When Albany took the floor against Stony Brook on Monday night there was one notable absence from the floor at Island Federal Credit Union Arena.
Junior Peter Hooley, who hoisted the America East tournament MVP trophy on his last trip to Long Island, was in Australia, tending to his mother, Sue, who is stricken with colon cancer. The Great Danes’ leading scorer (14.5 ppg) has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the team, one that started on Saturday when he flew out to Los Angeles to start the long trip to home.
Without Hooley, Albany managed to hand Stony Brook its first loss in its $21.1 million renovated arena, holding the Seawolves to a season-low 47 points in a 64-47 win. However, it was the days before the game that overshadowed laying out a game plan to beat Stony Brook.
“I’m not the most emotional guy in the world, but my wife emailed me before the game a picture that was sent by Peter’s sister of Peter hugging his mom in the hospital,” Albany head coach Will Brown said. “Coaching’s easy man, coaching’s easy. The great Fran Fraschilla, ESPN said to me a long time ago, he said, ‘Will, coaching’s easy man, it’s all about crisis management, that’s going to test you and nobody prepares you for it.'”
“These are one of these situations that’s just, you have to take it second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and there is no timetable. I just know that mom’s not doing well and we need to respect that and support that. He’s a great young man and we just have to keep him in our thoughts and prayers. My mindset right now is, we just have to prepare every day like we’re not going to have him, that’s the tough part. You don’t have all that practice time right now and you want to do some things a little different, not having him, but we just didn’t have time to, so we just had to put our best foot forward today and the kids did a great job.”
On the ride back home from a prep school with an assistant coach late Friday night, Brown got a call from Hooley and was prepared for the worst. After getting back to campus, Brown met with Hooley, Sam Rowley, and his younger brother Mike Rowley. After a discussion, Mike volunteered to go with Peter on a plane to Los Angeles — where after a five hour layover — he would take the next leg of his trip to Australia to meet his family. Mike returned to Albany and, as Brown described him “useless” in his return to practice, but against Stony Brook provided a team-high 13 minutes off the bench.
“I was very proud of Mike for that, and Mike would play it down like it was nothing, but it’s hard,” Sam Rowley said. “Mike’s a more entertaining guy than me, so it was probably best that he went, but yeah we drove them down [Saturday] and Pete knew, no matter what, that we were there to support him.”
Brown said that he talks to Peter on a regular basis and he will continue to do so as much as he can, even when the 15-hour time difference gets in the way, and said his wife has been in contact with Peter’s mother over the last six months.
Sam Rowley, who grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds to go with 16 points, said that the team feels as much as they play for each other, they are playing for more.
“It’s nice to get it out of your head sometimes because it is hard,” Rowley said mentioning the game provided an opportunity to escape. “Unfortunately there’s not much we can do to really help, at this moment, and she’s tough as nails.”
“We all believe she is going to come through, but basketball is a good sort of distraction from that because it’s hard to think about those things. We think its hard for us, can’t imagine how hard it is for Pete and the rest of his family, but I would say it was a bit of a distraction in a good way in a sense.”
In the shadow of all these distractions, Albany held Stony Brook to 0.77 points per possession, their second best defensive performance of the season. Junior guard Evan Singletary, who scored a game-high 21 points, said it was a very complete defensive game.
“I think on our part, we had to go out and play hard, not just for us or not just for our family, but for Pete and his family,” Singletary said. “I think that’s what gave us a lot of energy into the game.”
The only other time this season the Great Danes were without Hooley was a trip where the team was plagued by the flu and was blown out at Niagara. Brown joked that that game film might have been the first they threw out and not broken down afterward.
So far in America East play, the Great Danes are tied atop the standings with Vermont at 5-0, but they may have to face the realization that Hooley’s return is in doubt for the rest of the season.
“I think we’ve got to continue to understand that without Peter, we don’t have a lot of room for error,” Brown said. “We’ve got to understand what we need to do to be successful and we need to stick to it, can’t waver from it.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.