BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — It was logical to think when Florida Atlantic’s season ended in the Final Four last spring that everything would change.
Dusty May surely would be going to a bigger coaching job and getting a much larger paycheck. The Owls’ best players would either be going to the NBA or to higher-profile schools, moves that would have likely come with richer sponsorship opportunities.
Only none of it happened.
May is still in Boca Raton. All his players, except one who graduated and exhausted his eligibility, are still in Boca Raton. A couple of guys briefly dipped a toe into the NBA draft waters, but nobody entered the transfer portal.
So, when No. 10 FAU — which has its highest ranking and loftiest expectations ever — opens its season Wednesday at Loyola Chicago, the Owls from the Final Four last season will be the Owls in the first game this season. And the reasons seem very clear.
“It’s their commitment to each other,” May said.
“We’re family, and we mean it,” guard Alijah Martin said.
“It’s the culture of this program and this university,” forward Giancarlo Rosado said.
Commitment, family, culture, all good reasons. There’s another as well: unfinished business. The Final Four banner from last season now hangs over FAU’s home court, and the goal for this season is for the Owls to hang another one — maybe even one showing a bigger prize — next to it.
Nothing is guaranteed and the Owls, the preseason favorites in the American Athletic Conference, know it. They had to hold off Middle Tennessee State in the final seconds of last season’s Conference USA semifinals to win 68-65; had that outcome gone the other way, the Owls surely wouldn’t have been a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament and maybe been knocked off the bracket entirely.
That said, the Owls bring back their starters, 97% of their blocked shots, 94.5% of their rebounds, 90% of their scoring, 90% of their assists and 89% of their steals from last season.
“We already have our chemistry,” guard Bryan Greenlee said, “and we all know our roles.”
And the coach is still there, just as he said he would be. He told recruits he was staying, told other coaches, told parents, told his players. Maybe they believed him, maybe they didn’t. But he stayed.
“I think it started in January, when our players started coming in and saying, ‘Hey, Coach, my high school coach said you’re going to go there, my dad heard you’re going to take this job, you’re going to do this, you’re going to do all that,’” May recalled. “And I just said, ‘Fellas, you know me, you know what my values are, you know what’s important to me.’ Coaches say all the time that they’re not leaving and they leave the next day. I’m not going to do that.”
That resonated with players, who were also getting calls themselves about potentially transferring — with the lure of more name, image and likeness endorsement money a tough carrot to ignore.
But since May — who did get a new 10-year contract from FAU after the season — stayed, they figured they should as well.
“Look at where we started and the group that we went to the Final Four with,” Greenlee said. “We built that group up. So, why would we put in all that work just to leave to go to a better spot? We know the reality: Everyone can reach their dreams from this spot. It’s not about where you go. It’s about what you do where you’re at. Everyone here has bought into that.”
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