Owls Need Fresh Faces to Make a Difference

The aptly chosen tagline for the men’s basketball team this season is “Back to Work”. While a few incumbents like Paul Graham, Carlos Monroe, Jeff Parmer and Derrick Simmons are back, it is the newcomers that will make or break the Owls’ season.

Favorites Brent Crews and DeAndre Rice are gone, taking with them the scoring, leadership and tenacity that the Owls will attempt to replace as they try to repeat and build on last season’s surprising success.

Graham, Monroe, Parmer, Simmons and fellow returnees Eni Cuka, Sean Alarcon and Seydou Kone have been back to work, practicing hard throughout the semester in preparation for last weekend’s season opening road trip to Rhode Island and Boston College. While it is up to them to do their part to carry on the accomplishments of last season, it will be the fresh faces that will be keys to FAU’s season.

The aforementioned foursome is undoubtedly a talented group of players, each bringing his own unique skill set to the court. What this team lost is a floor general, someone to facilitate the offense and anchor the defense, a job formerly manned by the rugged Crews. They also lost the unquestioned go-to guy, the Owls own version of the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade, a job formerly manned by the icy-veined Rice.

The fill-in candidates for Crews’ spot are junior college transfer Carderro Nwoji and little-used Eni Cuka.

“[Nwoji] is a piece of the puzzle that we need for this year. He can fill a void that we have with the loss of DeAndre and Brent,” said assistant coach Mike Ballado. That void includes running the offense and hitting the outside shot.

Against Rhode Island on Friday night, Nwoji and Cuka both struggled. Neither made a field goal and they had a combined four assists from the point guard spot as the Owls fell 90-63 to Rhody. An anticipated strong effort from Monroe kept the Owls in the game into the second half. Monroe’s 22 points and nine rebounds brought FAU into halftime with a respectable 40-35 deficit, before URI pulled away.

Coming into the season, the replacements and the returnees were subjected to a coaching strategy where no one was named a starter and everyone came in on an even playing field leading up to Friday’s loss at Rhode Island. Nwoji got the nod at the point, unfortunately his Owls debut was a disappointment.

Even more troubling was the fact that FAU shot just 1-11 from behind the three-point arc. Nwoji himself was 0-2, while swingman Graham was 0-4. Only Alarcon managed to find the bottom of the net, late in the second half as the Rams pulled away.

The Owls were big underdogs in both games of the road trip, but there were some encouraging signs. Monroe and Graham led as they are expected to. Parmer and Simmons filled in the gaps. Brent Royster made a strong showing in his collegiate debut. And this season is just as fresh and the new faces on the Owls’ roster.

“We want to come out victorious but we also want to work on some things,” Ballado said of the tough road games to open the schedule.

The Owls have a few games to do so before returning to The Burrow on Dec. 1.

Just like the motto says: Back to Work.