From the eighth-floor lobby of the New York Marriott Marquis hotel in Manhattan, Florida Atlantic athletic director Brian White impossible to find the exact words to describe what being in the Sweet 16 meant to the program and the Owl community as a whole. And that was almost six hours before the denunciation of FAU victory over Tennessee. I told White after our interview in the hotel lobby that it would be great to see him in Madison Square Garden sometime that night or in the future. It’s a usual thing to say before parting with a topic, but something in White’s response of “You bet!” made me believe it would happen somehow.
The next time I was in his presence was on the hardwood in the Garden with red and blue confetti flying everywhere. Exactly 85 minutes of basketball had passed between games and the pool of potential national champions had shrunk by 400% for the second weekend in a row. Florida Atlantic made the cut again and became the first American Conference team to advance to the Final Four since a Memphis team led by Derrick Rose was a national runner-up in 2008. White gave Deadspin an interview, albeit a question, before being whisked away to be the last net-cutting owl, which White gladly waved around his head several times before passing it on to one of the Florida Atlantic players. .
“No, I’m less likely to find the words now,” White told Deadspin from half court, trying to process the enormity of going from zero NCAA Tournament wins to a Final Four in the space of nine days. . “I’m so excited for this team, the student-athletes, the coaches. Beyond excited at the moment, the university. Obviously, we talked about the exposure and the different things that race caused. Going to the Final Four is about as special as any sporting event. I’m so thrilled for these guys.
While White was verklempt when talking about the overall impact of no man’s college basketball land in the Final Four after defeating Kansas Statethe man he hired five years ago on Wednesday to be Owls head coach, Dusty May, wasn’t so careful with his words.
“Florida Atlantic is a new university. It was booming before I got here,” May said to close her Saturday night press conference. “One of the reasons I took [this job] because it was in the right place at the right time, and it’s growing exponentially. So we talked about it; we never had that moment as a university. I still remember being a kid watching the ’87 Hoosiers and because of that I became a lifelong fan. So we never had our moment, and when we did the tournament this year and we won a very tough league, if you look around and really study our league, a tough league, we thought that this could be our time to really captivate an area, a fanbase, a student body. And I think we’re past that point, but there’s no reason we can’t keep riding that wave.
May said at her press conference that her roster is being drafted out of school now and has been throughout the NCAA Tournament. May didn’t think anything was wrong with it because of how many outside parts there were. And truth be told, there’s no doubt that transfer portal shopping is on the to-do list in the May offseason. Still, the core of this Florida Atlantic team has stuck together and May is confident that will be the case in the future.
“Our job as coaches is to do our best every minute of every day to provide the environment that they believe is the best thing for them in the long run,” May said. “Not today, not in a week, not in a month, but in the long term. And the missing piece that’s very underrated is that these guys actually love each other, and when you love your teammates, it’s hard to go jump in deep water and not know what’s going on.
Retaining May will be difficult. And why wouldn’t he want to take his coaching staff and roster to a bigger school where winning a conference tournament isn’t required to compete in The Big Dance? As good as Boca Raton could be, that’s a concern beyond next weekend. Yet when college basketball junkies still remember the longstrokes to make the Final Four, George Mason, VCU, and Loyola Chicago will now permanently have Florida Atlantic as their contemporary.