BOCA RATON — As guard Adonis Filer finished his interview session following a home win on Saturday, the dynamic sixth man embraced head coach Michael Curry in a massive hug.
It’s been a long road for Filer, a Clemson transfer, and Curry, an NBA journeyman known best in basketball circles for his one year as Pistons head coach. When the two arrived to Boca Raton in 2014, their futures were clouded in mystery; in theory, Filer could’ve used FAU to propel his stock before transferring again – this time to a better school.
As for Curry, returning to a head coaching role after serving as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers and succeeding at a smaller Division 1 school could boost his resume for NBA teams who would soon need a new head coach.
But after clinching their second straight appearance in the Conference USA tournament and winning their final home game of the year on senior night, Curry and his star senior had every reason to celebrate sticking with FAU.
“Winning on senior night for our guys was big,” Curry said. “Letting everybody leave out of The Burrow feeling good, hopefully about how we played, was good.”
It’d be hard for fans not to feel good after the team’s first home win since January 7 – FAU’s first C-USA win of the season, which came over rival FIU – but also knowing that this Owls team was headed for Birmingham. Officially, FAU locked up a spot earlier in the day when North Texas fell to Southern Miss at home, though Curry’s team still played like this was an elimination game.
Under Curry’s reign, however, the basketball cliches of playing hard and not giving up have become standard. Nearly three years after taking over a Mike Jarvis-led program that was on the verge of NCAA sanctions for low academic progress, Curry has begun the process of turning FAU into a legitimate C-USA contender for the near-future – with part of that coming thanks to major improvements in APR.
As a result of the excellent recruiting, attendance at home games – even with all of the losses – improved with more students coming from the dorms to watch fan favorites Filer, Frank Booker, and Gerdarius Troutman. Filer is potentially headed for an All C-USA Defensive Team nomination and a Sixth Man of the Year Award, freshmen Jailyn Ingram made strides and didn’t quit after hitting the ‘rookie wall’, and all seems to be well in Boca Raton.
With a rose in hand from the senior night celebration and a proud smile on his face, Filer made sure to thank the coach who took him in from Clemson.
“From the coaches down to my teammates, every teammate I’ve had since my start here, it’s been great,” Filer said.
It’s been rare for Curry to stay in one place, even with success here and there. Across his 11 NBA seasons, the Georgia Southern product spent six of them with the Detroit Pistons and spent the rest of it as a journeyman wing guard known for strong defensive play.
After one season as the Pistons’ head coach in 2008 that saw Chauncey Billups dealt for NBA Hall-of-Famer Allen Iverson, Curry was unceremoniously fired as Detroit began a long, difficult rebuilding process.
After three years at FAU, Curry is making it clear that he’s planning to stick around. With his team on the brink of the postseason and certainly in a position to stun some of their C-USA rivals, Curry still continues to make this about what’s next rather than what’s already happened.
“It’s just about doing your job and working. We are what we are, but I think we’ve played better basketball and it was good to finish this one,” Curry said. “Hopefully, we’ll play these two well on the road, go into the tournament, and play well.”
- Instead of taking the next two games to tinker with different lineups and see who may work best where, Curry has affirmed that the standard lineup formations will remain the same. Barring injuries, that means Ronald Delph or Adonis Filer won’t re-enter the starting rotation.
- FAU players will be thankful that the Conference USA tournament starts during their spring break, as the travel schedule for the next two weeks doesn’t include a trip back to Boca Raton. After Thursday’s game at UAB and the regular-season finale on Saturday at Middle Tennessee, FAU will take a bus back to Birmingham and stay in the area until at least Thursday, for the C-USA tournament.
- There will always be a Senior Night and there will always be players that leave after the season, but Curry did agree that this year’s was more emotional because of the players’ backstories. In particular, Curry praised Matthew Reed – who saw his career end as a result of concussions – for battling through the struggle that is finding a role when he couldn’t play anymore. Part of Curry’s message to Reed was, “Matt, basketball is not your future; you’re going to law school. Take care of yourself and take care of that brain for your future. You’re going to be really good in politics.”
- Though some fans may not be thrilled that FAU is set to finish another season under .500, Curry is continuing to make a name for himself among the majority of fans and alumni as the program continues to make progress. In a season that saw the highs of a win over Ohio State and the lows of many close losses, Curry’s coaching style and emphasis on ‘team over me’ continued to bring the team – and as a result, the school – together for a second straight visit to the C-USA tournament.
Conference Counterparts: Middle Tennessee clinched its first Conference USA regular-season title outright on Sunday by taking down UAB by a 66-64 final. Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech have already clinched two of the four first-round byes. If the season ended today, Old Dominion and UTEP would be the other two bye seeds; though Rice is a game behind UTEP and, if things go their way, could sneak into that four seed. Remember, overall records mean nothing when it comes to seeding. Only records in conference play matters.
Working Women: The FAU women’s team will have one final homestand this year as they try to win their first C-USA game of the season. UAB comes to town on Thursday night with MTSU following on Saturday. Fans who come to The Burrow should keep an eye on the play of junior Sasha Cedeno, who leads the team in scoring during C-USA play (9.7 a night).
Game of the Week: When FAU and UAB last played, the difference in the game was more than two points in the 80-78 final; it was the first few minutes when the Blazers outscored the Owls by an 18-4 score. If FAU wants to send one final statement before the C-USA tournament begins, Thursday night is the perfect time and place.