Stony Brook is going to the NCAA Tournament.
At long last, the program that’s had the regular season titles, then so much heartache in the America East Tournament, is a winner.
And at long last, a few things can come to a stop, too.
We can stop asking, and listening to others ask, Steve Pikiell about getting over the hump. We can stop using the lack of a conference title as a negative against a program that Pikiell has turned into one of the signature programs in America East. We can stop trying to find new angles to explore how that must be hurting the players and coaches. And we can get “How does it feel to finally win?” out of our system and not have to ask it again.
Because all of it is was, and is, well, perhaps a bit silly, and even not entirely based in reality.
Competitors hurt when they lose, whether it’s the first game of the season or a championship game. In time, it hurts less, but at first it hurts. Badly. And if you have a conversation with Pikiell, the truth is he has always overflowed with positive energy, as has anyone who has worked on his staff. He will tell you how wonderful his program is and never felt like there was a stain of any kind on the program for not reaching the NCAA Tournament before this.
And why not? The program is in great shape from every standpoint – talent, coaching, facilities (they won Saturday’s championship game in their brand-new arena), academics, you name it. It’s a model program to emulate in so many ways. The NCAA Tournament may be the ultimate in the sport, but it is not the only standard by which to judge a program’s success, or lack thereof. For Stony Brook, this is the icing on the cake.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of great things that come with this. Indeed, there’s every reason to believe that the players and staff appreciate this title even more given all the heartache they have experienced. You feel great for Pikiell and the job he has done steering this program over the past 11 seasons, and after gamely answering all the usual questions in past years. You feel great for guys like Dan Rickard, an alum who has been by Pikiell’s side all along. You feel great for Jay Young, who has also been there from the start and could probably get an assistant coaching job at a school in a bigger conference but has been around the game long enough to know he has a perfectly good job right where he is. And you feel great for director of basketball operations Bryan Dougher, who experienced the heartache as a player during his great career at the school and now experiences the joy of winning it while on the staff.
And you feel great for the players, from stud big man Jameel Warney all the way down the bench. You play to win, for a chance to get to the NCAA Tournament, and they have it now. And no doubt, past Seawolves, including those who came up short in the championship game, are probably feeling a bit happier today, too. Whereas there were surely other images of the team’s past that have lived on up to this point, Warney will probably form the image that will last from now on, namely when he was boxed out, yet still got an offensive rebound and stuck it back in all with one hand and the ball never dropping below where he first touched it with just over a minute to go.
One thing that need not be said is that this validates what they have done at Stony Brook. The NCAA Tournament is many things, but it does not validate or invalidate a program’s track record.
When Pikiell spoke about all the great things happening in the program, it was not coachspeak. It was not the coach of the runner-up searching for a silver lining. It was not the coach of the runner-up trying to make it seem like the championship game losses didn’t sting. It was genuine. It’s all the end result of the potential the school had all along when they entered Division I, given their recruiting base, their academics, and now, their facilities. Pikiell and his staff have harnessed so much of that potential.
At long last, the story of the tragic endings is a thing of the past. Stony Brook is off to the NCAA Tournament, and the whole country gets to learn about what Pikiell has built and how Warney has had so much to do with it the last four years.