Commentary: FAU men’s basketball still capable of turning season around

Rolando Rosa

Rolando Rosa

Many men have “the one that got away.” For Mike Jarvis, his 2012 version of FAU basketball is “the team that got away.”

The Owls should have been motivated to play inspired ball for a coach that led them to a conference title and is in the last year of a contract, but that was not the case.

“A lot of players haven’t really bought in,” point guard Ray Taylor said. “Last year, we bought in as a team a lot more. I think our effort went down.”

“We have a big focus problem,” senior guard Shavar Richardson admits, claiming a lack of seriousness in practice leads to breakdowns during close games. “That’s how the games go. We’ll start the game off slow, pick it up, but towards the end we’re giving games away because of the same type of atmosphere that it is in practice.”

Instead of having cohesion from bringing back six of its top seven scorers from last year’s team, FAU looked like strangers on the court for a majority of 2012.

The expectations to repeat from national publications were never met. The talented squad got lazy, content and believed the hype, struggling to an 11-18 record, finishing in fourth place in the east division.

None of that matters this weekend.

A new beginning in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Arkansas means anything is possible. Hit the reset button on the season. Jarvis definitely is. He points to a solid week of practice as being the key to shocking the Sun Belt this weekend, starting with a victory over Arkansas State on Saturday.

“A tournament is always a fresh start,” Jarvis said. “Every day is a fresh start. Most people look at games as something different than practice. Every day is a game day. Every day you come to practice you have a chance to perfect your skills. When you get in habits that you do on a daily basis, they will then carry over into games.”

After a disappointing 11-18 regular season, the Owls open the Sun Belt Tournament (on Saturday March 3 against Arkansas St) as an 8-seed. Last year FAU entered as the 1-seed. Photo courtesy of J.C. Riley.

Vastly underachieving FAU now gets a second chance. A hot streak in Hot Springs, Ark., is not out of the question. Just last season, Arkansas Little-Rock was the lowest seed and won the tournament.

Ultimately the Owls success in the tournament will come down to the same thing that they have not shown enough of during many games this season: a willingness to play as one.

In Jarvis’ office is a dry erase board with the theme for the tournament in big blue letters: “Selfish or Selfless?” He explains to me how his team this year has been more of the former than the latter, using the championship squad as an example.

“This team is not as selfless as last year’s team,” he said. “It’s going to take everybody to be selfless. It’s going to be a matter of being about the team for 40 minutes and not letting individual numbers or stats get in the way.”

All 12 players on the team have started at least once this season. Jarvis rightfully says his rotation for Saturday’s game against Arkansas State is not set.

“You might see a whole new different five on Saturday,” Jarvis said. “Depends on how guys practice. There’s no secrets. It’s like if you hold a business and people come to work, and they work hard and produce, you reward them. You give them more money, a raise, a new title. Same thing with coaching. Guys play well, they get rewarded, they get more playing time.”

Someone that has gotten little playing time lately is the baffling Kore White. Not that he didn’t deserve a benching after coming up small game after game for a team begging for an inside presence. The team’s success in the tournament hinges on the 6-foot-8-inch 245 pound forward from Fort Lauderdale.

“If Kore was doing better he’d be playing,” Jarvis spat out. “You’ve seen the games, Kore isn’t doing anything. We can’t win this weekend if Kore is not playing and playing well. He hasn’t played consistent. You can’t play 20, 30 minutes and get one rebound. Two points? C’mon, man. With his body? He should be one of the best forwards in our league, but he doesn’t work hard enough.”

Greg Gantt, the team’s leading scorer, has battled an ankle injury all season, struggling to find his rhythm offensively. However, he exploded for a season-high 28 points, making six 3s in the loss against Troy. The team needs Gantt to pack that stroke on the road trip to have any chance of making noise in the tournament.

“He caught fire because I think he played defense for a change,” Jarvis said of Gantt. “Greg’s problem this year has been [that] he hasn’t played defense the way that he’s capable. He played his best overall game. He wasn’t worried about just shooting 3s. He was worrying about playing defense.”

Despite going into the game on a four-game losing streak, the dream of another banner in The Burrow is on their minds.

“Hopefully with our backs against the wall we can rally as a team, get on the same page, and make something happen,” Taylor said. “That’s still the goal I have for this season.”

“You can’t wait until tomorrow, because tomorrow may not come. You have to do it now,“ Jarvis said. “We’ve had the talent. We’ve had a chance to win every game this year with the exception of probably two. So it’s there. It just hasn’t been manifested. You never know though, anything could happen between now and Saturday.”

What should happen is a trip to the NCAA tournament. The time is now. Make history or be it.