Over the past 14 years of covering college athletics, and specifically college basketball, I have had innumerable chances to respect and admire the skills of great athletes, even marvel at their abilities under extreme game pressure.
With that said, there have been just a few times where I’ve truly been left in awe of an athlete at his or her performance. A performance where I just want to throw all journalistic integrity out onto the playing field and just stand and applaud like a face-painted fanatic. Today was one of those days for me, and I want to say “thank you” to Stony Brook University’s Jameel Warney for eliciting the inner fan out of me.
He and the rest of the Seawolves’ men’s basketball team clinched their first ever NCAA Tournament bid this afternoon with an 80-74 victory over the Vermont Catamounts in the championship game of the America East Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. That final score absolutely does not reflect the hardship the team from Long Island had to overcome today, nor the Herculean effort put forth by the man who’s scored over 2,000 points and grabbed over 1,000 rebounds in his college career.
Before today’s game, the Seawolves had appeared in the conference championship game four times since 2011, only to lose when winning that last game would send them on their maiden voyage to the Big Dance. Twenty-five minutes into today’s game, the nightmare was occurring all over again, with the Catamounts building a 48-33 second-half lead in front of 4,109 anxious fans, most of them dressed in red and lamenting the fact that the NCAA Tournament dream was going to be extinguished once again in front of their eyes.
Warney didn’t let that happen. My word, did he not let that happen! Here was his final stat line from today: 43 points, 18-of-22 on field goals, 10 rebounds, four blocks, 38 minutes. The only thing bigger than his game was his heart, as he helped to carry his teammates long enough before they could shake out of their doldrums and contribute themselves to the epic comeback. Literally, Warney was hitting shots when Vermont players were grabbing his arm while going up for the shot.
And again. Then once more.
If he hadn’t become a household name before today, the highlights that are sure to be on loop of his performance on sports shows tonight will help in making that happen. After next week, he could very well become the next NCAA Tournament star.
[Cover photo (Warney) courtesy of A Lot of Sports Talk]