Opener is a Homecoming for Steve Pikiell

When Steve PIkiell walks onto the Gampel Pavilion floor Friday night, he will be in familiar territory.

The Stony Brook head coach played for the Huskies from 1987-1991, and was part of the 1990 "Dream Season." The year after graduating, Pikiell stayed on as an assistant coach.

Nearly twenty years later, Pikiell has taken a Seawolves team that finished last in the America East in his first two years as head coach, and led them to the conference regular season title last year.

Pikiell, of course, is no stranger to seeing a competitive program build before his eyes. He was a freshman at Connecticut in Jim Calhoun's second season, where the Huskies won the NIT, catapulting them to the Elite Eight the next year.

Since then, the Huskies have been to three Final Fours, won two National Championships, and Calhoun has been inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I wish I was half as successful as he is," Pikiell said. "He's a winner."

And Pikiell is trying to make Stony Brook just as competitive in the America East as UConn is in the Big East every year.

"I try to emulate his work ethic" he said. "I learned how to work hard from him."

In Pikiell's first three years, Stony Brook went a combined 20-67, before improving to 16-14 in 2009, then 22-10 last year, good enough for an appearance in the NIT.

Going forward, Pikiell will look to his former coach as he tries to bring the Seawolves to the NCAA Tournament.

"He is still my mentor. I call him for advice whenever I need it," Pikiell said.

But Pikiell also knows that if he wants Stony Brook to make the Big Dance, a conference championship team can't materialize over night. He is stressing a one game at a time approach with his players, that will keep them focused while taking steps towards the ultimate goal.

The first step is Friday night against UConn, where Pikiell hopes to pull off the upset and shock the Huskies to start the season.

"We have to do a lot things well. We have to play smart and we can't turn the ball over," he said.

Pikiell acknowledged that defeating the Huskies would be a tall order, but it's a doable challenge, and one he can't wait to attempt.

"I'm looking forward to playing the Huskies," he said.

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