Dusty May is our guy, and after taking FAU to the Final 4 of the NCAA Tournament, he will be sticking around to lead the program into the American Athletic Conference.
Prior to the Owls' start in March Madness, we asked May about whether FAU offered him a contract extension as he said it was in the works.
"If it wasn't in the heat of the battle, if we weren't in the eye of the storm right now, I'm sure something would already be done," May said. "As long as we're making steps in the right direction as we have from day one, I'm very happy here. I think all of this will be ironed out in the near future." Turns out he would be right as it finally came to fruition.
The Owls fell on hard times before May took over the reigns as head coach in 2018. While he found major success as an assistant coach for Louisiana Tech which saw the Bulldogs achieve 27 wins in his last year there in 2015, FAU failed to see a winning season since their 21-win campaign in 2011.
After FAU relieved Michael Curry of his duties upon four consecutive losing seasons in Conference USA which culminated in a 39-84 record, they began the search for a new change of scenery to rejuvenate the team. Once the Owls saw May was available as a candidate, Athletics Director Brian White jumped at the opportunity to bring him in to revitalize the program from the ground up.
"This hire is a clear demonstration of the ambition we have for our basketball program, our athletic department and our university," White said upon hiring May, who was an assistant coach with the Florida Gators at the time. "Dusty will bring tremendous passion, determination and work ethic to this position. The future of the FAU men’s basketball program is bright.”
White is right to say the future looked bright, but he may not have expected that future to shine brighter than ever.
"We will be winners here, and we will play with tremendous passion and energy," May said in his introductory presser. "The vision of President John Kelly, the board of trustees and the athletic department under the leadership of Brian White made this move an easy decision. I can’t wait to get started."
While May was confident in his ability to build the team to be more respected across C-USA, what he didn't know until later on was a powerhouse was in the making.
It takes a lot for any coach to build a team, a mid-major team like FAU no less, to one that is capable of making a deep run in March Madness. The first and arguably most important step to this is recruiting, and May immediately got started by bringing his first recruit in guard Michael Forrest from Blanche Ely High School, who stands as the only player on this year's roster to witness all of May's five seasons coaching at FAU.
May only needed his first year at the helm to bring the Owls their first winning season since 2011 with a 17-16 record in the 2018-19 campaign, which included an appearance in the College Invitational Tournament (CIT). A great step in the right direction, but May's job was not done.
Even as the following season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Owls still made significant progress by achieving their second winning season in a row and winning their first-ever game in the C-USA Tournament with a win over Old Dominion in the first round.
With the turnover in the roster, May amped up his recruiting with the additions of Giancarlo Rosado from West Palm Beach, Bryan Greenlee from Gainesville, Nick Boyd from New York, Alijah Martin from Mississippi, and Johnell Davis from Indiana (May's home state). While it took two seasons for them to gain significant playing time, they wound up being crucial pieces to the Owls' core in this year's run. Boyd's leadership and composure proved to be critical in the final seconds against Memphis with his game-winning layup, Johnell Davis had a historic night against Fairleigh Dickinson to lead the Owls in scoring so far (13.9 PPG), and Martin has constantly made shots down the stretch when FAU needed a bucket during the important moments of each game.
Adding a few more players in Brandon Weatherspoon and Vlad Goldin, May continued strengthening the program to one that became more respected as he achieved four straight winning seasons. This is an accomplishment no other FAU basketball coach can say they have.
Sustaining back-to-back quarterfinal exits in the C-USA Tournament and a first-round loss to Northern Colorado in the College Basketball Invitational, May sought after a player who has experience in the NCAA Tournament so he can have him play a significant role in the rotation. He found that in Jalen Gaffney from UConn, who played three years for the Huskies and reached March Madness in two of those seasons (2021 and 2022).
With all the pieces May put in place, everything clicked for the Owls. Even though media officials projected them to finish fifth in C-USA, FAU wasn't fazed as they embarked on a program-record 20-game winning streak which includes an astounding 76-74 upset victory in Gainesville against Florida, May's former team. They continued their success in convincing fashion, getting ranked multiple times in the AP Top 25 Poll while going undefeated at home for the first time in program history with a perfect 17-0 record and ending the regular season with their best campaign ever at 28-3 (18-2 C-USA).
"This team, they're a group of givers. They don't take they serve every single day, their work capacity, the work ethic is unmatched," May said. "I was amazed at how the pressure never fazed these guys, and once we got in between the lines they just hoped and they did it together. They were unselfish. They were extremely competitive. And so I'm just really proud of everyone that had a hand in this."
Even though they had a solid at-large bid in play for the NCAA Tournament in case they lost in the C-USA Tournament, May and the Owls made sure they did not leave it to the hands of the selection committee. By torching Western Kentucky in the quarterfinals, getting past Middle Tennessee in the semifinals, and blowing out UAB in the final, FAU won their first (and only) C-USA Tournament Title to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.
Placed in the East Region as a 9-seed, FAU took on the AAC's 8-seed Memphis Tigers in the first round. It was a tough battle but thanks to a game-winning layup from Boyd, the Owls pulled away to achieve their first-ever win in March Madness. They followed that up by silencing 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson the following round, pulled off an upset over 4-seed Tennessee in Madison Square Garden to advance to the Elite 8, and got past Kansas State to be in the Final Four.
Ending their time in C-USA with a bang, the Owls now look forward to what awaits them in the American Athletic Conference. While they won't get to see marquee matchups in Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF who are all departing for the Big 12, FAU will still have Memphis, Tulane, and in-state rival USF to be excited for next season. They will also have North Texas, UAB, and Charlotte joining them from C-USA to make the AAC an even more intriguing conference to look at for the 2023-24 campaign.
What greatly helps the Owls' situation for their first year in the AAC is they will have most of their entire core returning with the exception of Forrest, who has maximized his eligibility following the end of the season. With May coming back, this keeps their strong chemistry intact and boosts their chances of being one of the best in the conference and making another deep run in the postseason.
FAU's journey in The American would not be a cakewalk with the high quality of opponents they will be facing year-by-year, but if there is a coach that can keep them on the path to success, Dusty May has more than shown that he is up to the task.