Oct. 16, 2013
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Stony Brook, N.Y. - In mid-major college basketball, when you bring in a freshman recruiting class of five, you're probably hoping two or three of them turn into All-Conference caliber players. Maybe one of them can develop into a professional basketball player. And when your program has no history of Div. I success, you're hoping the collective can help change the culture and deliver wins and championships.
Well, Stony Brook's recruiting class of 2008 met those expectations, exceeded them and then blew them right out of the water, setting a new standard for finding the right recruits to help build an annual championship contender.
Count it: three regular season championships, three postseason NIT bids, nine All-America East selections, three America East All-Defensive team selections, two America East Player of the Year honors and two America East Defensive Player of the Year nods.
Oh, and did we mention all five of them turned pro after graduating?
Tommy Brenton, Danny Carter, Bryan Dougher, Muhammad El-Amin and Dallis Joyner all came to Stony Brook together, and although they all left at different points, they all left as champions and graduates of the university and went on to sign professional contracts.
Bear in mind, the previous three seasons, Stony Brook had won a combined 20 games (4, 9, 7). How in the world did head coach Steve Pikiell get five talented student-athletes to commit to the #Seawolves?
"What I sell to recruits is the people," Pikiell said. "We didn't have the tradition, championships or facilities back then. We just had great coaching and support staffs that the kids could feel comfortable being around. They come here because the environment we surround them with is conducive to getting better. I tell all the recruits that they come here to graduate, win championships and turn pro. Today, we have better locker rooms and a great new facility opening up next year. But back then, those five just believed in our vision of the program before the program ever took off."
The vision was one that might have been tough to see through all of the tough times that Pikiell and company had in the early going. After taking over the program in the spring of 2005, Pikiell had a tall task ahead of him. The total rebuild resulted in three painful seasons of 4-24, 9-20 and 7-23. However, Pikiell and his staff never lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.
Needing to infuse the program with talent at every position, Pikiell and his assistants pounded the pavement on the recruiting trail, seeing game after game, meeting parent after parent and high school coach after high school coach to find the right student-athletes to join Stony Brook. It all started with a six-foot guard out of Scotch Plains, N.J., who had a mighty-good three-point shot.
"Bryan believed in the potential we had here at Stony Brook, and we had playing time to offer, so he knew he could come in right away and contribute," Pikiell said.
Bryan Dougher was the first of the class of '08 to commit to the #Seawolves. He was a star at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, leaving the school as the all-time leading scorer with over 1,600 points. He led Scotch Plains-Fanwood to the 2008 New Jersey state championship and was named the MVP.
"Bryan was our number one priority," Pikiell said. "We needed a quarterback for our offense. And he was phenomenal for us. Never missed a practice, worked hard every day and left us as our all-time leading scorer."
Dougher scored 1,609 points for the #Seawolves, drained a program-record 337 three-pointers and was a three-time All-America East selection. He was a part of two America East regular season championship squads and led Stony Brook to its first-ever America East Championship final appearance in 2011.
After graduating, Dougher signed a professional contract with the Ringwood Hawks in Australia. He finished his first pro season averaging over 20 points per game, and he led the Hawks to the finals of the Australian Big V State Championship.
Dallis Joyner was the second to join Pikiell's recruiting class, and he represented a large presence. He was an all-conference performer at Granby High School in Norfolk, Va. With a 6-7, 250-pound frame, it was evident that Joyner was going to be a force in the paint for Stony Brook.
"We needed size, and Jay [Young] did a great job recruiting him," Pikiell said. "He was strong and tough. His size was going to be an issue for other teams in America East, so we knew he was going to develop well."
Joyner played nearly every game in his four-year career at Stony Brook and developed into one of the best bigs in the conference. His senior year will forever be remembered because of his buzzer-beating tip-in vs. Albany in the America East Championship semifinals that was the No. 1 play of the day on ESPN SportsCenter. Joyner was a third-team All-America East selection after shooting 61.1 percent from the field and averaging 9.0 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Joyner went on to sign professionally with Maccabi Kiryat Bialik in the Israeli League. He averaged 16.2 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 62.3 percent from the field. He helped Maccabi reach the semifinals of the Israeli Winner League. In 2013-14, he is playing for Rieker KN in Slovakia.
Danny Carter committed in the spring of 2008 and came over to the United States from England. He was a member of the Reading Rockets club and was the 2007 English U-18 National Player of the Year. He also led Reading to back-to-back European Division B Championships.
"We needed a stretch four with some size, and Danny wanted the chance to develop his game in the states," Pikiell said. "Danny brought fiber and energy to the program, and he might be the best team defender we've ever had."
Carter indeed played outstanding defense for a #Seawolves team that predicated itself on holding teams 10 points under their season average. Carter played in almost every game during his four seasons and was a key contributor on the 2010-11 team that reached the America East Championship final.
After graduating, Carter went back to England and re-joined the Reading Rockets and helped lead the team to the EBL Division 1 National Championship. He's now in his second season with the Rockets.
Perhaps the most influential addition to the program was bringing in Tommy Brenton, a 6-5, 200-pounder without a true position. Originally from Columbia, Md., he played at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., after graduating from River Hill High School in Clarksville, Md. A winner everywhere he's played, Brenton was part of the Maryland state championship team at River Hill in 2007 and the prep national championship at Hargrave after a perfect 29-0 season.
"We loved Tommy's skill set, and I saw qualities in him that we needed for this program," Pikiell said. "He had toughness, sneaky athleticism and tremendous basketball IQ. He's been a winner his whole life, and he was someone to build a program around. He was our all-time leader in rebounds"
Brenton immediately helped the #Seawolves in the win column. The team won 16 games in 2008-09, which equaled the previous two seasons' combined win total. Brenton then further cemented his status, leading America East in rebounding as a sophomore, then having incredible junior and senior seasons that led to the two best seasons in program history. By career's end, he grabbed over 1,000 rebounds, dished out over 400 assists and stole the ball from his opponent over 200 times. He was a three-time All-America East selection, the 2012 and 2013 America East Defensive Player of the Year and the 2013 America East Player of the Year. He also became the first #Seawolves basketball player to earn a national individual honor when he was named the recipient of the 2013 Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year Award.
After earning both his bachelor's and master's degree at Stony Brook, Brenton signed a professional contract with Link Tochigi Brex in the Japanese Basketball League. He's currently in his first season with the team, whose season just began last week.
After recruiting three-point shooters and a pair of big men, Pikiell's recruiting class seemed complete. But there was one thing missing, one thing that could really take the team to next level.
"We needed somebody who could score, someone who could create his own shot," Pikiell said. Enter Muhammad (Mo) El-Amin, a 6-5, 200-pound junior college transfer from Lansing, Mich.
"Mo was a good playmaker, and his size created matchup problems for opposing defenses," Pikiell said. "We didn't have anyone like him, and he ended up taking a lot of pressure off of Bryan, Tommy and Dallis because he could score."
El-Amin, who was found by assistant coach Lamar Chapman, didn't score right away, but a 27-point performance against St. Peter's and a 20-point effort at Air Force in late December cemented his role on the team. He went on to average 15.7 points as a junior and then 16.7 points as a senior, including 19.1 points per conference game. Nineteen times he cracked the 20-point mark in his Stony Brook career. He was named America East Player of the Year and helped lead the program to its first-ever America East regular season championship in 2010.
After graduation, El-Amin found a home in professional basketball with the PVSK Pecs in Hungary, where he averaged 22.0 points per game in 2010-11. He's also had stops in Italy and Israel, and he's now awaiting the 2013 NBA Developmental League Draft, which takes place Nov. 1.
Five recruits, five different styles, five impactful student-athletes, whose common bond is that they came from great families and winning high school basketball programs. They ended up being the pioneers for the success of the Stony Brook Basketball program. Without their efforts, the #Seawolves don't land a talented Brooklyn guard in Dave Coley; they don't get a sharpshooting 6-10 Scott King; they don't get a physical force in Jameel Warney, who could play for any Div. I team in the nation.
Today, Stony Brook is an annual championship contender and a Northeast Region power. The #Seawolves have tasted championships, postseason and individual accolades. They play in front of sold-out crowds, which are about to get bigger with the the opening of Stony Brook Arena in Fall 2014. They earn numerous appearances on the ESPN Family of Networks.
The success will continue on Nov. 8 when Stony Brook opens the 2013-14 campaign against Marist at Pritchard Gymnasium.