By Nate Thompson
Now as a sophomore point guard on the Stony Brook University men’s basketball team, Thrower and the Seawolves just accomplished a first in program history by punching their ticket to the Big Dance.
With its 80-74 home-court victory over Vermont in the championship game of the America East Conference tournament on Saturday, Stony Brook (26-6 overall) earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Seawolves’ first at the Division 1 level.
They last made the NCAA Tournament as a Division 3 school in 1991.
The tournament bid was the fulfillment of a promise made to Thrower by Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell, when the school began recruiting the 2014 Mr. Basketball award winner.
“Coach Pikiell promised me when he started recruiting me that I had a chance to be a part of the first team to make the NCAA Tournament,” Thrower told LocalSportsJournal.com.
That seemed like a distant dream to Thrower two years ago. But it became reality on Selection Sunday, when the small university located on the north shore of New York popped up on the television screen, next to one of the most decorated programs in college basketball history, the University of Kentucky.
Stony Brook, the No. 13 seed in the East Region, will battle Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats at 9:40 p.m. on Thursday. The game will be televised by CBS.
“We were hyped up,” Thrower said about his team learning it will play Kentucky. “We weren’t sure who we were going to get, but when we saw Kentucky come up next to us, that was even better. That’s one of the most prestigious teams in the country.”
Since the Seawolves’ three straight victories in the America East tournament, Stony Brook’s campus has been abuzz with Big Dance fever, Thrower said.
“We’re the talk of Long Island right now,” he said. “Stony Brook is a small town and it’s a small campus, but it seems bigger than it is, because everyone knows each other and everyone follows us. It’s pretty crazy right now.”
Although millions of Americans will be picking Stony Brook to lose on their bracket sheets, Thrower said the Seawolves are relishing their underdog role and the possibility of becoming the latest “Cinderella” story in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s different from the whole season, because the pressure has been on us to win and we’ve had that bullseye on our backs,” Thrower said. “Now we’re the underdogs, but we’re just going to go into it playing loose. The pressure is all on them because everyone is expecting them to beat us.”
Stony Brook is led by 6-foot-8, 260-pound senior forward Jameel Warney, who scored an America East tournament record 43 points in the championship-clinching win over Vermont.
“He’s a great player,” Thrower said. “It’s to the point now when he gets the ball down low, it’s almost a guarantee that he’ll score.”
Thrower said the arrival of several talented new teammates this season forced him to accept a reduced role on the team. He’s appeared in 26 games, but is averaging just 8.3 minutes and 1.7 points per game as a backup point guard.
“I’ve had to sacrifice for the team,” Thrower said. “We’ve had a few new players come in, and coach talked to me early on and said that I’d have a different role compared to my freshman season. I understood it, but yeah, it’s frustrating at times.
“But as long as the team is winning, I’m all for it. I just want to help in any way possible and stay positive.”
Thrower said he’s confident that he will have a bigger role on the team next season and beyond. But that will mean working extensively on every aspect of his game this summer, back in Muskegon.
Thrower said he’s kept in contact with Muskegon head coach Keith Guy and several current Big Reds throughout this season, and is anxious to come back home.
“I’ll be coming back to Muskegon in a few weeks and I plan on working on my game with all the coaches and players,” he said. “I’ll be there in about a month.
“I need to work on everything. I want to become an all-around, complete player.”
Thrower, a business major at Stony Brook, said he currently has a 3.1 grade point average.