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Skeete’s leadership buoys UB men’s basketball

Five years ago, Jarryn Skeete committed to play for the University at Buffalo. He thought he was joining a college basketball program. In retrospect, it almost seems as if he ran away to join the circus.

“I honestly think my four years have been the most crazy of anybody in the country,” Skeete said Tuesday on Senior Night at UB.

“I’ve seen so many different coaches,” he said. “I’ve seen different ADs, different staff members. I’ve seen players transfer. I’ve seen a player (Justin Moss) get kicked off for stealing. I saw my best friend (Jamir Hanner) get kicked out of Division I for fighting.

“I feel like I’ve seen it all.”

Skeete feels like a survivor and a sage. He is the only four-year member of this year’s team, the only one who played under Reggie Witherspoon. For that matter, he’s also the only three-year guy, the only Bull who was part of Bobby Hurley’s first UB team in 2013-14.

He has been here through the good times and the bad, from Witherspoon’s ouster to Hurley’s triumphant run to an NCAA berth to the up-and-down first season of Nate Oats, for whom Skeete lobbied when Hurley left.

Now, after four tumultuous seasons, Skeete’s college career is winding to a close. He’s hoping his wild ride can end with the most improbable finale of them all – a second straight MAC Tournament championship.

The Bulls have their work cut out for them. Tuesday’s home loss to Miami left them at 9-8 in the MAC with one game left (Friday at Bowling Green) and seriously diminished their chances of finishing fourth and earning a bye straight to next Thursday’s MAC quarterfinals in Cleveland.

They’ll likely need to win a qualifier Monday at Alumni Arena to advance to Cleveland. At least it would mean one more home game for Skeete, a suburban Toronto native who stayed loyal to UB through all the turmoil.

“Honestly, I thought about leaving after the first year,” Skeete said. “I won’t lie. I sat down with (deputy AD) Allen Greene and my parents and said, ‘I need to do what’s best for me, just like you guys did what you thought was best for you when you fired ‘Spoon.’ ”

Skeete told Greene – who is now the athletic director – that he would stay if UB hired a competent coach. When they hired Hurley, he stayed. It was a relief, because his heart was still in Buffalo with his team.

“What kept me close was what really got me here in the first place,” he said. “It was one of my best friends for life, Javon McCrea. So I didn’t want to leave him.”

The bonds among teammates mean the world to Skeete. It was the camaraderie among the players that originally attracted him to Buffalo. Skeete got to see McCrea win MAC Player of the Year in 2014 and was part of a Bulls team that won the MAC regular season title.

He admits his transition to shooting guard wasn’t easy. The 6-3 Skeete had been all-MAC as a freshman point guard. But Hurley put Shannon Evans at the point when he got to Buffalo. Skeete’s days as a pure point guard were over.

“It was tough at first,” Skeete said, “but I feel like if you’re a shooter you can play at any level. I wouldn’t say I personally deferred. It was more the way the system went.

“I’m more of a pure point guard, but I was bigger than Shannon. To put him at the ‘2’ would be putting him at a disadvantage and I can shoot the ball. So if I deferred, it was for the better – because we’ve got the banner hanging up there.”

Skeete never became the star people expected after his freshman season, but he has been a steady contributor and team leader. He leads the Bulls in minutes and is averaging 8.2 points and 3.3 rebounds. He’s second in assists with 73 and is fifth in the MAC in assist-turnover ratio.

He leads the Bulls in three-pointers and is fourth in career threes behind Mike Martinho, Zach Filzen and Calvin Cage. But he’s shooting just 32.2 from behind the arc after hitting 39 percent a year ago.

Skeete has a sense for the big moment. He had 16 points at Kentucky last year, 16 this year at Iowa State. He had 18 points as a freshman when UB ended Akron’s 19-game winning streak. His late three-pointer broke open the MAC championship game against Central Michigan last March.

“He hasn’t had as great a senior year as hoped,” Oats said. “But if you look at how he got a lot of his shots, he played with Javon his sophomore year and Justin last year. They both were Player of the Year. We don’t have anything like that. So it’s been a little harder for him.”

Oats said he owes Skeete, who helped him get the job when Hurley bolted. He said he leans on Skeete, a vocal veteran leader who can pass along his accumulated wisdom about the college game to his younger teammates.

Skeete is scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in communications. It shows. When he talks, you feel like a congregation. He likes to study other athletes speaking in public. Floyd Mayweather is a favorite.

Having endured such drama and adversity in four years at UB, Skeete figures he has something to offer as a leader. He is determined to play pro ball (and hasn’t ruled out the NBA), but he’d also like to be an athletic director or coach one day.

“I bring more to the table than basketball,” Skeete said. “I can help guys. I can honestly say I’ve built this team somewhat. I’m the transition from the past to the present, from Witherspoon to Hurley to Oats. A lot of the recruits here, me and Oats got them here. I even helped bring in Shannon Evans (who bolted for Arizona State with Hurley).

“I’ve been on all sides of the business – assistant coach, player, off-the-bench guy, sales, tickets, merchandise, everything,” he joked. “I’ve done so much for this program, which is why I’m so invested in it.

“I just really want this second ring,” he said. “I’d like to say I’ll never be forgotten. Going out with a second ring would be a great way to do it, you know?”


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