BOCA RATON – Entering what could be the make-or-break year for the FAU basketball under coach Michael Curry, the Owls’ fourth-year coach simply isn’t concerned about the idea of having to win to save his job.
“I’ve been in pro ball for 22 years,” Curry said. “I made the playoffs and got fired in Detroit. What do you want me to say? They spent $40 million in coaches and then made it once in the next eight years. I don’t think about that stuff.”
Under Curry, the Owls are 27-65 in three years, but that record is a bit deceiving. Upon taking over for Mike Jarvis in 2014, winning wasn’t Curry’s foremost task. Raising the Owls’ APR and keeping FAU from APR probation that would prohibit postseason appearances took precedence.
Curry did that.
“We had a big checklist for this program to do and it’s checked off everything except win consistently at a higher level,” Curry said. “It’s checked off everything off the court, in the classroom, some big wins out-of-conference, big wins in state. We split with Central Florida and have beaten South Florida.”
Counting this season, which begins on Friday at South Florida, Curry still has two years remaining on his contract.
His boss, athletic director Pat Chun, sees a program moving forward under Curry.
“To watch him slowly but surely make improvements in the program year-to-year in spite of what he inherited in terms of the condition of the program – last year we got a Program of Excellence Award from Conference USA, might have been the first basketball program to win that outside of Rice,” Chun said. “It’s significant what he’s done and the fruits of his labor will show this year.”
Curry enters 2017 with a reshaped roster that features nine new players and only one player younger than a junior on its two-deep.
Center Ronald Delph, forward Jailyn Ingram, forward William Pfister and guard Gerdarius Troutman all started at least 12 games for last year’s team that went 10-20. They begin this season as starters.
Gone are point guard Nick Rutherford and forward Jeantal Cylla, two starters last season who elected to transfer, along with former transfers Adonis Filer (Clemson) and Frank Booker (Oklahoma), who never consistently performed to their potential as Owls.
“I don’t know how much better we could have played in the previous couple of years with the guys that we had,” Curry said. “I thought guys kind of gave their all. I think they had deficiencies.”
In building this year’s version of the Owls, Kiffin looked to address rebounding and scoring issues.
Pfister, a 6-foot-10 senior forward, returns this season and will start along side Delph. Newcomer Amir Smith, a transfer from State Fair C.C. will backup Delph, while fellow newcomer Simeon Lepichev, a junior from Bulgaria, spells Pfister.
That formula gives Curry the ability to employ two big men in the post, something he tried to do two seasons ago but had to bail on after the dismissal of starting forward C. J. Turman for a violation of university rules.
“The number one thing for us is eliminating our rebounding deficit,” Curry said. “Having depth at the big spot for the first time since we’ve been here is our No. 1 thing.”
The No. 2 thing was getting a player who could push the tempo, distribute the basketball, provide a scoring threat and pressure the ball defensively.
Curry thinks he found that player in the confident Anthony Adger, a junior from Spartanburg Methodist.
“Last year they won 10 games,” Adger said. “It’s going to be a surprise for everybody that we come out and win 20-plus games or a lot of games this year.”
FAU may not have a superstar, but Curry likes the Owls’ depth. He believes Adger and his backup, College of Charleston graduate transfer Payton Hulsey, will do a better job getting the ball to Delph in scoring position. Delph shot 58 percent from the field last season, easily the best among the Owls, but often disappeared during offensive sets.
Ingram can slash to the basket, Troutman showed late last season that he’s a weapon behind the three-point line and both Adger and Hulsey are better shooters than Rutherford.
“When we looked out on the court a lot of times last year we were playing three on five offense – there’s a couple of guys they wouldn’t guard. That makes it difficult to score,” Curry said. “You need to always be at least four out of five, and if you have five out of five at times, that’s pretty good. We feel good about that this year.”
The Owls now have enough depth to pressure the ball defensively whenever they desire, upping the tempo in a manner Curry always wanted.
“I think we’ll be exciting,” Curry said. “I know we’re playing at a faster pace. We’re pressing and trapping a lot. I think the activity of that is something we look forward to.”
The Starting Five
PG Anthony Adger (6-1, 170, Jr.)
SG Gerdarius Troutman (6-3, 175, Sr.)
SF Jailyn Ingram (6-7, 215, So.)
PF William Pfister (6-10, 230, Sr.)
C Ronald Delph (7-0, 245, R-Sr.)
Off the Bench
PG Payton Hulsey (6-5, 215, R-Sr.)
SG Justin Massey (6-4, 190, Sr.)
SF Je’Quan Perry (6-4, 220, Jr.)
PF Simeon Lepichev (6-9, 226, Jr.)
C Amir Smith (6-6, 210 Jr)
F Tre’ Maloney (6-7, 208, So.)