Getting rich in paradise. That is the basketball court’s sports marketing emblem at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, which is only a short bike ride from the dazzling Atlantic beaches. This 2022–23 FAU men’s basketball season, which is like something out of a paradise for the Owls and their coach, Eastern Greene, and Indiana University graduate Dusty May, is especially appropriate for the catchphrase. Heaven has a dazzling 21-1 record.
20 games are the longest winning run in the country for Paradise. The school’s initial Top 25 ranking comes from Paradise (three weeks running now). A vantage point at the summit of Conference USA is paradise. Almost every anticipated bracket for the NCAA Tournament includes Paradise. The unparalleled excitement about heaven on campus is what’s driving the record-breaking attendance.
For this program, which for the first 25 years has been more like Paradise Lost, it is all unexplored territory. Despite the efforts of some well-known coaches, such as Sidney Green, Matt Doherty, Rex Walters, Mike Jarvis, and Michael Curry, FAU has not been recognized for its basketball despite its proximity to the talent-rich regions of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.
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Only one of them, Doherty, ever finished his lone season at FAU with a winning career record (15-13). The Owls only had five winning seasons and one conference championship between 1993 and 2018, earning them their lone NCAA invitation.
Then along came a 40-something coach who had basketball roots straight out of “Hoosiers,” a man who had played basketball in high school at a small institution in Indiana before going on to manage basketball at Indiana University. The young man’s name, Dusty May, is reminiscent of one of those movie guys.
People from southern Indiana would recognize that. May was a superb point guard for Eastern Greene from 1991 to 1995. He participated in Division II basketball at Oakland University for one season before deciding it wasn’t for him. As a result, he decided to pursue coaching as a vocation.
May credits Mark Barnhizer, a tough coach who introduced him to “hard ethic, dedication, and willpower,” giving him the coaching bug while they were teammates in high school. He (Barnhizer) possesses a strong will that rivals anyone who has ever lived.
Because of this, May was already ready for his next mentor, IU basketball coach Bob Knight, who ensured the new manager had to work his way up. “Water and towels are what you start with as a freshman,” May remarked. You take a new path in sophomore year, whether with videos or statistics. It required full-time work. You had to be present an hour before and an hour after practice.
“Coach Knight taught me the value of being a great teacher. I work to become a better instructor each year that I coach. When I reflect, I am struck by how simple Coach Knight made complicated problems. 2000 saw May earn her degree. Knight extended the invitation to May to return as a graduate assistant before terminating her later that year.
May agreed, but Henry Bibby at Southern California later offered her a full-time job. After IU’s journey to the 2002 Final Four, Indiana expanded its basketball program two years later, and May was called back to Bloomington by then-coach Mike Davis for a position that, among other things, gave him his first experience recruiting.
May joined Mike White’s staff at Louisiana Tech before following him to the University of Florida. He had previously made brief appearances as an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan, Murray State, and Alabama-Birmingham. In 2018, FAU contacted me. May was invited to come down for an interview by White’s brother, Brian White, the athletic director at FAU, but she almost declined the offer.
May stated, “I was tired of relocating.” “I adored the Gainesville neighborhood. I believed that while I had professionally equipped for the job, I wasn’t personally prepared. Fortunately, May did pay a visit, and when he and his wife Anna traveled along State Road A1A along the shore, they were astounded by the area’s lush splendor.
“We thought, ‘This is it,’ as the GPS led us through Delray Beach on A1A (north of Boca Raton). We developed a liking for the place. May established a successful system by preaching the Indiana style of basketball, which emphasizes stifling defense, passing the ball, and a commitment to put the team first. May was a nominee for the Joe B.
Hall Award as the top first-year coach in Division I after the Owls finished 17-16 in his first season, their first winning campaign since 2011. The following three seasons saw the Owls improve until coming together this year. In their third game, a portent of things to come emerged. After losing to Ole Miss, the Owls had a 1-1 despite being without their most seasoned player.
When they faced Florida at Gainesville with all their strength, they came from behind in the second half to defeat the Gators, 76-74. Since then, the Owls haven’t lost, and on January 28, the day Charleston, the previous owner of the nation’s best winning streak at 20 games, failed to Hofstra, the Owls extended that run to 20 games.
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Purists of Indiana basketball would appreciate the way this tea is put together. No gaudy statistics or McDonald’s All-Americans exist. Nine players average 15 minutes or more, while only three score double digits. Third-year sophomore guards Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis are the team’s top two scorers, averaging under 13 points each.
Davis, the only native Indianaan on the squad, attended Gary’s 21st Century High School to play basketball in high school. He and Martin, who was selected for All-Conference USA last year, started the season as the team’s first-string players but ended up missing games due to injuries.
Even with a reduced roster, May asked the former starters whether they would mind playing off the bench because the Owls were performing well against a challenging non-conference schedule. They responded “yes” without any hesitation. In that sense, the entire squad is unselfish.
According to May, guys who could be playing 28 minutes are only getting 18. “I want to pick them all out because, today, when our game is getting so individualized, what they are doing is truly exceptional. This hasn’t happened anywhere else that I can think of.
The country began to pay attention as the victories increased. The Owls entered the Top 25 for the first time on January 16 at position 24. Later, first from Jim Rome and then from Doug Gottlieb, May began to receive requests for national television and radio appearances. When the students returned after the holidays, tickets quickly became valuable items. Over 3,000 fans packed the Owls’ tiny gym, “The Burrow,” for the Jan.
14 games against the conference’s defending champion North Texas, setting a new attendance record (where the Owls live). On January 26, they outnumbered that crowd when they played Middle Tennessee State. With a student body of over 30,000, FAU might soon require a larger arena. The team’s focus hasn’t been harmed by the hype, though.
Our people are responsible and motivated, May stated. Most significantly, kids enjoy playing ball. The media, social media, and buzz are all gone once you have them in between the lines because they are concentrated. I’ve never been around a bunch as loving and supportive as these men.
May recently turn 46. He would have passed for a student manager if not for his salt-and-pepper hair. The players aren’t hesitant to engage him in a chest bump because of his young. May commutes to work on his bicycle. His oldest son, Jack, a red-shirt sophomore on the University of Florida basketball team, is one of his four children.
May is at the point in his career where his achievement will cause larger-level programs to notice him. He has already been suggested as Mike Brey’s replacement at Notre Dame, who is resigning. But leaving paradise would be difficult, May continued, remembering why he had first traveled to south Florida.
“I thought it was a place where I could develop as a coach without feeling the pressure of failure. I believe we have a few superstars who give up for the benefit of the group. For victories, they are giving up shots, time, and points. That demonstrates their desire for something more significant for all of us.