Wednesday, May 22, 2024

On the Road to the Final Four with FAU

Just hours before the Florida Atlantic University men’s college basketball team headed to Houston on an historic journey, I caught up with FAU Head Basketball Coach Dusty May and Athletic Director Brian White to hear about the Road to the Final Four! 

This is the first time the FAU Owls have reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament set for Saturday, April 1 at 6:09 p.m. versus San Diego State at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The game will be aired on CBS. Florida Atlantic could become the lowest seed to ever win a National Championship…. Go Owls!

Coach Dusty, has the reality of this all set in for you? 

MAY: Not at all. When you’re in the eye of the storm, you’re just focused on the next thing. And we still have so much more to do to prepare for San Diego State logistically and basketball-wise that I’m sure later on we will, but right now we’re a hundred percent in the moment.

What are some of things you said to your team at halftime during the Elite Eight matchups at Madison Square Garden?

MAY: The Tennessee game is probably the most vivid because we felt like we were playing well after the first seven or eight minutes of the game, but the shots weren’t going in. We just weren’t making the shots we typically do and we were only down five points. So typically at halftime the staff meets and then the players meet. And then when we come in, I’ll ask our players, what did you guys just talk about? And typically it’s very similar to what the coaches just spoke about. So that shows how focused and driven these guys are. We played really well. We were down five points, so we thought if we could just continue to do what we were doing and stay positive and confident, then the shots would eventually go in and we’d find a way to win. Fortunately, the tides turned early and we were able to knock some down and find our rhythm. 

FAU Head Basketball Coach Dusty May

Brian, tell us about the emotions on campus this week heading into Saturday. How is it for you and those around you at FAU?

WHITE: It’s been incredible. The excitement among our students on campus… the joy in that group is great to see. Our long time staff on campus, been going to games for 20 years and our diehard fans… it’s pretty special for them to see the success that Coach and this special team have put together.

So many people are writing about FAU coming out of nowhere and the ‘Cinderella story.’ But for those of us in South Florida, those of us in Boca Raton who’ve been part of the whole season, we’ve seen this gradual climb. We’re not out of nowhere, right? 

WHITE: Absolutely. It’s our fifth-straight winning season. You can see the identity of this team and the culture that Dusty’s instilled in them coming along for a long time. So for those that have been close to it, it’s definitely not something that came up quickly.

MAY: In a way we have kind of ‘came out of nowhere’ on the national scene, but we felt like we were almost there last year. We were on the verge and just things didn’t break our way and there is an element of randomness to this winning and losing thing. You try to put yourself in the best possible situation, game in, game out, year in, year out and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. So I do feel like because we didn’t achieve what we thought we were capable of last year then we were more determined all off-season to figure out why we weren’t… learned from it, correct it, and then we would be fine this year, and because of the intentional work all off-season, we had a lot of confidence going into this season that we would have a special one. Obviously not this special. You can’t ever predict that you’re going to have the best record in all of college basketball out of 365 teams but we did think we would have a really competitive group that would be battling for championships and an opportunity to play an NCAA Tournament. Once you’re in, who knows what can happen as we can all see.

FAU Athletic Director Brian White

What were you saying to the guys throughout the season to keep the momentum and to keep that spirit going?

MAY: We’re constantly reevaluating and reevaluating why we win and why we lose. Our guys, they are very aware of what our separators are and what the pitfalls of getting away from what we do well and what the repercussions will be. So it’s such a special group because they’re tough as nails and they’re extremely intelligent. So that’s a mix that you can win with and they happen to be great people that really care about others. I think all of those things rolled into one and you have an opportunity to do special things and fortunately we have.

So many firsts here. I think it’s awesome to note that even the Boca Raton Historical Society is reaching out right now and asking those community members who are going to the game to send photos and videos to mark this historic occasion. History is truly being made here. How does that feel for you guys? 

WHITE: It’s really special… especially for such a young institution. Our history doesn’t go back that far. The basketball program started in 1993. The football program started around 2000 and the whole university in 1961 as an upper level school. We feel like we’re in the midst of our beginnings and our history and future has so much potential. This run right here with a young school, to have a team go into the final Four, is just so valuable to everybody.

MAY: It is very rewarding to see the hours put in by so many people behind the scenes, our administration, our marketing team, everyone that has a hand in our success, just to see all of them fill a part of something so special. And we talk about it a lot that we’re not a 150 year old land grant institution because we’re in South Florida and there aren’t any. Therefore I don’t want to say behind, we’re just new, like Brian said, but there are benefits with that too. All of our buildings are new. Our campus looks like a five star resort and we’ve been saying since we got here, we’ve just never had our moment. The FAU men’s basketball program has never had a moment to captivate an area, a sport, a community, and we felt like once we won the Conference USA Championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament, we felt like, okay, this is our moment and now we’ve exceeded that moment. It’s been special, but hopefully we can continue to build off the momentum. We can win a couple more and cut down nets once again. We’re enjoying the ride, but we know there’s a lot more work to do.

We can talk about rank, we can talk about predictions, we can talk about the seeds. But when it comes to game time, what is it all about on that court? 

MAY: The love of competition. When we practice, they don’t compete at a lower level than they do in the game. They only know one way. I think that’s a big part of it, that they don’t know how to go through the motions and they don’t know how to just show up. They compete at a high level. They’re unafraid of failure. They’re not afraid of anything. And most of them have a chip on their shoulder by nature, where maybe they grew late. Maybe they’re a couple inches short for the optimal size for a position or whatever the case. But it seems like everyone here is extremely like-minded where they compete, they push, they challenge, and then as soon as they walk off the court, they’re hugging each other and sitting around talking. The game is 40 minutes long. We want to be complete and absolute and utter savages for 40 minutes, and we want to be perfect gentlemen for the other 23 hours and 20 minutes. I think that’s kind of how these guys are in between those lines.The competitive spirit comes out and then when you walk off the court, they’re unbelievable human beings and that’s the coolest part to me. 

We talked about the support staff. You’ve got an amazing team there on campus and throughout your departments. The other side of it is, of course, the women. You two married, I’d say amazing support staff. How has their support helped you in all things, whether it’s career, fatherhood, life? I know they’re a big part of your personal team.

MAY: I wouldn’t be into coaching if Anna wouldn’t have supported me through the tough times early on. She worked full-time while I was getting my career started and I uprooted our family every year or two for several years trying to chase a better job or a better situation. And then she worked full-time while raising three young boys. We had three under five at one point. They multiplied on us quickly! And so she was always an amazing mother, supportive wife and a hard worker. Our boys are a direct reflection of that because she spent an inordinate amount of time trying to raise them in a loving home, so I couldn’t be more grateful. That’s probably been the one A and one B rewarding part of this. Number one, senior players put so much into it, celebrate together, share this experience. And the second best has been being able to see our families who sacrificed so much for us to do what we love and chase dreams… for them to share this experience. 

WHITE: Paige (White) has been phenomenal and really runs everything in my life that makes the professional endeavors all possible. It’s also a part of everything we do. We try to build a family culture and Paige is around the office with the kids on a regular basis. Paige tries to build great relationships among the staff and with our donors at events. She’s kind of everywhere and I know that is a huge asset to me.She’s been phenomenal. 

MAY: When you watch the film, going back and seeing your families behind the bench, it’s gut-wrenching at times. It’s exhilarating at times and it’s special because we’re sitting home watching film and to see our families and I see Brian and Paige behind us, I see the administration, I see all our players and the parents celebrating in the crowd and those are the things that truly make this run special. 

How do the guys prepare over the next few days? Ready to go?

MAY: We’ve tried to approach this like we would’ve six Tuesdays ago or five Mondays ago. We really didn’t want to change anything we’re doing, try to stay in the same routine, and once we leave, other than the police escorting and the extra media responsibilities, it’ll feel like a normal business trip. Our guys really enjoy that time together. There are more distractions with ticket requests and families showing up, so we’ll have to be a little bit more intentional. For the most part, they’re gonna enjoy this experience. When it’s time to work, they’ll work, and when it’s time to soak it all in, we certainly encourage them to be college students and soak all this in.

Coach, anything else you want people to know as you head to the Final Four? 

MAY: That we’re very proud to represent not only this athletic department and our basketball program, but this wonderful university and community. They’ve welcomed our family with open arms. We’ve enjoyed every single minute and every day living here in South Florida and, we look forward to building something really special here that represents this place. 

WHITE: I think for all of us, enjoy the moment… for FAU fans, for our students, for this community. We all appreciate what Dusty and the team are doing. And you mentioned, we’re watching history literally. So enjoy the ride and this will be great fun. 

Click here for FAU ticket and gear information as well as ways to support FAU Athletics!

Follow The Paige Kornblue Show and blog at www.PaigeKornblue.com and @PaigeKornblue for Community, Sports, News, Travel and video of this interview!

Paige Kornblue
Paige Kornbluehttp://www.PaigeKornblue.com
ESPN Boca Raton Bowl's Paige Kornblue is an award-winning journalist and media/event specialist, Boca magazine contributor, The Paige Kornblue Show podcast host and former TV News anchor/reporter. Paige founded Paige Kornblue Media and The Paige Kornblue Show to feature everything from interesting people to premium products and fascinating places to the gems that make our communities special. She also now has her hands in all facets of the Boca Raton Bowl, one of 17 college football bowl games owned and operated by ESPN via its events division, ESPN Events. In her nearly two decades anchoring and reporting for top-rated television stations across America, Paige covered countless stories and interviewed numerous world leaders while at WPTV (NBC 5) in South Florida, WMUR Channel 9 in New England and FOX 29 in Louisiana to include special live reports for CNN and The Weather Channel. Some of her most memorable stories include exclusive interviews with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Senator John McCain, Barbara Walters, Emmitt Smith, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert. PK is a proud Boca Raton native who grew up loving Boca magazine and all that comes with the fabulous city of Boca Raton! You can often find her on stage assisting charities as event emcee and moderator, on the courts working to improve her tennis game and always on momma time enjoying each moment with her three young kiddos! Follow PK on Instagram @PaigeKornblueMedia and at www.PaigeKornblue.com.

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