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Pikiell has Stony Brook prepared for a busy weekend

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published November 24. 2012 4:00AM

Less than 24 hours after hosting Canisius this afternoon, Stony Brook will board a bus for a road trip to UConn.

Playing consecutive days with the second game at a ranked team is far from ideal.

But that's what a mid-major program has to do to survive in the fiercely competitive college basketball world.

For Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell, Sunday afternoon's game in Storrs is a homecoming for the Bristol native and former UConn guard and assistant coach.

A late scheduling change due to Stony Brook being asked to play an ESPN-televised game forced the difficult two-game stretch.

"Schools like us, whenever you get opportunity to play on TV you just have to do it," Pikiell said earlier this week, "so I just have to suck it up, play Canisius, and then we jump on the bus that next morning and we head to UConn.

"Nothing is easy at this level. . At this level, it's a grind. But that's the world I live in."

During his successful head coaching career, Pikiell has significantly improved Stony Brook basketball's world. He's built a consistent America East contender from scratch, turning around a program that never had a winning season in Division I before his arrival. In the last three seasons, the Seawolves have averaged 20 wins, captured two conference regular season titles and earned two NIT bids.

Pikiell, who's in his eighth season, is excited about the direction of the program.

Despite losing three starters from a 22-10 team, the defending champion Seawolves were picked to finish second in the America East.

The Seawolves also are excelling in the classroom, earning perfect APR scores the last two years.

"I feel really good about where the program is," Pikiell said. "We've got a solid foundation. I've got great assistant coaches. We've built a program here that I think is going to continue to be good for along time. We continue to recruit good players and kids graduate and keep playing.

" So it's a totally different program than when I got here and I'm really proud of that."

Pikiell, a Husky guard from 1987-1991, also feels good about his alma mater. He's thrilled that former Husky Kevin Ollie replaced Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun.

Ollie was a freshman during Pikiell's one season as an assistant at UConn in 1991-92.

"I love Kevin," Pikiell said. "He's one of my all-time favorite players. I've talked to my players - and had before he even got to UConn where he was in the NBA - about a player with just toughness and grit and true professionalism. I'm so happy he's the head coach. I'm so happy that Coach Calhoun helped get in one our own. That means a lot to former UConn players, having a UConn guy running UConn basketball."

Stony Brook has never beaten UConn, losing decisively in all three meetings during Pikiell's tenure. The No. 21 Huskies are 4-1.

It will be the first time that Pikiell brings his team to Storrs without Calhoun stomping the sidelines.

"UConn basketball is just different not seeing coach," Pikiell said. "For me, I just always expected Coach to be on the sidelines. I'm amazed that he did it for as long as he did at the level.

The Seawolves won their first three games this season before blowing a 14-point second-half lead in a 64-62 loss to Sacred Heart on Sunday. Pikiell has a nice mix of proven veterans, including preseason America East first team selection Tommy Brenton, and promising newcomers.

"I think we're going to be really good this year," Pikiell said.

g.keefe@theday.com

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