Steve Pikiell played college basketball at Connecticut in the late 1980s. In fact, he was a member of Jim Calhoun’s first recruiting class.
“People used to ask me if UConn was in Alaska,” Pikiell said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “They knew the Yukon, Alaska, more than they knew the Connecticut Huskies. Now no one ever asks that question about the UConn Huskies. (Coach Calhoun) built it from scratch there.”
Pikiell is hoping to do the same thing at Stony Brook.
Pikiell went 20-67 in his first three years as head coach there, including 4-24 in his first season in 2005-06. Since then, however, things have gotten better.
A lot better.
The Seawolves (24-6) have won 22+ games in six of the last seven seasons and, after winning the America East Tournament, clinched an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time in program history.
Pikiell can thank Calhoun for that – at least a little bit.
“I very much (borrowed some of his ideas for building a program),” Pikiell said. “I was lucky. Coach was at our game the other day (when we won the tournament). (He’s) a Hall of Fame coach and a great mentor to me. (Connecticut) built a new gym and that helped and we’ve certainly built a new gym at Stony Brook. So I was able to steal from him on how to build programs. I’m very lucky to have a guy like that that I can call upon when I need some advice.”
Stony Brook beat Vermont, 80-74, in the America East Championship, which the Seawolves hosted.
Calhoun couldn’t believe how much Pikiell had grown the program.
“The last time he came, there was nobody at the games,” Pikiell said. “He was not just excited for me but excited for the environment. It was electric on our campus.”
Stony Brook, seeded 13th in the East region, plays No. 4 Kentucky in opening-round action Thursday at 9:40 p.m. ET. Pikiell’s players won’t be intimidated.
“The funny part was, you don’t have to tell them who the players are. They see them every day on SportsCenter,” Pikiell said. “They know who the coach is. We have a veteran group – three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup – and we’ve played a lot of good teams. We’ve been through it. We’ve played some good programs. Certainly this is the storied program of college basketball and when they popped up on the screen, I said, ‘Hey, we’re going to play some good team. Why not (have it) be Kentucky?’ We got them and we’re going to have to play very well obviously. They’re well-coached and they have terrific players, so you got to play well and you got to play smart.”