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From the ashes, Florida Atlantic now a winner

Sidney Green, 2-28 his first season, has Owls in their first NCAA Tournament 2 years later.

©Associated Press
March 12, 2002

BOCA RATON -- The congratulations have been pouring in since coach Sidney Green led Florida Atlantic to its first NCAA Tournament berth.

He has gotten calls from his former coaches: Rick Pitino, Chuck Daly and Larry Brown. Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian sent a congratulatory fax. Former NBA teammates Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley left messages. And Green has received more than 100 e-mails.

"All the individual accolades that I achieved -- high school All-American, college All-American, NBA -- it doesn't compare to this," Green said. "That's one reason that I wanted to coach -- to try to make a difference."

Florida Atlantic earned the No. 15 seed in the South Region and meets No. 2 Alabama on Thursday.

"We're going to give it our best shot," Green said. "We're just happy to be one of the top 65 teams."

Green, a former UNLV star who played 10 seasons in the NBA including with the Orlando Magic, transformed Florida Atlantic from a 2-28 team in his first season to this year's Atlantic Sun Conference tournament champion.

The Owls (19-11) won a total of nine games in Green's first two years and this season were picked to finish 10th in the 11-team league. Instead, they finished third and beat defending conference champ Georgia State 76-75 in the tournament title game March 2.

Some wondered why Green would take on the challenge of an obscure college team instead of pursing a career in the NBA. After he retired from the pros in 1993, he had an offer from the Charlotte Hornets to start in radio and work his way into coaching. But Green wanted his own program where he could develop young talent.

In 1995, Green was hired by Division II Long Island University-Southhampton. He then spent two seasons at North Florida before accepting the FAU job in 1999.

"I don't think any other NBA player would have done what I did," he coach said.

FAU is best known as the home of Howard Schnellenberger's fledgling football program. There's no winning tradition in basketball, and things went from bad to worse at first under Green, who had seven players his initial season.

After going 7-24 last season, Green recruited three junior college transfers to improve depth. One, junior forward Andre Garner, is the fourth-leading scorer at 9.2 points per game. Senior forward Raheim Brown leads the team at 16.4 ppg followed by sophomore guards Jeff Cowans at 11.7 and Earnest Crumbley, a Lakewood High graduate, at 11.1.

"Florida Atlantic has had its share of adversity. You can't hide that," said Brown, a first team all-conference selection who transferred from South Florida in 1999.

At Thursday's practice, the first since clinching a tournament berth, the Owls sounded confident. They autographed NCAA Final Four basketballs and gave the most interviews of their career.

Green doesn't expect nerves to be a problem before the big game.

"Do these guys look nervous?" he asked.

"People will go on thinking we're going to be an easy victory," said junior center Nick Neumann. "If they think that way, they're going to be in a shock for what we bring to the table."

At the start of the season, Neumann said, no one expected anything of the Owls. Then when they started winning, strangers for the first time would stop players as they walked across campus to congratulate them.

Green always had confidence.

"He believed in this program so much that there was no other choice but to be successful," Brown said. "This is big time, We're trying to put Florida Atlantic on the map."

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