To Stony Brook fans, Tommy Brenton is an irreplaceable forward almost maniacally obsessed with winning.
To supporters of other America East schools, Brenton’s like an 80’s-era pro wrestling heel, relishing their taunting signage and thriving on their verbal barbs.
And to at least one former assistant coach in the conference, Brenton is simply "a pain in the a--" to play against.
“I think that’s a great sign of respect if they hate playing against me, but [would] love having me on their team,” said Brenton, the reigning America East Defensive Player of the Year. “I love when fans boo me, when they make signs for me. It just shows who I am and what I can do. They don’t make a sign for a nobody.”
Of all the players selected to this year’s Sweet 16, Brenton may be the most unlikely of college basketball stars. A 5-foot-9 freshman at River Hill, Brenton grew seven inches by the time he was a 12th-grader. But despite a senior season in which he averaged 20.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals, Brenton graduated from River Hill with no Division I basketball offers and just one partial ride to a DII school in West Virginia.
The realization that Brenton – a first-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro selection and the 2006-07 Howard County Player of the Year – had no DI options was tough to stomach. But the Brenton family came to the conclusion that a year of prep school could significantly raise his stock. Brenton set his sights on Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.
“I went for the tryout the day after my prom,” Brenton recalled. “I didn’t sleep that night, just drove down. I made the team and when I got there, it was full of high-Division I players. I was just thinking, ‘Man, I’m not going to get looks by what I was doing in high school.’ I really had to develop the little things to earn playing time right away – being a facilitator rather than being a scorer.”
Brenton’s strategy to focus “on the little things” paid off right away. The former Hawks star earned a starting spot and helped Hargrave to a 29-0 record and the Prep School National Championship. He also picked up several DI offers, eventually narrowing his list to Stony Brook, UMBC and Western Carolina.
Signing with the Seawolves proved to be a good move for Brenton almost immediately. As a freshman, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound forward averaged 6.7 points and a team-best 8.9 rebounds, earning America East All-Rookie team honors. He followed that up with 7.6 points per game and 9.72 rebounds as a sophomore.
But then during pickup one day after his sophomore season, Brenton’s progress as a player was suddenly halted.
“I went up to block a shot running full speed and came down,” Brenton said. “My knee went one way, my body kept going forward. Immediately I felt a snapping. I kind of knew something was bad.”
The diagnosis was a dislocated kneecap and torn ligaments in his right knee. For someone whose most serious ailment prior to this pickup injury was a sprained ankle, the thought of missing any significant time was something Brenton never really considered.
“The doctor told me, ‘This isn’t good.’ My [target return] date was conference play, which was January, about six months,” Brenton said. “So that was like a total shock, when I couldn’t play basketball for six months. I ended up getting surgery, and that didn’t go well, didn’t go right. Had to go in again, clean it up. At that time, [the doctors said there is], ‘no way you’re playing this season.’”
Brenton during the 2010-11 campaign was relegated to a “long, long season” of watching his teammates labor through a 15-17 year that included an 8-8 mark in conference play.
“The hardest part was knowing I couldn’t help the team,” he said. “I think watching my team play knowing I could contribute in ways that could maybe have helped us. A two-point win, change the outcome of the game just by doing some little things. I know I could only watch and coach from the sideline, give them some pointers here and there.”
After eight months of rehab for three hours a day, Brenton was finally able to take the floor again in May 2011. There were “definitely concerns” in Brenton’s mind in terms of getting confident enough to go all out and test his knee. But once he got back into shape, everything fell into place.
The results of Brenton’s return to the Seawolves speak for themselves. Brenton started all 32 of Stony Brook’s games during the 2011-12 season, averaging 7.8 points (53.9 percent from the field) and 8.09 rebounds. A first-team All-America East selection, Brenton was also selected to CollegeInsider.com’s mid-major defensive team, and was named the America East Player of the Year by the website.