After its most productive season ever, FAU men’s basketball gets even better

Ryan Cortes

Ryan Cortes

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

High up in FAU’s basketball arena, above the slick hardwood courts and the soft white nets hangs a banner. It’s large and blue with red trim on the edges. And it doesn’t say much, because it doesn’t need to.

“Sun Belt Regular Season Champions 2011,” it reads.

That means the basketball team is the best FAU’s ever had, having gone 21-11 and winning the conference.

The players got gold rings. The team had a game shown on ESPN2 for the first time ever. Fans started showing up.

It’s just an appetizer, though. This year it gets better.

After this season ends, last year’s banner gets pushed to the side. Room will have to be made for the next banner. The one celebrating a trip to the NCAA tournament. A big banner.

No one’s going to remember last year’s team. Not after this year’s becomes the first one in program history to play in the NCAA tournament.

You’d be excused for asking how this year’s team could top last year’s, given that Brett Royster (two-time conference defensive player of the year) is gone. But you’d only ask that if you forgot who coaches this team.

Swaggering 66-year-old Mike Jarvis is so confident he refused to hide his optimism when his Owls were picked to repeat as Sun Belt Conference champions this year.

“Over the years, any team that I have coached that has been expected to win, has done that,” he told the Sun-Sentinel.

That attitude (and that resumé) make losing Royster not matter. Even still, Jarvis  has brought in a group of freshmen that plan on helping you forget.

There’s Omari Grier, whom Jarvis thinks is already his team’s best 3-point shooter (even with Greg Gantt still around), and there’s Kelvin Penn, who’s 6’6” — with a 7-foot wingspan. There’s also a 7’ behemoth named Dragan. Jarvis lured Dragan Sekelja, a transfer from Baylor University, even though he’s not eligible to play until 2012.

And then there’s Jelani Floyd who came here because of Jarvis.

“It’s not just about basketball with him,” Floyd told the UP. “He’s raising us to be men. I want to have a life-long relationship with him even after basketball because he’s such a good person and a family guy.”

Add it all up and this year’s team is a faster, more dangerous group than the one who ran all over the Sun Belt Conference last year. The team’s stars are also a year older and a year more experienced. Greg Gantt spent so much time alone in the gym this summer, with nothing but his thoughts and a single basketball, that FAU police know him personally — in a good way.

It’ll help, too, that FAU fans are desperate for a winner after opening up a sparkling new football stadium with losses and fumbles.

All the eyes get to be on FAU men’s basketball now. The schedule features games against perennial tournament teams, like George Mason and Kansas, as well as games against in-state rivals, like Miami and South Florida. Intrigue and buzz surround this year’s team. There’s real hope.

And it’s warranted.

During Midnight Madness a few weeks ago, Jarvis took to the microphone and spoke to you, the fans.

“We need all of you to come out and fill this place up,” he said that night. “Because you’re going to witness the most exciting style of basketball you’ve ever seen. I promise.”

He’s serious. There’s space for another banner — a bigger one.