Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


FAU Men’s Basketball Team Wins Conference Title, Ready for “March Madness”

Every year, sixty-four college basketball teams nationwide compete for their respective conference titles as well as a bid to the NCAA tournament. This year, Florida Atlantic’s men’s basketball team won’t be watching in envy and wondering if they’d ever be on of those teams. Because these tourney-bound Owls are all in the mix of “March Madness.”

The Owls beat defending conference champs Georgia State in the conference finals to win the 2001-2002 Atlantic Sun Conference and receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, a remarkable improvement for a team two seasons removed from a 2-29 record.

After Daryl Dingle made one of two free throws with six seconds remaining, GSU’s Lamont MacIntosh took an in-bounds pass, down by one and missed a shot as time expired and history was written for FAU.

“This feels great. I still don’t believe it. We all stepped up to our game,” forward Antoine Stevens said.

Under the direction of Coach Sidney Green, a former Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks player, the team has gone far since Green came to FAU three years ago. Also a former player of the year, Green has received several congratulatory phone calls from NBA greats and former teammates like Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley.

“This is something they’ll live with for the rest of their lives. It’s a wonderful thing,” Coach Green said pointing over to his team.

“It really hasn’t all sunken in yet,” point guard Ernest Crumbley said last Thursday before the team’s first practice since the one-point win over Georgia State.

With its 19-11 overall record, the team is headed to the NCAA Tournament, better known as “March Madness,” a field made up of 64 teams with one eventually being crowned National Champions.

Obviously, the level of competition for Florida Atlantic won’t get easier, but these high-flying Owls don’t seem to be the least bit fazed.

“Do these guys look nervous to you?” Coach Green said pointing over to a jovial group of his players.

Point taken.

“I feel like we can play with anyone in the country,” point guard Anthony Slater said March 7 before practice while signing a “NCAA Final Four” basketball. “We’re excited to be going to the Tournament, but deep down inside we’re not going just to go. We’re going to win.”

Florida Atlantic will receive a high seed in the tournament and most likely face a nationally ranked top 10 team, a possible No. 3 or 4 seed. Understanding this fact, it may seem like the Owls’ chances of advancing past the first round seems miniscule.

Although last year there were 13 first round upsets, proving that “March Madness” is exactly that: Pure chaos. One of those upsets was Georgia State defeating No. 6 seed Wisconsin.

The win over the GSU Panthers is the Florida Atlantic’s first ever conference title and the team set finished with a record-setting 19 wins since joining Division 1.

According to Coach Green, the win will not only help the basketball team in recruiting but also help the sports department and school in its entirety.

“I told my assistant coach as we celebrated on the court, to call the recruits and tell them we’re thinking about them as we go to the dance and celebrate this win,” Coach Green said. “All the individual accolades I received doesn’t compare to this.”

Florida Atlantic are currently on a five-game winning streak and playing their best now then they have all season. Two common threads among teams that have faired well in the tournament are a strong belief in themselves as a team and a deep bench.

“We don’t really have a starting five,” Slater said. “Everyone is capable of being a starting player on our team.”

The Owls bench deep and the belief in themselves is definitely present. Two mixtures, which are said by many to be dangerous come tournament time.

So, does Cinderella’s slipper fit?

“That’s the great thing about March Madness,” Coach Green said with a smile. “You never know.”

How we got here

Three years ago, before Coach Green’s reign, the men’s basketball team could only watch conference tournament championship games on television and wonder when, if ever, their program could make it to a similar level.

But with one coaching change and two complete teams later, that time has come for the Owls.

Green was hired for the 1999-2000 season, replacing Kevin Billerman, who coached FAU to a 57-98 record in five years.

Not every year has been as triumphant as this year’s. During Coach Green’s first year, par to Billerman’s lack of success, the Owls finished 2-28 overall with their only conference victory coming in the Atlantic Sun Tournament.

The next year Green invited only one player back and his first recruiting class, surprising to many, featured six freshmen.

“I knew what I was getting myself into,” Coach Green said reflecting back on his first two seasons. “But I never really expected to lose 28 games.”

FAU President Anthony Catanese said he knew this victory would come with Green coaching.

“I really had faith in Coach Green. I just knew he was going to do this. There was no doubt in my mind. He delivered in three years,” Catanese said.

The 2000-2001 season saw freshmen Jeff Cowans and Ernest Crumbley displaying glimpses of potential and the team improved by five wins overall going 7-24.

Before stepping on the court this season, Coach Green and his team, with the off-season additions of four junior college transfers (JUCO), were projected to finish second to last in the conference.

Yet Coach Green and his players saw things differently.

“That was the fuel to the fire,” Coach Green said. “These players JUCO transfers came to FAU because they believed in our program here. All that did the projection to finish second to last in the A-Sun was spark what was already there.”

Spark or fuel to the fire, the Owls finished the 2001 season as champions and proved many doubters wrong.

FAU’s team spirit – Another First?

Not everyone doubted that the Owls would go all the way.

Student Body Governor Pablo Paez said that he knew the team would succeed – he won’t even be surprised if they win the whole tournament.

“This is history and they’re making it for us, for all of FAU,” Paez said.

Another historic issue is all the students who have been attending the basketball games. For that, Paez credits the PROWLers.

The PROWLers is a brand-new student spirit organization. “It’s a way to get people together to show the support for the teams,” Paez added.

And win-or-lose the tournament, the PROWLers will be having one huge party for the team.

“We want to show them the appreciation of the student body that they represent. Win-or-lose we will have a celebration,” Paez said.

This spirit club started for the basketball team, yet many want to see it spread into the other FAU sports teams – or even every aspect of the University, Paez said.

President Catanese is all for that. He said, “I think this is going to be a big way to bring life on campus to the students. We’ll be like bigger and older schools.

“It’s just the beginning. I think it’s the success we’ve always wanted.”

– Kelly Tyko contributed to this article.

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