Stineman Right on Time at D'Youville
Sometimes, you meet the right person at the wrong time.
The stars don’t exactly align.
Chris Stineman, a sophomore at Division-II D’Youville in Buffalo, N.Y., met Earl Schunk, D’Youville’s men’s basketball’s coach, at the wrong time. He would one day be reunited with Schunk and the Saints where he would be able to pursue his dream of playing college basketball at a high level.
It just didn’t start out that way.
Stineman played basketball at five different schools from high school to college before finding a new home at D’Youville.
Long Road Home
His story started at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, a private high school in Buffalo where Stineman was first finding his basketball potential.
Stineman also played AAU ball with Michael Brooks who was the freshman coach at St. Joe’s. When Brooks saw Stineman, an incoming freshman, playing one-on-one with varsity players at a camp one day, he alerted the varsity coach, Mark Simon. He was beating his varsity guys and deserved a look.
He made the varsity team as a wide-eyed freshman but fractured his wrist six games into the year and admitted he did not feel at home during his time at St. Joe’s and decided to transfer to the public school in his district, West Seneca East, for his sophomore year.
That was not the last time Stineman would go home to play basketball.
After one season with the Trojans, Stineman said, “I knew playing college basketball was a possibility.”
Darren Fenn, a hall-of-fame player from Division I Canisius and the head coach of the Nichols School, helped him reach that goal, but not exactly the way Stineman expected. He transferred to Nichols for his junior and senior seasons and garnered attention from Division III schools. He talked to coaches and traveled the country playing in camps to get exposure.
There were no offers from Division II or Division I schools, but Stineman believed he deserved the opportunity to play at a higher level. He played well at a camp at D-II Post University and expected to open communication with the Eagles.
He sent letters out to many schools and was very interested in D-II Gannon.
Stineman heard only from D-III schools during his time at Nichols despite averaging a double-double with 15 points per game and 10 boards.
During his recruitment, Schunk contacted him and let him know D’Youville had interest in the Buffalo-native as early as Stineman’s sophomore year. It turned out D’Youville would be the right place and would one day be Stineman’s basketball home, but the timing wasn’t quite right.
“I told myself I was better,” Stineman said, noting that D’Youville was still Division III and thought he could play a level up. He knew he had the skills to play D-II ball. It was just going to take a little longer than he expected and his journey took a few detours.
He ended up not playing college basketball for any NCAA school, D-III or D-II, straight out of high school, enrolling instead at nearby Erie Community College in an effort to elevate his game, broaden his horizons, and become a scholarship player.
At Erie, he met Alex Nwora. The head coach of Erie also serves as the head coach of the Nigerian National Team and his son, Jordan, starred at Louisville and is playing professionally for the Milwaukee Bucks.
“Coach Nwora turned me into the basketball player I am today.”
In his first game with the Erie Kats, Stineman earned a start and dropped 12 points.
He went on to start 13 games with Nwora and helped the Kats keep a national ranking all season and earn an invitation to the national postseason tournament. However, COVID-19 — a familiar antagonist in seemingly every sports story nowadays — robbed their championship aspirations.
Stineman completed his freshman year at Erie and felt it was time to broaden his horizons even more. When deciding to enroll at community college in the first place, Stineman admitted it was a tough decision. All his friends were graduating high school and fleeing the nest to see the world. Stineman was left behind to work on his game while still eating at the same Buffalo wing joints and beef-on-weck restaurants he had been going to since he was a kid.
He had already rolled the dice and passed up D-III opportunities to better his game. He was about to take another gamble on himself and leave home for the first time.
John Jay and Beyond
He decided to play at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
The potential for a season at John Jay looked bleak because of the pandemic in the most populated city in the country. Also, Stineman missed home. He admitted he was not happy in the Big Apple and left after just one semester.
He went to John Jay to pursue his career goal of working in criminal justice, so he would not come back home to just play ball anywhere. He needed to align his career aspirations as a police officer or state trooper with his basketball dreams.
Reenter Coach Schunk and the D’Youville Saints.
D’Youville was accepted into D-II in July 2020 and also had a great psychology program. Above all else, the campus was essentially in his backyard.
Even better, he already had a connection since he was recruited to play ball for Schunk back as a high school sophomore. After one season with Nwora at Erie and only a semester at John Jay, Stineman finally accomplished his goal of playing college basketball at a higher level.
Since Stineman transferred in during the middle of the year and from a D-III school, he had to sit out of competition for a calendar year, but he was able to practice even though he would miss the first six games of the 2021-22 season.
Right from the start in the spring of 2021, Stineman saw his chance to make an impact on the team.
“My mentality the whole time was that I knew I was ready to get back on the court and make a difference.”
Teammates told him about how excited they were to get him into games. They knew they needed him out there especially as a young group of guys trying to adjust to D-II.
Even in practice, Stineman noticed a difference in competition.
“The physicality and commitment is much higher than it ever has been,” Stineman said.
He was going to have to put work in if he was going to prove he deserved to be at the D-II level.
Finally, after a year of practice, Stineman got back out on the court.
Ironically, the Saints were hosting D-III Buff State in Stineman’s first game back on Dec. 6, 2021. Stineman came off the bench in his first game in 639 days, scoring two points in nine minutes.
While Stineman may have been a little disappointed in his role, he realized a slow approach to his sophomore year may be a good thing.
“Playing that game allowed me to get reacclimated to the game,” Stineman said. “Nothing hits like that first game back…the adrenaline rush, the goosebumps during warmups…”
Rising to the Challenge
Stineman came off the bench for three more games before finally earning a starting spot. The 6-7 forward made an impact once he jumped into a starting role and is averaging 15.9 points per start. He even dropped 33 points on St. Thomas Aquinas on Jan. 23.
“Mentality is a big thing for me. I believe that is what separates players; having a good mentality,” Stineman said.
He grinded his way onto the Saints roster and into a starting role using the past year as motivation. He finally had a home in D-II college basketball which had been a goal of his since high school.
While Stineman has proven he belongs, he and his teammates still have a lot to work on. It is no easy task to move up a division in college basketball. As Stineman said, the players are bigger, faster, and stronger.
“We’re young and just trying to trust the process,” Stineman said. “We see what we’re doing now and we are all pretty young so imagine our senior year together. We have a lot of time to gel.”
The Saints are 2-18 so far in their inaugural D-II season with three underclassmen, including Stineman, at the helm offensively. Each loss is a learning opportunity. They’re in the locker room after each game giving tips to teammates and trying to figure out what they can do better.
Stineman has a home for the next few years instead of jumping around from school to school and city to city trying to accomplish his goals.
And he gets to do it close to loved ones.
“Every kid says, ‘I can’t wait to get out of the house.’” Stineman said. “But when you actually leave and you’re not around your family, you start to realize how much family means.”
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