By Arnie Leshin
It was 1961 when I had come out of Syracuse University to begin a sports journalism career, the same time when Florida Atlantic University was founded in Boca Raton, Fla.
And down the way in 1962 across from I-95 the same occurred at Lynn University.
Were they coming together as rivals? Yes and no, for neither came in with certified divisions, most likely as divisions 2s.
But as usual, here we are 61 years later, and the two were opening the men’s basketball season at FAU’s Elizabeth Bartow arena, and as usual, it was no contest as the D1 Owls sent the D2 Fighting Knights back across the highway with a 81-46 shellacking.
To those that follow the two somewhat neighbors, it was just another game, a season-opener, but for the campus at 777 Glades Drive it became something else.
That was Nov. 7th. Now on January 30th of the new year it’s hoot, hoot, hoot for the basketball program.
At 21-1 after losing way back on Nov. 11 at Ole Mississippi, 80-67, it is ranked 21st, has run up 20 straight victories and leaving it with the longest win streak in the nation after No. 17 Charleston finally fell Saturday after winning its last 18.
Amazing, sure is, something never before done as head coach Dusty May takes over for his fifth season.
“We’ve got a good bunch of players,” he said after the black and gold Owls tight 70-63 Conference USA win over visiting Western Kentucky. “We’ve also had some struggles, but pulled them out.”
He’s got a rather young squad — one senior, three juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen. He’s got six players that hail from the Sunshine State, with 6-foot-1 senior Michael Forest, No. 11, the nearest, the one from Blanche Ely High in Lauderhill.
“Michael has run the show,” May said as he prepared for Thursday’s game at UAB. “He’s clearly unselfish, he’s having a fun time, and he’s a great example for our younger players, a true leader, a 1,000-point scorer.”
May realizes there have been several tight tussles, as in four straight getting past North Texas, 50-46, UAB, 88-86, Charlotte, 71-67, and Florida, 66-62.
Their mascots are Owlsley and Hoot. Their support has brought record-breaking home crowds. What was built on 850 acres and now holds 30,808 students is becoming nationally known in men’s hoops.
They have cracked 100 points once, the 101-73 win over Eastern Michigan. The low of 47 came against Lynn. Another close call came versus a visiting Western Kentucky that is 11-11 overall and 3-8 in conference.
“What can I tell you,” Forest said, “They want to hang with us, try to beat us.”
Two of the juniors are 6-4 Brandan Weatherspoon and 6-3 Jalen Gaffney, and both share their experience and leadership.
The young bloods learning and contributing are 7-1 freshman Vladamir Goldin, 6-9 freshman Brenen Loriant, 6-8 freshman Leo Beath, and freshman 6-7 Tre Carrall. The sophomores are doing the same, with one redshirt while the frosh have a pair.
The varsity basketball program began in the 1988-89 season. It became Division I in 1993-94 as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Can it continue this run? Well, right now it at least has a spot in the country’s top 25, right now it has a postseason look. Kudos to you FAU.