After a flood of departures, meet all the new men’s basketball Owls

Rolando Rosa

Every night last year, Dragan Sekelja had one of the best seats in The Burrow to witness an 11- 19 season for the Owls.

Right on the bench.

Sekelja, a 7-foot center who transferred from Baylor after 2010- 2011, had to redshirt and sit out. During games, an undersized FAU squad with no player averaging more than the 4.5 rebounds of the now-departed Kore White, was constantly getting bullied, beaten, bruised up inside the paint.

Frustrated, all Sekelja could do was watch. The pain, the helplessness of not being able to help his team, took a toll on the Croatian junior.

“It was one of the worst experiences of my life,” Sekelja said. “Seeing us losing, wanting to come in — but you can’t. It was always hard to just sit there. I learned from it though, and I don’t want our fans to have to watch another season like last [year].”

With the arrival of the new recruiting class, it’s possible they won’t.

In addition to Sekelja, the incoming players for 2012-2013 are some of the most highly acclaimed players FAU has ever acquired, with head coach Mike Jarvis making a bold claim.

“The class that we’re bringing in is going to be the most talented class,” Jarvis said. “It includes a 7-footer in Dragan. It includes probably the most incredible athlete that I’ve ever seen in Stefan Moody, it includes a 6-foot-8 power forward in Chris Bryant who is a top player. It will include two more guys at two more positions.”

“We’re bringing in a team,” Jarvis added.

Bryant, the Florida Class 3A Player of the Year while at Rickards High School in Tallahassee, was invited as one of 100 seniors to a National Basketball Player’s Association (NBPA) camp in Charlotte, S.C. and was pursued by ACC schools Florida State and Virginia Tech.

Instead of battling under the basket for one of those programs, Bryant attended Fishburne Military School to improve his grades. It is a decision his high school coach says has matured Bryant.

“He’s matured,” Eli Bryant, his coach at Rickards High School, said. ”They’re getting a great young man. [While he was at Rickards] he’s told me that he was doing enough in the classroom. I kept preaching to him. ‘Enough ain’t good enough, Chris. It’s going to catch up with you.’ I think he’s learned his lesson because he was really bummed out that he had to go to prep school.”

The multi-faceted Bryant plays three positions — shooting guard, small forward and power forward — which could help an Owls team that lost six players in the offseason.

Point guards Ray Taylor (declaring for the NBA draft) and Alex Tucker (graduated) are among those leaving FAU, but Jarvis and others rave about the play of fellow point man, Stefan Moody, who has a 40 inch vertical leap.

“He is the most athletic kid I’ve ever seen, and I’ve played Division 1 basketball and professional basketball,” Poinciana High School coach Oliver Simmons said. “Phenomenal. He’s what they call a YouTube kid. He’s 5-foot-9 and dunking on 6-foot-9 people. Tell your fans to get ready.”

Simmons explained that the 160-pound Moody virtually carried the team. Poinciana made it to the Sweet 16 and Moody was the biggest reason, he says.

“He was our everything. He led us in almost every category. No one else on the team averaged double figures,” Simmons said. “For us, he was such a dominant scorer that we didn’t need him to pass as much.”

That doesn’t mean Moody is selfish. Simmons also mentioned that Moody played summer ball for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), he was the MVP of the all-star game with over 10 assists. He does admit, though, Moody’s athleticism blinds scouts to his flaws.

“The one thing about him that is never talked about is, he needs to work on his ballhandling. He’s so fast and athletic that he gets away with that,” Simmons said. “I always tell him, when he gets to the point where he can dribble the ball better than anybody, then there’s no one that can guard him. He’s that good.”

The other players, like Devonte Thornton, Javier Larunza and Jackson Trapp, are not as highly publicized.

“If you’re going to ask me what my style of play is, 90 percent of the time, it usually has been: Winning,” Mike Jarvis said. “What I do is, I take what I have, and I fit our team around what I have. I’m not North Carolina, I’m not Duke. So I can’t go out and recruit five McDonald’s All-Americans.”

Even though FAU played the 23rd toughest (out of 349) non-conference schedule in the nation last season, according to CBS Sportsline, Jarvis expected a championship caliber team.

“This year, I thought we would be a little better with the schedule we had, but we learned from that and now we move on from that,” Jarvis said. “We’ve got an opportunity next year to really upgrade our overall depth, talent and size.

“I’m really excited.”

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The New Guys

Mike Jarvis believes the recruiting class of 2011-2012 will be the best ever at FAU. With players from Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and New York, the class includes four freshman and a transfer (Dragan Sekelja). Here’s a look into each player.

PG Stefan Moody- 5’9 160 (Poinciana HS)
Biggest strength: athleticism. Despite being 5’9, Moody began dunking his sophomore year of high school and has won slam dunk contests, most recently the FL vs USA Dunk Contest in Orlando.  From ESPN.com’s Director of Basketball Recruiting Paul Biancardi Via Twitter:  “He can dunk over substantially taller players and Has a SOLID stroke as well…so aside from size, appears to have the complete package.”
Biggest weakness: ball handling. His high school coach Oliver Simmons said dribbling is the one skill Moody needed to work on most. Last season, he averaged 3.6 assists per game.

C  Dragan Seikelja – 7’0, 255  transfer (Baylor)
Biggest strength: shot blocking and rebounding. “It helps to be 7 feet tall,” Sekelja said. “Being a huge presence, I’m going to try to protect the rim and get as many rebounds as I can [and] make a difference on defense and blocking shots.”
Biggest weakness: lack of bulk. Sekelja weighs just 10 more pounds than Kore White despite being four inches taller. “I think I need to work on my body the most,” Sekelja said. “I want to get bigger and stronger.”

PF Chris Bryant – 6’8  190 (Fishburne Military School)
Biggest strength: versatility. Despite being listed at power forward, Bryant can also play shooting guard and small forward. He averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds his senior year at Rickards, leading them to the state title.
Biggest weakness: Being aggressive, and posting up. “Has plenty of upside. Needs to assert himself inside and be a force. Has the body and talent, waiting for him to make his move.”- From Dawgpost.com

SF Devonte Thornton – 6’7 195 (Osborne HS)
Biggest strength: athleticism
Thornton averaged 19 points and six rebounds last season. He excelled in transition particularly, displaying a knack to finish on the break. On his mixtape on YouTube, the lanky Thornton drives the baseline and throws down a one-handed jam directly over a defender.
“He was a big part of our success. He played center for us at the beginning of the season, he played power forward for us, he played small forward for us,” his high school coach Emmett Rouse said. “He’s not big in stature but he plays hard.”
Biggest weakness: lack of range on jump shot. “He still needs to work on his range with his jump shot and ball handling a little bit,” his high school coach Emmett Rouse said. “At the next level you need to be able to handle one-on-one.”

F Javier Lacunza – 6’8  205 (Spain)
Biggest strength: scoring. Lacunza had 31 points, 16 rebounds, and two blocks in a victory last season over South Glens Falls.
Biggest weakness: The unknown. Lacunza is from Spain but was an exchange student last season at Hudson Falls in New York. Little information can be found of him on the internet and his Twitter page is entirely in Spanish.