Martin, Davis’ return: What it means for a reloaded FAU squad

Junior guards Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis’ withdrawal from the NBA Draft headlines a group of 14 returners for an FAU team that’s hot off a trip to the Final Four.


Cameron Priester , Jaden Wiston

(Left) Junior guard Alijah Martin celebrating FAU’s first NCAA Tournament win against the University of Memphis on March 17, 2023, (right) junior guard Johnell Davis fights off a defender for a rebound against Middle Tennessee State on January 26, 2023.

Cameron Priester, Editor-at-large

Hearing their name called at the NBA Draft is something anyone who has ever picked up a basketball has dreamed of. 

Walking across the stage in your sharpest suit before shaking hands with the commissioner to symbolize your entrance into the highest level of basketball on the planet; many dream of it, but it only becomes a reality for a handful of players a year. 

FAU’s tandem of standout guards, juniors Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis, were on the verge of having that dream realized, but for now, opted to put that on hold in favor of returning for another season in Boca Raton. 

Both Martin and Davis declared for the 2023 NBA Draft while maintaining their college eligibility in early April, and received a healthy share of attention from several NBA organizations in their respective pre-draft processes. On May 31, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported that Martin and Davis together would be returning for their junior season at FAU, setting the stage for the Owls to run things back fresh off a trip to the Final Four.

Their decision to enter the draft came on the heels of the NCAA Tournament, in which FAU became just the third nine-seed in history to reach the Final Four, due in part to their strong performance. 

“Obviously it was a no-brainer,” Martin said of his decision to enter the draft. “I was planning on doing that anyway, but making March Madness and that run helped as well.”

Experts had projected Martin to be a catalyst for the Owls since the preseason after finishing as their leading scorer the year before, and he averaged 12.6 points and 5.1 rebounds through their 28-3 regular season. Meanwhile, Davis’ season was more coming of age; he averaged a team-high 13.2 points in the regular season after working primarily as a sixth-man the year before.

Although it wasn’t until they were slaying giants in the tournament, in which both their numbers got even better, that their names began being talked about seriously in the draft conversation.

Their names were buzzing, and if they have the option to come back, why not see where their names line up?

“You get feedback. That’s the most important thing any player wants, especially if they’re on the bubble,” said Law Murray, staff writer at The Athletic covering the NBA Draft and Los Angeles Clippers, on the pre-draft process. “If you get to be a part of those workouts, you might not be draftable per se, but you get to show these teams what you got to work with.”

These workouts, hosted by NBA teams, put prospects through a series of court testing and measurements to help teams get a gauge of the players on their radar. 

“It’s like a job interview,” said Murray. “They’re trying to figure out who you are, not the other way around. You’re there trying to improve your stock, but they’re trying to figure out the type of player you are.”

Martin worked out for four teams: the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, and Los Angeles Clippers. 

Davis worked out for six: Boston, the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, and Sacramento Kings, in addition to taking part in the G-League Elite Camp. 

“The workouts were really focused on details. They’re watching everything you do; how fast you get the shot off, how athletic you are,” said Martin, also noting having to adjust to the elevation in Utah during his workout for the Jazz. “I was just going out there to play my game and show them what I can do.”

Both took their time mulling their draft stock; their announcement came just hours before the deadline to withdraw from the draft on May 31.

“Just the relationships I’ve built with the coaching staff and my teammates. Nobody gets down on each other, we all hold each other accountable. That’s what I want to surround myself with,” said Davis of his decision to return to FAU. Martin offered a more blunt response. 

“Whether I’m going to get drafted or not,” Martin said of his decision. “I’m pretty sure I could have went undrafted and still got a contract and stuff like that. But I want to hear my name called, and get to walk across that stage. That’s big, that something I’ve been wanting for my entire life, so that was the it factor.” 

Following through with the draft in next year’s class—projected to be considerably weaker than this year’s—could be a much safer bet for Davis and Martin, and could potentially allow them to sneak their way into the higher picks. Especially after another season of exposure that could come with another run through the NCAA Tournament, which the Owls looked primed for.

“People like this draft a lot more than next year,” said Murray. “This draft is somewhat interesting. Next year’s draft is like… you don’t want to be bad next year. To my understanding there ain’t no generational talents. I can see how a guy who might not be a first round pick this year, goes back to school and gets himself into the lottery next year with a great season.”

FAU finds themselves in a rare, favorable situation of retaining essentially their entire roster after a Final Four run. 

Traditionally, it has been somewhat of a task to return as much as the Owls did because of NBA prospects’ freedom to go “one-and-done”; something that has become even more challenging as the transfer portal has morphed into an avenue for players to hop from program to program. 

A team like FAU, loaded with young, proven talent, should’ve been ripe for the picking for Power 5 programs to come scavenge. However, the Owls were one of only five Division 1 programs to not have any player enter the transfer portal. 

Some did come calling. While still in the midst of the tournament, head coach Dusty May told the media that players had been approached by other schools about transferring before the season had even ended. 

“Just shows the type of brotherhood we have,” said Martin. “There wasn’t a conversation but we knew there was no point for anybody to leave. There’s new opportunities for guys to step up. There’s also the opportunity for another run.”

Their only loss will be guard Michael Forrest, May’s first signing whose eligibility expired after last season. Their only additions will be a pair of true freshman guards: three-star Devin Vanterpool, who signed in April, and Jakel Powell, who committed to FAU in June. 

So much returning production has FAU ranked towards the top of several outlets’ preseason rankings: Gary Parrish of CBS Sports has FAU ranked fourth in the nation, The Athletic’s Seth Davis has them at seventh and ESPN’s Jeff Borzello has them ninth.

Alongside this retooled roster, they will face a much tougher conference schedule now as a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC), and a tough slate of non-conference games. 

They will head to Disney for November’s ESPN Invitational, before returning to Madison Square Garden, the site of their East Regional Championship, to take on the University of Illinois in the Jimmy V Classic. They will also head to the Windy City to take on the University of Loyola-Chicago in November. 

At this point last year, the Owls were projected to finish just fifth in their conference. Heading into this season, the expectations will be in a completely different stratosphere. 

When asked what the expectations are inside the locker room, the words “national championship” slipped out of Davis’ mouth, but Martin seemed a bit bothered by all the talk of “running it back.”

“The run-it-back thing is cool, but it can get kind of annoying,” said Martin. “I’m just looking at it like, the same group of guys, same goals and dreams. That’s how I’m going into it.”

Until then, the Owls’ roster has reported back to campus in Boca Raton to begin their offseason workouts, which Martin described as being “therapeutic.” If it is the start of another standout season for FAU’s duo of star guards, they could be the newest members of an NBA team at this time next year. 

For now though, they are focused on the moment at hand. 

“We’re not like ‘Oh we’re going to win the conference championship, we’re going to win the national championship.’ We’re just going to take it day by day,” said Martin. 

For Davis, “I don’t really know, man. I’m just taking it game by game. Living in the moment.”

Cameron Priester is the Editor-at-large for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @PriesterCameron