy Dempsey is building the program from scratch. That means an entirely new foundation. The rebuild took a big hit when Jordan Reed, the team’s main load-bearing beam (yeah, I went overboard with that cliché) decided to take his talents elsewhere halfway through the season, but there is some really legit young talent on this roster, and more overall this year than in either of Dempsey’s first two years. It’s still a long road to redemption, but fans should have a bit more patience and enjoy the abilities of freshmen like high-flying wing Romello Walker, hard-working forward Willie Rodriguez and high-scoring center Dusan Perovic, all true freshmen.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, and better days ahead… or, at least it can’t get any worse.

OBW America East Player of the Week:
Jameel Warney, Jr. C, Stony Brook.

Seriously, Warney could do nothing more than do the laundry, make his bed and eat a beef-brisket sandwich and he’d still find a way to grab Player of the Week honors. The dude is unstoppable! In three wins Warney was good for 47 points, 30 rebounds, 13 assists and six blocks. ‘Nuff said.

OBW America East Rookie of the Week:
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

Thomas scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with five rebounds against Boston College, and followed it up with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting and eight rebounds, while making one huge play after another when it mattered most, in a 50-40 win over Binghamton.

OBW America East Fab Five
Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

OBW America East Frosh Five
Aaron Calixte, G, Maine
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

Chris Braley: Fear the Beard

fearthebeard

“It’s always good to remember where you come from and celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you’re going.”
-Anthony Burgess

Chris Braley will never forget where he comes from; he sees his snow-covered hometown and the tiny community that has always supported him covering his face every time he looks in the mirror.

“It’s really important to me that I always remember where I come from, who I am, and who helped me get here — that way I’ll never lose sight of where I’m going,” says Braley, a sophomore forward for Stony Brook University and native of Newport, Maine.

At 6-feet-5-inches and somewhere in the neighborhood of 240-pounds of muscle-on-top-of-muscle-on-top-of-muscle, with a tree trunk for a neck, arms that look like vein-covered iron beams extending from a pair of bowling balls, and a mountainous mane of flowing locks jutting from a granite jawline, Braley appears every bit the part of the Mainer — and looks like he would have been right at home joining Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine in defending Little Round Top.

It’s an identity that he embraces, embodied in the voluminous beard that he has been growing since the fall, and the energy and eagerness to mix it up and throw elbows as a bruiser off the bench.

“It keeps me in touch with my roots and keeps me humble and reminds me that I’m from Maine,” Braley proudly says of his facial hair. “My dad can grow a pretty mean beard and so can a lot of my family, so it’s kind of in homage to them and my heritage.”

“Chris will run through a wall,” says Seawolves head coach Steve Pikiell, “and he plays the game exactly the way he looks: incredibly tough and incredibly physical, and I think that’s a reflection of where he comes from and how far he’s had to come to reach his dream of playing college basketball.”

Where Braley comes from is a nearly 37 square-mile swath of great white north, dotted by shuttered sawmills, farmland, crystalline waterways and endless expanses of nothingness, sparsely populated by less than 3,300 hearty and hard-working souls.

“I shoveled a lot of snow,” he laughs, describing his hometown. “It’s very small. I went to a high school with about 750 people, if that. It was an extremely tight-knit community. People don’t have a lot, but they work extremely hard for everything and appreciate everything they have,” he says, adding, “It was a really great place to grow up.”

sbuprovy10

Rural Maine might be a great place to walk in the woods and go snowmobiling. It’s a hotbed of moose and black bear activity.

When it comes to a heavily recruited high school basketball scene, it’s a barren wasteland. So how does a kid go from the backwoods to Division I ball?

“What it boiled down to was I did a lot of working on my own, and I had great support from my family and from the small but really intense basketball community,” Braley says.

According to Braley, his basketball journey began in grade school when he began to build up his now impressive physique by “shoveling a ton of snow, every single day,” coupled with the used basketball hoop his father, Scott, purchased second-hand.

“He let me pick whatever sport I wanted,” says Braley, who fell in love with hoops despite growing up in a state where hockey is king. “He bought me a basketball hoop from a yard sale and we just kind of went from there.”

In middle school, Braley dabbled in football, a sport he would seem a natural for (“He’s got that body, I’ve had to make sure our own football team doesn’t recruit him out from under me,” jokes Pikiell), but basketball had taken hold of him and wouldn’t let him go.

“It was always my first love,” Braley says. “I played other sports, but basketball was always my main focus.”

In high school, Braley spent his first three years playing for Nokomis High, a tiny regional high school that isn’t even a blip on the recruiting radar. But according to Braley, he benefitted tremendously by being pledged into the small but vibrant Maine basketball fraternity.

“The are two AAU programs that gain a lot of exposure by going to all the different venues, and my high school coach coached one of them and I played for the other,” says Braley, who suited up for the Middlesex Magic over the summers. “All the best players play for one of those two teams, and if there’s a scholarship level player at any level they’re known by everyone.”

braley

During his time in high school Braley became best friends with another similarly built local basketball star, Garet Beal of Jonesport-Beals High, who now suits up at Stony Brook’s conference rival University of Maine.

“He’s one of my best friends. I was home for the first summer session and we lived together this summer and worked out all the time,” says Braley, who had Beal as a guest at his family’s Christmas dinner. “Honestly, I think we both played a large part in each other’s career because we were always pushing each other.”

After three years at Nokomis, Braley transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy, a prestigious prep school in Exeter, New Hampshire, and reclassified. During his two years playing in the NEPSAC Class A, a prestigious prep league, Braley served as team captain, leading his team to a historic 25-1 season and league championship during his final season.

Braley chose Stony Brook over the University of Maine, the prodigal son choosing to set out on his own path, but after finding instant success at high school and prep school, he’s found himself coming off the bench as a reserve in his first two seasons on Long Island. As a freshman, Braley averaged just 1.1 points, 1.2 rebounds and 5.8 minutes per game. Through 13 games this season, he has averaged 1.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and 9.8 minutes.

“I had a huge role at my high school in Maine and I went to a boarding school in New Hampshire and had a big role, and then coming here and coming off the bench was definitely a big adjustment,” says Braley.

According to Pikiell, Braley has played a valuable role for the team, and the head coach is hoping he can play an even bigger one as the Seawolves chase the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

“Chris is an excellent rebounder, and he brings tremendous toughness,” Pikiell says. “Now we need him to turn into that great shooter we recruited him as.”

According to Braley, he is going to do whatever his coach needs him to do.

“What it boils down to is just doing whatever it takes to help the team win,” he says. “I try to bring toughness and a lot of intangibles and also my shooting.”

Braley’s 8.6 rebounds per 40 minutes ranks third on the team, behind center Jameel Warney, who currently leads the nation in rebounding, and starting power forward Rayshaun McGrew.

“I think you have to get a good read at where the ball is coming off the rim, and our coaches preach boxing out, which is a big component, but Charles Barkley is right that you just have to go get the damn ball,” laughs Braley of his rebounding philosophy.

And according to Braley, there are several parallels between being a great rebounder and growing a great beard: Effort, sheer will, and natural ability.

“I wouldn’t say there is an art form, I think you have to have the natural genetics to do it and the willpower to do it,” he laughs.

An avid fitness fanatic, Braley is majoring in health science and would like to one day be a professional strength trainer and own his own gym, but right now, his sights are squarely set on doing whatever it takes to help Stony Brook break through to the NCAAs.

“Waving towels, coming up with handshakes and chants on the sidelines, throwing elbows, grabbing boards, handing out water — whatever they need me to do I’m going to do it,” he says.

And wherever he goes, he’ll always be carrying where he comes from with him.

“I’ll always be from Maine,” he says. “I’m proud of who I am and where I’m from, and it’s why I’m here today.”

braley2

Photos by Sam Perkins

If you enjoyed this story visit our features section for more compelling pieces on the inspiring players who suit up out of the limelight in the shadows of mid-major basketball.

America East 2015 New Year’s Resolutions  

Albany head coach Will Brown. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Albany head coach Will Brown. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

A new year brings a new conference tournament format that raises the stakes on what awaits the nine America East teams over the next nine weeks. Whoever keeps true to these resolutions the longest could very well be the last team standing come March 14.

America East 2015 New Year’s Resolutions

Albany: Better balance inside

Albany’s post game right now is the Sam Rowley show. He’s the only Great Dane in the top 20 in rebounding among conference players, and no other post player has more than four points or rebounds per game. John Puk was a great compliment to Rowley the last two years, both conference tournament championships for Albany. Now, UAlbany needs to find John Puk 2.0 or they will be muscled out of a three-peat.

Binghamton: Lay the groundwork for the future

Binghamton’s resolution won’t fully come to fruition for another year or two, but when it does, it could be something really special. This year’s team was supposed to be carried by Jordan Reed with the hope they might sneak into the top four of the conference and earn a 1st round tournament home game. When Reed left the team earlier this month, the already-young Bearcats got even younger. With just one senior and one junior left on the roster, neither of whom average more than eight minutes a game this season, the pressure falls on the 12 freshmen and sophomores to prove this team will be a legitimate contender down the road.

Hartford: Consistent shooting

It’s been said multiple times that Hartford’s A-game, with a heavy dose of ball movement and outside shooting, is better than anyone else’s A-game in the conference. The issue for them will be making sure that A-game shows up night in and night out. Poor shooting, especially from 3-point range, led to losses at the hands of Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut State, and Rider. Hartford’s A-game is why they were picked 2nd in the pre-season poll, and if they can get hot at the right time, could be what takes them to the top of the conference for the first time ever.

Maine: Better team defense

First year coach Bob Walsh has talent on the offensive side of the ball, as Shaun Lawton, Zarko Valjarevic, and Till Gloger are all top 20 scorers amongst America East teams in non-conference play. Where the Black Bears have been exposed repeatedly this season is the defensive side of the ball. Maine is last amongst AE teams in field goal percentage defense, 3-point percentage defense, and points per game allowed, which at more than 81 a game, is among the worst in all of Division 1. The Black Bears currently force more than seven steals a game, 2nd among conference teams; there just needs to be better execution when those steals don’t happen.

UMass Lowell: Continue ignoring the skeptics

Few expected anything from UMass Lowell when they moved to the Division I level prior to last season; the River Hawks were a unanimous last place pick in the pre-season poll. All they did in response was finish 5th in the conference with an 8-8 record (NCAA transition rules held them out of the conference tournament.) Pat Duquette’s group was once again picked to finish last in the conference this season, but Jahad Thomas and Marco Banegas-Flores have both averaged double figures in scoring in non-conference play, as the team won six of its first eight games, including road wins over Fordham and former America East member Boston University. The will to win can take teams a long way, and this team’s will to win might give a lot of AE teams headaches come 2015.

New Hampshire: Maintain early season balance

On paper, New Hampshire has done nothing mind-blowing this year, but they’re 1st among conference teams in points per game and points allowed. Tanner Leissner, Daniel Dion and Jaleen Smith are all averaging double figures in scoring, leading a balanced attack where each of the 11 Wildcats averaging 10 or more minutes a game has contributed nicely. The Wildcats will have pre-season favorite Stony Brook on the road, followed by two-time defending champion UAlbany at home to open conference play. Both games will have a lot to say about whether the Wildcats’ early success was a fluke, or a potential sign of something special come March.

Stony Brook: (tie) Keep Carson Puriefoy and Jameel Warney healthy/ Get support from players not named Carson Puriefoy and Jameel Warney

The two preseason All-Conference selections, combined, have accounted for a sizeable percentage of the team’s statistics, top to bottom, in non-conference play. The rest of the Seawolves will have to provide their stars with consistent support if the pre-season number one pick is finally going to break through with a conference tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. Kameron Mitchell and Rayshaun McGrew filled those support roles nicely with 22 combined points in the Seawolves’ upset of previously 13th ranked Washington.

UMBC: Offensive execution

Replacing Rodney Elliott, who was declared out for the season with a shoulder injury earlier this month after playing in just one game, has not come easy for UMBC.  The Retrievers are last among America East teams in points per game, free throw percentage, and turnovers per game, as well as eighth in 3-point percentage. Elliott carried much of the load as a freshman last year, which brought even larger expectations for this season. Like Binghamton, Aki Thomas may want to start looking ahead to the future, prepping his young unit for a conference tournament title run a few years down the road.

Vermont:  Stay healthy

A healthy Vermont team is a scary thought for the rest of the conference. The scary thing for Vermont is that they’ve been unable to stay healthy early in the year. Ernie Duncan played in only four games before red-shirting due to a back injury, Zach McRoberts missed the first seven games due to injury, and Hector Harold missed games vs. Yale and St. Louis with foot problems. Vermont has finished either 1st or 2nd in the conference every year since 2008-2009, and will need a clean bill of health the rest of the season if they want a shot at doing that again this year.

 

Stony Brook stuns No. 13 Washington 62-57

Kam Mitchell drilled 4-of-5 3-pointers to help propel Stony Brook to the biggest win in school history, a 62-57 shocker over No. 13 Washington. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Kam Mitchell drilled 4-of-5 3-pointers to help propel Stony Brook to the biggest win in school history, a 62-57 shocker over No. 13 Washington. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

That signature big win head coach Steve Pikiell and his Stony Brook squads have been searching for to prove they have truly arrived on the college basketball scene — The Seawolves can stop searching.

On Sunday night, the Seawolves overcame a 16-point second half deficit to stun 13th ranked and previously undefeated Washington 62-57.

“It’s a great win. It’s the best win in school history,” said junior point guard Carson Puriefoy.

“Very, very exciting win for our program and our university,” said Pikiell.

Junior center Jameel Warney scored 15 points, including the go-ahead basket with 30 seconds left, pulled down eight rebounds, dished out six assists and swatted three shots for the Seawolves. Junior power forward Rayshaun McGrew ripped down a game-high 14 rebounds to go with 10 points and two steals, and junior point guard Carson Puriefoy didn’t shy away from the big shot despite a tough shooting night, drilling the game-typing 3-pointer with 1:07 to go after missing 10 of his first 11 shots from the field. Red-shirt freshman scored six points, pulled down four rebounds and added an assist, a steal and a block, and was a huge presence on the defensive end.

But the hero of the night was red-shirt sophomore guard Kameron Mitchell, who came off the bench to score 12 points by drilling 4-of-5 from downtown for the Seawolves only weeks after losing his starting spot in the lineup.

Fearless 3-point shooting got the Seawolves over the hump, but Pikiell’s trademark defense kept Stony Brook in the game even when they were struggling to knock down shots, holding Washington to just 34.3 percent from the floor (23-of-67) and 15 points below their season average.

“This game was all about toughness today,” said Puriefoy. “We weren’t making shots, and the defensive end is all about toughness. It’s not about athleticism or smarts, it’s about toughness. You’ve got to dig down deep and you’ve got to ‘D’ up, and I think we did that.”

Stony Brook trailed by 11 with eight minutes left in the game, but closed out the game on a breakneck-paced 20-4 run, with Mitchell drilling three treys in a little over three minutes to pull the Seawolves to within striking distance, showing no fear to pull up and knock down long bombs with 7:02, 5:41 and 3:51 remaining, to help cut a 53-24 deficit to 55-52.

Puriefoy drilled another three off of a beautiful kick out from Warney after the Seawolves’ center collapsed the defense to tie the game at 57, and red-shirt freshman Roland Nyama came up with a big defensive stop, stripping Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss to give Stony Brook a chance to take the lead.

And take it they did, with Warney banking in a contested shot with 34 seconds remaining. Nyama once again came up big on the defensive end, blocking Andrew Andrews shot at the other end, and McGrew came up with the rebound, forcing the host Huskies to foul, and calmly sank both shots at the other end to make it a two possession game.

The Seawolves withstood one last, frantic Washington possession and Warney sunk one of two free-throws for the final margin.

The win was Stony Brook’s first true road victory of the season, and the first win over a ranked opponent in program history. It was the first win by an America East team over a ranked opponent since Vermont knocked off Boston College during the 2005-2006 season, and arguably the America East’s biggest win since Vermont knocked off fourth-seeded Syracuse during the 2005 NCAA Tournament.