Men’s Basketball: Head Coach Michael Curry believes focus will turn season around

Curry wanted focus at practice and in games to turn their season around


Justin Massey (2) and Adonis Filer walk back to the 3-point line to start a 2-on-2 drill which promoted extra movement from the players. Ryan Lynch | Editor-in-Chief

Hans Belot Jr., Sports Editor

“Hustle!” head coach Michael Curry yelled from the sideline, watching his team run a three-man fast break at practice. “Push it! Don’t look at the clock! You have to work harder than this.”

Curry, standing at 6 feet 5 inches, wearing a gray Adidas jumpsuit, shouted for the person managing the clock to stop it.

No, practice was not over. Instead, Curry called them over to the side and calmly explained what was going wrong — he was not happy about what he was seeing from his players.

“They didn’t have a good focus today,” Curry said after practice with a disappointed look on his face.

Despite coming off a 73-64 win over rival Florida International the previous weekend, Florida Atlantic men’s basketball was not doing so well.

The Owls had lost three straight games prior to the win, and four of their last five. They were at 5-9 overall, and 1-2 in the conference standings.

Curry was upset with the effort that was given in that Jan. 10 practice. He wanted them to bring the intensity level up, to focus more and to be more patient when running the plays during practice.

Frank Booker tosses a pass to a teammate beside him as Nick Rutherford attempts to steal the ball. Ryan Lynch | Editor-in-Chief

He wanted 100 percent effort.

Before the season began, practicing hard came with a reward: a white, hard construction hat with the words “Level Up” and “@FAU_Hoops” written on it. It is given to the best player in practice each day.

Curry got the idea of the hard hat by observing and admiring construction workers. When they come to work, they put their hard hat on, grab their tools and go about their day by completing the tasks set forth for them.

For the Owls, the process is a little different. In order for them to get the hard hat, they have to grab their tools — basketballs, shoes and gear — and get to work. At the end of practice, the player deemed to have been the best that day is the winner.

The best player tends to be the one who scored the most points, dished out the most assists or pulled the most rebounds. Sometimes, a player might do all three.

And sometimes, it still would not be enough to win the right to wear the hat.

Head men’s basketball coach Michael Curry watches as his players go through a drill about defense in their Jan. 10 practice. Ryan Lynch | Editor-in-Chief

Senior Adonis Filer — who won the hat once — described the best player as one who hustled the hardest, or finished the drills ahead of everyone or who left their blood, sweat and tears on the court in that particular practice. Someone who showed toughness, battled all practice long and did all the little things that don’t show up in the stat book.

When junior William Pfister won the hat back on Oct. 15, Filer described Pfister as the guy who “left it all out there.”

“The hard hat [was given to] whomever came to work that day,” said Curry. “It wasn’t necessarily the guy that scores the most, it was the person that did what they had to do offensively, defensively, loose balls. It was not [always] the guy that had the best statistical practice.”

When the players win the hat, their only reward is wearing it for the day. They don’t receive any money — which would be against NCAA rules — and they don’t get a day off.

However, they do get a photo taken of them in the hat, which gets posted on the team’s official Twitter page. According to Filer, the post brings them more recognition and followers. They also walk away knowing they did everything asked of them and then some.

Filer said nobody ever went out of their way to try and win the hard hat. However, they did have a mini, friendly competition between them to see who would win the hat that day.

“I think we did up our intensity to win the hard hat and be the one who’s part of the tweet on that day and get that type of exposure,” Filer said.

Jeantal Cylla races ahead of teammates Adonis Filer and Ronald Delph during sprints. Ryan Lynch | Editor-in-Chief

In the Jan. 10 practice, there was no hard hat to give.

Curry said it was only for training camp and that he still wanted his players to practice like there was a hard hat to give out.

Now that the season is underway, their reward this time will be winning games.

Curry is now in his third season as the Owls head coach. He has won a total of 22 games out of his first 75 since taking charge at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Prior to coaching at FAU, Curry spent one year coaching the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, where he went 39-43 before getting fired after losing in the first round in the playoffs.

The Glenn Hills, Georgia native spent 12 years as a player in the NBA, playing for teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and the Pistons.

Before the season began, Curry had his goals for the season set: getting over the hump.

FAU failed to make the conference tournament in Curry’s first year in charge, but made it last year as a 13th seed. The Owls defeated UTSA in the first round before falling to Old Dominion in the second.

The head coach wanted to take it a game at a time and understood what it was going to take to climb up the Conference USA rankings and make it even further in the tournament.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is moving up in the conference,” Curry told FAU Athletics before the season began. “I think it was five or six teams each year that were .500 in the conference or a game above .500. We want to get to that level and move up from there. If this group can continue to get better, we’ll feel better as a coaching staff, because we won’t have as much turnover next year.”

The Owls still have a chance to turn a sub .500 season around, and they want that to start by practicing harder, faster and better.

A key word for the team has been focus: focus on the basketball court, focus during drills and focus in games.

After practice was over, Filer said, “We came out of a hard practice yesterday but we have to reset our minds and fast forward to today. [These are conference games]: we’re going to be playing hard games one after another. We have to set our mindsets to be mentally tough and we have to be focused.”

“Focus and defense [is what it’s going to take to turn this season around],” continued Filer. “If we play good defense, that means we’re focused. And when we play good defense, we win games.”

After practice ended that Jan. 10, Curry huddled his players at midcourt. He was none too pleased with the effort they produced that day and wanted better out of them — better at practice the next day and better at their next game.

“Focus,” Curry told his team. “We need to be more focused.”

All stats are accurate as of Friday, Jan. 20.

Hans Belot Jr. is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him at @Don_Phenom_.