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Dusty May using lessons from Bob Knight, time as IU manager to lift FAU to Final Four



Mar 25, 2023; New York, NY, USA; Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Dusty May raises the East Regional Champion trophy following their 79-76 victory against the Kansas State Wildcats in an NCAA tournament East Regional final at Madison Square Garden. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

A winning tradition was always something Dusty May was apart of — whether it be in his start with the Indiana basketball program or now his tenure at Florida Atlantic.

May spent four years as a manager at Indiana from 1996-2000, learning under Bob Knight. All four seasons were NCAA Tournament appearances for Indiana, but none past the first weekend of the tournament.

When he took over the Florida Atlantic basketball program in 2018, the Owls had just five winning seasons in its 30-year program history. In his fifth season now, he has tied that mark and has led the program to five straight winning seasons. In the four seasons before he took over, the Owls had just 39 total wins combined. This season, they are at 35.

And now, he took 9-seeded Florida Atlantic to the 2023 Final Four.

“The guys never changed,” May told reporters after FAU’s win over Kansas State in the Elite Eight. “The foundation was laid, and they stayed with it. A lot of times these guys get so much attention, they’re all so accessible, it’s easy to stray because you have outside influences. And our guys knew that what was in that locker room was real.”

‘Real’ is part of who Dusty May has been throughout his journey up until now. It’s also why he’s been very loyal and adamant about his desire to stay with the Owls, even with the success of his program.

“I came here because I wanted to build a program,” May told Indiana Sports Beat earlier this season. “I love this level of basketball. There is a level of purity, and teaching and coaching and relationship based. It’s just different and doesn’t seem quite as transactional as some of the other levels.”

That love for teaching and coaching stemmed from his time in Bloomington. The amount of lessons — both on and off of the court — that he learned from Bob Knight continue on today.

“We (managers) all took daily notes on 3 by 5 notecards so I have stacks of notecards in binders,” May added to ISB. “… it was a masterclass every day. what coach Knight — his ability to teach and take complex situations and make them simple is a true art form.”

And those lessons from his time with Indiana were built into the groundwork that have now led Florida Atlantic to just 80 minutes from a potential National Championship banner.

“This is a Coach Knight type of group,” May said postgame on Saturday. “We all obviously throw out coaching cliches, but I’ve never been around a group of guys — and I’ve been doing this 20-plus years, been part of a Division I team for 20-plus years — that brought it, the amount of energy, intentionality, focus every single workout of every single day. And if one guy wasn’t, then his teammates quickly reeled him in and we didn’t have to.

“This is a player-led team and these guys have made each other better every single day. It wasn’t just the games. It was workouts, practices, weight sessions, film sessions. These guys are committed to being great.”

So in Dusty May’s eyes, why end this journey now? Why not continue to make this moment everything — and more — for his team, and for those who have joined for the ride.

“I still remember being a child watching the ’87 Hoosiers and because of that, I became a fan forever. So we’ve (Florida Atlantic) never had our moment, and when we made the tournament this year … we felt like this could be our moment to really captivate an area, a fan base, a student body. And I think we’ve exceeded that moment, but there’s no reason why we wouldn’t just continue to ride this wave.”

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.