Stony Brook, which is playing in its first NCAA Tournament (and first postseason game of any kind since the 1991 Division III tourney), played the part of wide-eyed novice Wednesday.
As part of an unaffected gee-whiz news conference, forward Rayshaun McGrew said he grew up a Duke fan and no-longer-secretly hoped the Seawolves would be playing Duke in Thursday’s first round rather than Kentucky.
“Because of playing Coach K,” he said of Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
McGrew then volunteered the thrill he already experienced at this year’s NCAA Tournament.
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“I got to meet Grant Hill today,” he said of the former Duke star who is part of the Turner coverage of games at this site. “I watched a lot of (ESPN’s) ’30 for 30’ of him in college, and I actually got to meet him, and getting to see how down to earth he is was an amazing feeling.
“That was my best moment.”
Teammate Jameel Warney, who averages a double-double (19.8 ppg and 10.7 rebounds) as Stony Brook’s main man, echoed the sentiment.
“He’s taller than me,” said Warney, who is 6-foot-8. “So lack of confidence there on my part.”
Of course, Kentucky plays the heavy in this David-versus-Goliath matchup of Nos. 4 and 13 seeds. UK’s 55th NCAA Tournament and 120 victories in the event are records.
Isaiah Briscoe, who attended the same New Jersey high school as Warney and played in a few pickup games with the Stony Brook player, quickly grew tired of media questions about a possible relationship.
“A few pickup games together back in high school,” Briscoe said. “That’s about it. I don’t know him like that. But I know him.”
Briscoe’s memory of Warney?
“He’s a beast,” he said. “Dominant down low. The second-leading scorer at our school (Briscoe became the leading scorer). He’s aggressive. He’s physical. You don’t get any better than that.”
Tyler Ulis knew that Warney “dropped 40 not too long ago.” Warney scored 43 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Stony Brook’s 80-74 victory over Vermont in the American East Tournament championship game on Saturday.
Hill likened Warney to former Duke player Elton Brand and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph.
“He’s stronger than you might think,” Hill said. “He doesn’t necessarily play above the rim. They do a wonderful job of finding him and he knows how to create space. He knows how to use his body.”
UK players talked about Warney being a savvy and crafty player who knows how to use his body to exploit angles around the basket.
“He does a lot of things that are really an old-school feel,” Marcus Lee said. “He doesn’t have a lot of flair that other people have, which is good. He just gets things done. That’s it. Period.”
Warney did not object to an “old-school” label.
“I just stay in my lane,” he said. “Just stay to my strength. I don’t tend to my weaknesses because I’m good at what I do.”
Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were role models. “But I didn’t get the height,” he said with a smile.
Stony Brook Coach Steve Pikiell, a disciple of former Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun, told Warney that he’d have to shoot at least 20 times for the team to beat Vermont.
“He’s going to have to take 40 shots in this game,” Pikiell said. “You know, Jameel is a unique player, and he’s seen every defense known to man.”
But Pikiell wanted reporters to know the Seawolves are not a one-man team.
Carson Puriefoy “is arguably the best guard that we have ever had in the school,” he said. “And Rayshaun McGrew is a second-team all-league and an all-defensive player. Ahmad Walker is an all-defensive player. Lucas Woodhouse is one of the best assist guys in the country and a point guard.”
Despite the I-got-to-meet-Grant-Hill enthusiasm, Stony Brook does not lack savvy and experience. The starting lineup includes three seniors and two juniors.
In November, Stony Brook took Vanderbilt into overtime at Vanderbilt before losing 79-72.
“We’ve played at Indiana and Georgia,” Pikiell said of his seniors. “And we went out to Washington last year when they were ranked and beat Washington (and) Notre Dame. . . .
“Our guys are very confident, sometimes too confident.”
Stony Brook has the advantage of having watched Kentucky play.
“They’re always on TV,” Warney said. “You can watch ’em on SportsCenter.”
Added Puriefoy: “When I turned on the TV and watched them, I would keep watching because they’re exciting to watch. I had no idea we were going to play them, but now that we do, it’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
While Kentucky’s players were fuzzy about any Stony Brook player other than Warney, the Seawolves knew about UK.
“We kind of know what the guys are about,” McGrew said. “And us being a low program, we’re under the radar.”
As he has done repeatedly since Selection Sunday, UK Coach John Calipari said Stony Brook was capable of an upset.
“You know they can beat us,” he said. “they can.”
Kentucky vs. Stony Brook
What: NCAA Tournament East Regional first-round game
Where: Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa
When: About 9:40 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: No. 4 seed Kentucky 26-8, No. 13 seed Stony Brook 26-6
Series: Kentucky leads 1-0
Last meeting: Kentucky won 62-52 on Nov. 27, 2007, in Lexington.
ABOUT STONY BROOK
Location: Stony Brook, N.Y.
School colors: Red, Blue and Grey
Head coach: Steve Pikiell (192-155 in 11th season at Stony Brook and overall)
Conference: America East (Stony Brook won the regular season and tournament championships)
Common opponents with Kentucky: Stony Brook lost at Vanderbilt 79-72 in OT on Nov. 19 and won at NJIT 83-61 on Dec. 28. The Seawolves split games with Albany, winning 69-63 at home on Jan. 22 and losing 82-70 on the road Feb. 17.
Other notable games this season: Jameel Warney scored 43 points as Stony Brook beat Vermont 80-74 to win the America East Tournament championship Saturday. Stony Brook lost 67-66 at Western Kentucky on Nov. 21 and 86-61 at Notre Dame on Dec. 8.