Florida Atlantic hiring Florida’s Dusty May as men’s basketball coach

Florida asst. coach Dusty May, seen while at Louisiana Tech, has been hired as Florida Atlantic’s next head men’s basketball coach. (Tom Morris / The News Star)

BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic has found its ninth men’s head basketball coach in University of Florida assistant coach Dusty May, the school announced Thursday.

Though May has not served as a head coach at any level, the Indiana University graduate has worked as an assistant since the 2005-06 season and has spent time at Eastern Michigan, Murray State and Alabama-Birmingham. May has worked with Florida head coach Mike White — whose brother, Brian, was hired as FAU’s athletic director earlier this month — since the 2011-12 season when both were with Conference USA rival Louisiana Tech.

“The opportunity to recruit in such a fertile region, the momentum this university is enjoying and the enormous potential here are ideal starting points,” May said in a press release issued by the school. “We will be winners here, and we will play with tremendous passion and energy. 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.”

May replaces Michael Curry, who coached the Owls for four seasons before being fired on March 16. Curry took the Owls to three C-USA tournaments in four seasons, but never posted a winning record and saw many of his overall wins come against NAIA and Division III teams.

The hiring of May may come as a surprise given FAU’s history of luring big-name coaches to its basketball program. Curry was an NBA veteran who coached the Detroit Pistons in 2008-09, and his predecessor in Boca Raton, Mike Jarvis, previously had sustained success at George Washington and St. John’s. FAU also previously employed Matt Doherty (2004-05) and Rex Walters (2006-08).

“Dusty was my No. 1 choice, and I am thrilled to have him lead our men’s basketball program,” said Brian White. “This hire is a clear demonstration of the ambition we have for our basketball program, our athletic department and our university. Dusty will bring tremendous passion, determination and work ethic to this position. The future of the FAU men’s basketball program is bright.”

May will be introduced on Friday morning at the Tom Oxley Center.

FAU linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair grateful for ‘last hurrah’ with veteran teammates

FAU linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (2) celebrates a defensive stop during the Florida Atlantic University Owls spring scrimmage football game in Boca Raton, Florida on April 22, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — The good news for Florida Atlantic star linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, as he traverses the school’s Boca Raton campus, is that the rising senior is finally being recognized by some of his classmates.

The bad news, if one wants to call it that? Every conversation with Al-Shaair and other students includes them asking him the same question: What is Owls coach Lane Kiffin like?

“That’s the No. 1 question you’re gonna get!” a laughing Al-Shaair told The Post on Thursday.

Al-Shaair, Kiffin, and the rest of the 2017 Owls were honored at halftime of what turned out to be the FAU men’s basketball team’s 79-76 overtime loss to Rice. Al-Shaair and All-American running back Devin “Motor” Singletary (American Heritage) briefly spoke to fans, while wide receiver Kalib Woods gleefully held up the team’s Shula Bowl trophy.

As teammates posed for pictures after the ceremony, Al-Shaair spoke about how happy he was for the team to be recognized after an 11-3 campaign and a Boca Raton Bowl win over Akron. FAU had won a combined nine games from 2014-16 before Kiffin was hired in Dec. 2016. Several outgoing Owls players joined the team for one final reunion on Thursday night.

“Since I’ve been here as a freshman, those guys have been here, so this is like the last hurrah,” Al-Shaair said. “For a final, final last time and they’re going to build their lives. … It was good to see them.”

Given where FAU was only a year ago — not to mention Al-Shaair, who missed all of last year’s spring camp with a labrum injury — the senior linebacker said it was a different feeling to be part of a school-wide celebration like this.

“I think it was more so weird during the season as we were winning (because) it was a new feeling,” said Al-Shaair, who elected to return to FAU for his senior season rather than take a chance by declaring for April’s NFL draft. “Now, it’s something that we want to build the tradition for and the foundation has already been laid down. So if this was a year ago and we were talking about this, I think it’d be pretty weird.”

Al-Shaair and the Owls will begin spring practice on March 20, a 14-practice training camp which will feature visits to Ft. Lauderdale (April 7) and Miami (April 14).

FAU men’s basketball facing must-win stretch against key rivals

BOCA RATON — In the midst of its most successful season under fourth-year coach Michael Curry, the Florida Atlantic men’s basketball team again faces a must-win, three-game stretch.

Is Curry — who will set a personal-high in single-season wins (11) at FAU with the team’s next victory — thinking about the possibilities the next three games can create?

“Got Southern Miss [on Saturday night] and we’ll try to beat Southern Miss here,” Curry said after FAU’s 67-62 loss to La. Tech on Thursday. “That’s it. You win tonight and think about the other three and lose the other three, what does it matter?”

FAU (10-12, 4-6 in Conference USA) will host Southern Miss (11-12, 4-6) on Saturday before road matchups with Western Kentucky (8-1, 16-6) and Marshall (5-4, 14-8) next week. Though the Owls would make their third straight C-USA tournament under Curry if the season ended today, the upcoming three-game slate pits FAU against two teams that have had its number in recent memory.

Since Curry’s hire in April 2014, FAU is a combined 2-8 against Western Kentucky and Marshall, with both of those wins coming in the 2014-15 season against the Thundering Herd. In their last four games against Marshall, FAU has lost by an average of nearly 18 points, though three of the four losses to Western Kentucky have been within two scores.

FAU has had some success against Southern Miss, however — the Owls are 2-2 against them and have won their past two matchups – including a key win against the Golden Eagles last February during a season-changing, three-game winning streak which also included victories over FIU and Charlotte. If the Owls are serious about making their fourth year under Curry their best, taking down Southern Miss. on Saturday night (7 p.m., FAU Arena) would be a good start.

Ingram continues to improve: Though Jailyn Ingram hasn’t had the high-profile success of senior teammates Ronald Delph and Gerdarius Troutman, the sophomore forward has quietly been efficient over the past month. Ingram’s average of 9.5 points per game in C-USA play this season is more than two points above last year (7.3), as the second-year forward is hitting 41 percent of his shots compared to 39 percent as a freshman.

Ingram ranks fourth on the team in field-goal percentage since conference play began and enjoyed one of his stronger nights this season on Thursday, with his 16 points representing his most since scoring 18 against NAIA Edward Waters on Nov. 16. Thursday was only the third time this season Ingram has posted 12 or more points after doing so six times as a freshman.

“I thought he had a matchup situation in the post and we were able to get him some post-ups,” Curry said. “It was good to see the ball go through the bucket for him.”