Into the future - FAU Mens Basketball's current 2024 class
The players will change at Florida Atlantic. Dusty May appears to be sticking with the blueprint.
The Owls are thriving against all levels of competition with a lineup of one post player and four guards—or at least three guards and a taller, mobile wing at home on the perimeter (see Lorient, Brenen). If the first four signees in FAU's 2024 recruiting class signal anything, it's that May is disinclined to move away from what's worked so splendidly.
Meet the three guards and post player who are the early signees for next season. As with the guards in the current core, recruits Lorenzo Cason, Elijah Elliott and Ty Robinson have complete all-around skill sets but complementary strengths. And the big guy, Lithuanian Mantas Koncanas, brings a skill set not new at his position to May and his coaches.
"It was very intentional to find guys who complement each other and not just stockpile talent," May said.
Here are the members of FAU's current class of 2024, pictured left to right above:
Southern Coast Academy
Junior (at Oak Ridge High): 10.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.0 spg
Elliott has the tools and make-up to influence winning, at both ends of the court.
"He hangs his hat on being an electric defender, (with) great energy, tenacity, intensity," May said. "As a distributor, he can play off a pick-and-roll and make all the reads, all the decisions. He knows how to manipulate the defense as a passer and distributor. He’s never been known as a shooter but he’s improved his jump shot."
A consensus three-star recruit, he goes to the basket efficiently and brings his athleticism to bear in a variety of ways, whether against high school teams or top competition in the ultra-competitive EYBL shoe circuit.
This fall he transferred from Oak Ridge High School to a prep school in Kansas, but he's coming to back to Orlando for his final high school semester, to Southern Coast Academy. As a junior at Oak Ridge, he hit 51 percent of his shots, 32 percent from beyond the arc, and was rated by one service as the 16th-best player in Florida and No. 181 nationally.
Elliott chose the Owls over Kansas State, Louisiana Tech and Drake among others.
"He brings a lot to the table as far as the intensity he plays the game with and his desire to win. He's a throwback," May said. In that regard, May said, he and fellow recruit Lorenzo "LJ" Cason are similar.
"Both are more like players we would have recruited 15 or 20 years ago," May said. "They’re great teammates, they’re excited to be part of what we are about here, which is great unselfishness and team basketball."
FIBA 2023 U-18 Euro Championships: 9.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Kocanas is another FAU big just the way May likes 'em: hard to cover because of an unorthodox skill set. In his case, he's a threat everywhere from the rim out to beyond the arc.
Kocanas' arrival will ensure that every Owls team coached by May has at least one big from Europe or, in the case of Vlad Goldin, Russia. Aleksandar Zecevic (Serbia, 2018-20), Karlis Silins (Latvia, 2018-21), Dardan Kapiti (Kosovo, 2019-22) all brought imposing size but had other assets they took to pro careers. Ditto Kocanas.
"Mantas is a skilled big and, much like the Euros that we've had in the past, he can do a lot of things with the ball in his hands," May said. "He allows you to pull the other team's big away from the basket, he can shoot 3s, he can finish around the rim."
Goldin is an agile defender and dangerous rim-runner who has developed world-class footwork and skilled touch at the rim. But he isn't a 3-point threat. "(Kocanas) is probably a little bit more like Karlis Silins than Vladislav," May said.
May and assistant coach Todd Abernethy first saw Kocanas in July on their annual overseas scouting trip, the FIBA U-18 European Championships in Serbia.
He had some impressive performances there, including a 20-point, 5-rebound effort against the Czech Republic. He didn't showcase his shooting range in the tournament, but after identifying him as a prospect the FAU coaches decided to "go through the process" with him, watching more video and getting to know him, leading to his offer and commitment.
"Mantas, because of our roster and timing, was the right fit and the right time." May said. "He’s the first Lithuanian, and we’re excited, because we respect their culture of basketball."
Equally exciting is what a 3-point-shooting big can do for a coach with a well-known appetite for expanding the applications of Xs and Os. Having four 3-point threats on the floor at once already opens space for FAU cutters and all kinds of effective ball screen actions. Imagine having five.
No, go ahead, because May is.
"Anytime you have the solutions to any type of ball screen coverage, to any type of defensive coverage, it allows you to be able to keep yourself in the game through scoring a basketball," May said. "Because of his ability to shoot it and pass it, we can pop him, shoot threes, we could pop him into dribble handoffs, but then also use his ability to finish around the rim.
"When you have guys who can shoot it, it allows you to get layups—it opens the floor so you can get easy baskets. You see Vlad get a lot of easy ones, and the reason for that is the respect the four guys he’s playing with have when they’re on the perimeter."
LORENZO "LJ" CASON
Victory Christian Academy
Junior: 27.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 5.8 apg
Cason, who committed to FAU on Aug. 4 two days after his official visit, attracted May with—among other skills and traits—his maturity.
"He’s very, very wise beyond his years," May said. He’s like a veteran guard. He’ll get his teammates involved early in the game, but when it’s time to take over, he knows when to shoot, when to pass, when to score."
He wasn't always pass-first. Last January he scored 57 points in a 93-87 victory over Auburndale. He's quick and clever with the ball, able to lose his defender on the dribble and hit jumpers over even tight close-outs.
A three star-rated player by most scouting services, he best displayed the floor generalship qualities May admired for 1Family, his power-packed team on the NXTPRO spring and summer shoe circuit.
Playing on a team that included the likes of Asa Newell, a 6-foot-9 five-star who signed with Georgia and Mike White (FAU AD Brian White's brother and May's old boss at Florida), Cason managed to stand out. Especially to a particular NXTPRO opponent and now a future teammate.
"We played them three times," Ty Robinson said. "Every game, he killed us pretty much. He did whatever he wanted to do."
Cason chose FAU over Tulsa, USF and up-and-coming Indiana State among others. May could not be more excited.
"He doesn’t get sped up," May said. "He’s a very talented passer, scorer, a good defender. He’s just a very good basketball player and, like I said, plays older than a typical 18-year-old."
Lake Hamilton High
Junior: 21 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 apg,
Senior: 25 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 apg (through Dec. 13)
Robinson is one of those guys who can shoot it. Always has been, even though most of the college basketball world seemed unaware until this summer. By the time he committed to FAU on July 8, he was a consensus three-star. That's three more stars than in the spring.
Robinson actually got his first scholarship offer after his first varsity game midway through his freshman year. But folks began taking notice in earnest after his high-scoring heroics led his rural school to the state finals for the first time since 1997 and a Class 5A state runner-up finish. By then, he'd already scored more than 1,000 career points.
Even so, Robinson was largely not on the major-college radar until a NXTPRO shoe circuit game against a powerhouse opponent—Lorenzo Cason's Florida 1Family.
"Ty and another guard went absolutely nuts that game and AAO Flight upset 1Family in front of 60 Division I coaches," Lake Hamilton coach Scotty Pennington said.
One of them was Dusty May.
"He called me on the way back from our tournament," Robinson recalled.
It wasn't just the scoring, May said: "Ty rebounded, he shot it, he had a level of toughness that we admire and appreciate, and so naturally it was a good fit."
Robinson visited FAU soon thereafter and decided to end his recruitment even though it was starting to build momentum.
Now he's picked up where he left off last high school season, although—like the Owls—his team is now a target. Lake Hamilton opened the season ranked fifth in the state. He sat out two non-conference games with patellar tendinitis but is back in the groove as two 30-point games last weekend suggest.
That's the current 2024 class of newcomers.
Technically, guards Jalen Gaffney and Bryan Greenlee are the only players the current team will lose next year to expiring eligibility. But several other fourth-year players—Goldin, Johnell Davis, Alijah Martin, Giancarlo Rosado, Brandon Weatherspoon—will have the choice of playing a fifth year or (their so-called COVID year) or moving on. All five are likely to play professional basketball somewhere sooner or later after leaving FAU, so next year's roster looks fluid.
Whether May lands a spring high school signee or shops for experienced culture fits in the junior college ranks or transfer portal, he likely isn't done adding.
"(Roster construction) is a lot harder than it used to be," May said. "We have a lot of guys that will be graduated. Some will lose their eligibility, some will have another year. You never know. I can’t imagine it’d be just these four."
Richard Pereira and Rick Henderson contributed to this story