Dave Hyde: It’s May Madness as Florida Atlantic becomes the surprise of college basketball | College
Here’s how May Madness started: Dusty May hadn’t even planned on taking the coaching job at Florida Atlantic University. He laughs from his office saying that five seasons later, with the FAU men’s basketball team ranked No. 19, riding a 20-game winning streak and selling out their arena for the rest of the season.
At the time, May was happy as an assistant coach at the University of Florida. He had two kids in high school and didn’t want to uproot his family, again, for a wandering life as a coach. That doesn’t even enter into the reason the position was open: FAU had seven consecutive losing seasons before his arrival.
“Then when I got down here, the GPS took me down US 1 to Boca Raton,” May said. “I said to my wife, ‘It’s beautiful.’ We started talking and…”
Now he’s created the surprise varsity basketball team as January turns into February. Of course, college basketball is defined by March Madness. Being the team people are talking about right now wouldn’t mean much to a blue blood program like Kentucky or Duke or North Carolina — all of which are below FAU in the standings, by the way.
But May Madness means something at FAU. That says it all, actually. It’s a program that’s only made one NCAA tournament, and that was two decades ago. He had never been ranked until two weeks ago when he weighed in at No. 24. There was such a thunderclap of attention that he sold the arena for the first time which we remembers last Saturday against Western Kentucky and May felt it necessary to address his team.
“We wondered how we would handle success in a place that hasn’t had a lot of success,” he said. “We said, ‘Hey, that’s great, it’s great to be appreciated and respected. Part of our goal is to develop the name of the university. But we also talked about how it still doesn’t mean anything.
FAU defeated Western Kentucky 70-63 for its 20th consecutive win. It is the longest streak in college basketball. It’s been so long that it’s affected the way May has coached this team. Some starters were injured, for example, as the team won Game 1 of the streak in Gainesville over Florida 76-74. As the season progressed, May planned to insert the now healthy starters back into the roster whenever the team stumbled.
Except he never tripped.
“Are you okay coming off the bench?” he said to second-year goaltender Alijah Martin.
“It’s good,” Martin said.
It was the same with second-year guard Johnell Davis when he got healthy. This has led to an unusual team where the bench produces more than the starters. But it works. Why change?
“We have closers, not starters,” May said. “Their attitude explains what is happening here.”
That explains why FAU sits atop Conference USA ahead of Saturday’s game at Alabama-Birmingham. The same is true: for years the FAU has hired coaches we heard about with the NBA or top coaches like Sidney Green, Matt Doherty, Mike Jarvis and Michael Curry. None worked.
May was a short assistant when FAU hired him. The only significant name in the Indiana native’s past was that he quit playing Division II basketball to become a student coach for Bob Knight at Indiana University.
“I wanted to be a coach, I was told the best thing to do was to work for a student manager and study Coach Knight,” he said. “There are so many things I learned. Just passing statistics around his office, several times he would point to an article and say, “Hey, Dusty, have you ever heard of this guy?”
“If I hadn’t, he would have said, ‘That’s the problem with you young people. You don’t read enough. I developed this curiosity to always read, to always watch films, to try to learn. This is the imprint he left on me.
May breaks an unwritten rule while speaking. The rule is to hold telephone conversations outside the coaches office. The rooms are too small, the walls too thin, the noise too loud not to disturb others.
Some mornings May walks six, seven, eight miles outside the building while on the phone. National media are now calling. Talk show host Jim Rome. ESPN and Yahoo.
So here are some tips for May: keep your walking shoes on. If FAU remains college basketball’s surprise, May Madness will go crazy as it collides with March Madness.
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