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Dusty May Leads Owls Against His Indiana past in NCAA Opener



In Indiana, basketball is not just a sport. It is a passion.

If you’re a kid with that passion, you don’t mind getting up at 5 a.m. on a school day and dragging yourself to the gym for a pre-school shootaround. You don’t mind having a coach who will demand that kind of commitment – if you want to be a winner. Dusty May was that kind of kid, and thanks to a coach who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, is now a proven winner.

As Florida Atlantic’s rising star of a coach, May has won enough games to qualify for a second straight NCAA appearance when his eighth-seeded Owls tip off against ninth-seeded Northwestern in Friday’s East Regional opener in Brooklyn, N.Y.  The moment May looks across the court at his opponents, he will see Brooks Barnhizer, son of the man who instilled that passion in him. And if May looks closely at the Northwestern fan section, he will find that man, Coach Mark Barnhizer. Definitely some serendipity there, as if it were two sons facing off.

“In many ways, he (May) was like my Dad’s first son,” Brooks says, because he’s heard the stories about his father driving seventh grader Dusty May to early morning pre-school workouts.

“For an entire year, he picked me up at 6 a.m. and took me to school,” May says. “He would read the newspaper and drive with his knees. The fact that I’m still here means there’s a higher power. There was one day I didn’t feel well and asked my Mom (Heidi) if she would tell him I was going to sit one out. His response was ‘Tell him he’s got five minutes.’ There were no days off.”

“I told him to get his butt out here,” Barnhizer says with a laugh over the phone from his office in Lafayette, Ind., where he is now coaching the Lafayette Jefferson Broncos, his latest stop in a career spanning 40 years and resulting in over 500 wins.

May would go on to be a four-year player under Barnhizer at Eastern Greene High, a rural Indiana school so small it wasn’t uncommon for players to play the National Anthem with the pep band and then dash onto the court for final warm-ups. From 1991-95, May played the point for the Thunderbirds, who won a combined 38 games his last two years.

“Dusty was the best leader I ever had in high school basketball,” Barnhizer says. “Leaders – they just have that quality. It just happens. I could learn a lot from him now.”

May played for Barnhizer when Bob Knight was coaching a mere 20 minutes down the road in Bloomington. Barnhizer, like many high school coaches back then, borrowed a lot from Knight and his Indiana Hoosiers brand of basketball.

“We couldn’t run offense like them because we didn’t have the athletes, but we took a lot from him (Knight) defensively,” Barnhizer says.

May ended up in Knight’s program as a student manager from 1996-2000. Having already dealt with the demanding Barnhizer, May was well prepared for the equally challenging requirements of Knight.

“They were both equally demanding,” May said last year before Knight passed away on Nov. 1. “Their knowledge of the game and passion for the day-to-day things is what makes them unique. There was not a moment when you could not give your best effort. Coach Barnhizer, with his work ethic – the determination, the will – he’s probably as strong-willed as anyone who walks the face of the earth. That’s kind of who I am as well.”

May sees some of that in Brooks, who was named to this year’s All-Big Ten Defensive Team. A 6-foot-6 small forward, Barnhizer is a complete player, averaging 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

“Brooks obviously got his character traits from his mother because passes a lot,” May jokes, poking fun at Mark’s reputation as a shooter first and a passer second. Mark was a high school star at another small Indiana school, Lapel, and went on to play college ball at Auburn.

“Brooks plays like a coach’s son, always thinking ahead,” May says. “There are no holes in his game. The intelligence he plays with – he’s a great teammate. Think of the basketball IQ growing up in that house. Coach was obsessed with the game, always watching the game, teaching the game.”

Brooks is one of two Barnhizers currently playing college basketball. Older brother Braxton plays at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. Their sleep habits also were interrupted at an early age for 6 a.m. shootarounds.

“I’m not going to lie, it took some getting used to,” Brooks says. “It started in the third grade and you developed a love for it. I am where I am today because my Dad got me in the gym when I was young. Being from Indiana, you’re kind of born with a ball in your hand.”

May first met Brooks and Braxton when Barnhizer brought them to a basketball camp in Gainesville, Fla., where May was an assistant under Florida coach Mike White.

“We were only middle schoolers and he (May) let us play against some elite competition,” Brooks says. “We did pretty well, even won a 3-on-3 contest.”

Brooks went on to become an Indiana All-Star under his father at Lafayette Jeff. May followed the Barnhizer’s progress while he was working his way up the coaching ladder.

“Dusty stayed in touch from afar,” Brooks says. “He’s been at distant places but still texts me.”

The Barnhizers have been tracking May’s rise as well. Mark isn’t surprised at Dusty’s success.

“I knew he would do the things necessary to get there, if he got the right breaks,” he says. “Dusty made his breaks, took jobs that paid almost nothing at first.”

On Selection Sunday, Mark was hoping that Northwestern wouldn’t draw FAU, pitting son vs. a favorite former player.

“When I saw Florida Atlantic’s name first appear, I was saying ‘Please don’t let the next one be Northwestern’ and there it was,” Mark says. “Of course, I would like to see both teams move on, but that’s not going to happen now.”

A text message appeared on Brooks’s cell phone moments after Northwestern’s name appeared. It was from May.

“When we realized who we were playing, I looked at my phone and the first person to text me was Dusty. ‘It’s going to be a great thing for both our families,’ Dusty said, I so love you guys, am proud of you – except on Friday.’ And I said the same to him.”

Lynn Houser covered Dusty May’s high school career as a sportswriter for the Bloomington Herald-Times. Lynn is a member of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.

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