FAU basketball teams thrive during prolonged offseason, ready to start the new season

“It may be hard, it just depends, you have to adapt to every situation,” senior Forward Jailyn Ingram said.


Jailyn Ingram (15) calls for the ball during the Western Kentucky University game on Jan. 30, 2020. Photo by Alex Liscio.

Colby Guy, Features Editor

With the season approaching shortly, the FAU Men’s and Women’s basketball teams are gearing up to start their seasons. Both teams had media day on Wednesday, Nov. 4 to discuss their outlook on the upcoming season.

Since COVID-19 delayed the start of the season and put a damper on offseason plans, head coaches Dusty May of the men’s team and Jim Jabir of the women’s team have had to find ways to navigate the pandemic.

“It’s been a challenge, obviously,” May said. “And just like the NBA, the theme was whoever can own the wait, stay mentally strong, and stay out of harm’s way.”

Since the pandemic kept team activity to a minimum during the offseason, it was a huge adjustment for the team to make to keep themselves healthy. 

“I think it gave us a chance to rest our bodies up and be 100% healthy,” senior forward Jailyn Ingram said. “Honestly, it was a setback from being on the court, so we just tried to do anything possible to try to stay in shape.”

Ingram suffered through injury for a good chunk of his FAU tenure, including an ACL tear he dealt with in 2018. Ingram hopes to use these injuries to help him become a better teammate this season now that he is fully healthy.

“I was able to gain a lot of experience from being inside alone for so long,” Ingram said. “You see the game in a totally different aspect from on the floor and off the floor. It really helped me grow and mature as a player and build my game a little bit more than it was at that point.”

Graduate transfer Iggy Allen had a unique situation, as she had to quickly adjust to her new team after transferring from Miami to the Florida Atlantic women’s basketball team.

Iggy Allen (2) on Oct. 14, 2020, courtesy of FAU Athletics.

“It’s definitely different with the pandemic going on,” Allen said. “Upon arrival, I wasn’t able to meet everyone. When we all got back, it was kind of like a real quick meet and greet and we just really hit it off.” 

Adjustments aren’t new to Allen, as she tore her ACL during her freshman season at Mississippi State before transferring to Miami.

“When I tore my ACL, it put a damper on my whole view of basketball,” Allen said. “But as time went by, I was able to learn from being on the sideline watching everything.”

Allen’s experience as a leader and skill as a basketball player, including playing in the 2016 NCAA Finals with Mississippi State, is going to be a huge addition to the women’s team according to Jabir.

“She was on the national championship runner up team, so that experience is going to help us,” Jabir said. “She’s going to take your lunch money if you let her, she’s tough, and she wants to win and she’s going to do it the right way.”

With 15.4 point-per-game scorer Crystal Primm graduated, Allen has had to become a new leader in the locker room and on the court, and Jabir thinks she has what it takes to do it.

“[Allen] is a really talented player who can do a lot of things,” Jabir said. “She shoots the threes, she can get to the rim, she’s super athletic, and she’s got a heart. She will beat the crap out of you on the court just because. She’s just tough and I want our team to take on her personality because she’s the toughest kid I’ve been around.”

With the shortened season and COVID-19 protocols, the basketball season is gearing up to have back to backs on Friday and Saturday instead of the usual Thursday-Saturday set from past years.

“It may be hard, it just depends, you have to adapt to every situation,” Ingram said. “I think we have a [well] built team on the training staff. They’ll do whatever they have to to make sure we’re able to play, who we have to beat each and every night.”

The women’s team has used the pandemic as an opportunity to grow closer as a unit.

Women’s basketball coach Jim Jabir talks to his team during the 2019-2020 season. Photo by Alex Liscio.

“This is the closest team I’ve ever had, they’re really getting along and they really care about each other,” Jabir said. “I think that this can do two things, it can either bring you together or tear you apart and so far we’ve been really close.”

The men’s team has grown closer as well, using the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement to gel as a unit.

“Ever since all of these things that have happened, we’ve been able to come together as a group and talk about them,” Ingram said. “Our coaches have offered their support, they have an open ear for us at every angle. So, having that definitely brought us closer. It made our bond that much stronger.” 

Women’s basketball 

The FAU Women’s Basketball team went 13-17 last season and was ranked 10th in the conference. In C-USA’s preseason poll, the Owls were ranked 10th, but Jabir thinks that the team is underrated.

“It’s not fair because they don’t know what we have,” Jabir said. “They don’t know [Allen], they don’t know how hard our kids have been working, and our new players are really good, and our old players have really improved. I know we’re better than the 10th best team in this league and I just hope we can be healthy and have a full season.”

With Allen leading the way, the women’s basketball team also has a supporting cast consisting of their second-leading scorer last season, sophomore guard Lotta Vehka-Aho, who is going to be a huge help in leading this team to wins.

Lotta Vehka-Aho (3) dribbles past Rice guard Sydne Wiggins (2) on Jan. 9, 2020. Photo by Alex Liscio.

“She’s a 5’10, blonde mirror of Iggy,” Jabir said. “They’re both super intense, super competitive, both can score, both play really hard, and you know we have bookends there right now.”

Jabir expects a few younger players and newcomers to add to the team’s solid supporting cast.

“Bre Beck is a point guard from junior college who I think is going to help us,” Jabir said. “Nikola Ozola, our point guard from last year, has improved and I expect a lot of things from her. Astou Gaye started at center last year and I think she has made improvements, though she’s got to get healthy now, she sprained her ankle, and Amber Gaston is also an improved player.” 

Men’s Basketball 

The FAU Men’s Basketball team finished 17-15 last season, making that their second straight winning season. FAU beat Old Dominion in the first round of the C-USA Tournament, but their matchup against first-seeded North Texas was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Dusty May calls out to his team on the court during the 2019-2020 basketball season. Photo by Alex Liscio.

May was disappointed that they didn’t have the opportunity to continue to make noise in the tournament last season.

“Like everyone else was, we were obviously disappointed that we did not have a chance to continue playing,” May said. “Especially with Jailyn having one of his better games of the year against Old Dominion and we looked like we were starting to find ourselves.”

One area where the team will have to find themselves in the upcoming season is on the road, where they had a record of 2-12 while having a 14-3 record at home.

“Actually, two years ago we were better on the road so we spent the entire offseason really focusing on protecting our home court and being better at playing in front of our own fans,” May said. “So, last year we played much better at home and we struggled on the road so we gotta find a balance.”

With second and third leading scorers Cornelius Taylor and Richardson Maitre gone, junior guard Michael Forrest seems to be one of the new leaders of the men’s basketball team.

“Without a doubt, Mike Forrest has had as good of an offseason as anyone in our program,” May said. “He’s made a significant jump and we’re excited about Mike going into his third year of college basketball. He’s played a lot of minutes and he started at point [guard] as a freshman, so he’s got a year under his belt running a team.”

Michael Forrest (11) drills to the basket against Western Kentucky University on Jan. 30, 2020. Photo by Alex Liscio.

Forrest came off the bench last season, averaging 8.9 points per game, and provided an instant injection of offense to the lineup, according to May.

“Last year, he came off of the bench because we needed a spark and some scoring coming off the bench, so I could see Mike playing on the ball and off the ball this year,” May said. “We’re definitely going to lean on him for perimeter shooting and the ability to stretch the defense. Also, he’s such a good defender with the ultimate energy every single night he’s on the floor.”

Senior guard Everett Winchester also returns next season, and May expects him to be one of the better players on the team.

“Everett, ever since he’s been here, when he’s healthy [he] has been one of our two or three best players and at times our best all around player,” May said. “He’s able to defend and play multiple positions, but he just hasn’t been able to stay healthy.”

May has also seen a lot of improvement from sophomore guard Kenan Blackshear, who could step up in place of Maitre and Taylor and be one of the most reliable players on the team.

“Outside of Mike [Forrest], I would say Kenan has had the second-best or even a 1A and 1B offseason, he’s gotten in better shape,” May said. “Kenan is such a smart player that has been able to acclimate into any team in any situation, but he’s improved his shooting, his decision making, and most importantly his conditioning. When he was home during the pandemic, he took advantage of that time to really work on his body and he’s that guy that looks a lot different than he did a year ago.”

According to Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Relations Andy Seeley, the remainder of the schedules for men’s and women’s will be announced soon. The men’s team is opening its conference slate at home against Middle Tennessee while the women’s team will open its conference schedule on the road against Middle Tennessee.

Colby Guy is the Features Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @thatguycolbs.