Team preview: Florida Atlantic

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2012-13 season, exclusively on Insider

Updated: October 26, 2012, 3:38 PM ET
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

COACH AND PROGRAM

Florida Atlantic couldn't finish opponents last season, and subsequently, four of its key players didn't finish their FAU careers.

The Owls returned four starters from a team that won the Sun Belt regular season title, but went 7-9 in the league and fell from 21 to 11 victories. Ten losses were by single-digit margins, including a double-overtime defeat at Miami and an overtime loss to South Alabama.

The boulder, it seemed, never made it uphill, and the emotionally exhausting season wasn't punctuated until four regulars, including dynamo point guard Ray Taylor, opted for transfers afterward. Taylor and Dennis Mavin transferred across the way to FIU, post Kore White went up the road to USF and Omari Grier set out for Brad-ley. Taylor led the team in assists and was second in scoring, but shot 33 percent from the field and didn't let 28.9 percent shooting behind the arc keep him from launching 142 3-point attempts. Mavin started seven games. White was the leading rebounder. Grier shot 40.8 percent from 3-point range.

But it all added up to exasperation that was enhanced by all the near misses.

"Other than Kansas and South Florida -- they controlled us -- but almost every other game, we were in it," FAU coach Mike Jarvis said. "And we just couldn't finish. So yeah, it was an ulcer-developing year, make no mistake about it."

Despite the exodus, Jarvis expects to be deeper, faster and longer this season. Six freshmen, three of whom spent a year in prep school, could all contribute right away.

Jarvis does return three-time leading scorer Greg Gantt (14.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg), a 6-2 senior who has made 203 3-pointers and scored 1,293 career points. Jarvis anticipates Gantt being even more efficient in his final go-round.

"I don't think people are going to be able to double and load up on him like they were able to last year & because we're gonna have other people," Jarvis said. "We'll have an inside presence finally and we'll be able to play the game from the inside out."

Baylor transfer Dragan Sekelja, 7-0, 255-pound junior, will give the Owls a different look. He played in 23 games in two seasons at Baylor, which reached the Elite Eight his freshman season. Before moving to Waco, the skilled post helped his team to a third-place finish in the Croatian Junior Nationals.

"He still has a way to go, but he's very, very talented," Jarvis said. "He's an exceptional passer and he knows how to play. Like most of the European guys, he's got a great feel for the game.

"He's finally starting to get in the kind of condition he needs to be in to really be as good as he can be. The nice thing is we'll have him for two years, so I think he should have a good year this year and an even better year next year."

Two newcomers who are expected to play critical roles this year are freshmen guards Stefan Moody and Cavon Baker. The 5-10 Moody is FAU's first Parade All-American.

"He's a highlight film," Jarvis said. "He's a special kid and a great athlete, one of the best I've seen."

Moody averaged 27.9 points per game for Poinciana High School (Kissimmee, Fla.), but by then Jarvis had already signed him. Moody turned heads at a showcase event in Las Vegas the summer before his senior season, but many coaches were under the impression he planned to sign a full football offer from Florida. Turns out, he was wearing the football recruit's jersey number. FAU figured out he wasn't the football player, had him down for an unofficial visit and signed him early -- when many programs probably still thought he was a future Gator football player.

As for the 6-1 Baker, Jarvis' son, Mike Jarvis II, had a relationship with friends of the New Yorker, who dipped under the radar at a prep school (New Hope Academy) in Maryland. Baker helped New Hope to a 30-4 record after averaging 18 points per game at Edison (Queens, N.Y.) as a senior.

"That's the good Lord," Jarvis said. "I always say, in the end you'll get what's meant for you -- and who's meant for you. Those two, to me, were gifts from heaven, to be honest with you."

Moody, a point guard with a 44-inch vertical leap, certainly seems capable of descending from the sky. Baker is a combo guard that will push Moody at quarterback. They could spend a lot of time on the court together at the end of the half and in the endgame.

"Between the two of them I think we'll be able to have, at all times, at least one really, really good point guard on the floor," Jarvis said. "So as good as Stefan -- as physically talented as he is -- he's gonna have to work to have the keys. & They're gonna be interesting to watch individually and collectively, because of the fact that there's times that these two guys will be able to play together as well. We're not just depending on Moody, but I am counting him to be a special player during his career here."

A breakout season from 6-4 junior Pablo Bertone (7.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg) wouldn't surprise the FAU folks. He's arguably the most accurate spot-up perimeter shooter when open, and he rebounds dependably for a wing.

Sophomore 6-6 forward Kelvin Penn (2.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) was surprisingly productive with 42 blocked shots as a rookie who ended up making 22 starts. But shooting struggles (10 of 28 free throws) limit him position-wise, and he could be relegated to spelling Sekelja. At any rate, he'll be a valued energizer.

"I think because of how hard he plays," Jarvis said, "and his ability to rebound and block shots -- and he's so tough -- I think he can be more effective playing less minutes."

Another prep school product could end up in the rotation in the frontcourt. Chris Bryant, a 6-8 freshman who helped Fishburne (Va.) Military School to 24 wins last season after leading Tallahassee-Rickards to two state titles. He was the Class 3A Player of the Year and state tournament MVP as a senior in 2011.

FAU also signed Bryant's teammate at Fishburne, 6-4 guard Jackson Trapp. They could find themselves on the court together again before long. Trapp's father, Richard, played in the NFL for Buffalo and he was a second-round draft pick of the New York Yankees.

Seniors in the frontcourt are 6-6 Jordan McCoy (4.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and 6-7 Andre Mattison (1.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg). DeVonte Thornton (19.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg), a 6-8 freshman from Marietta, Ga. (Osborne), could contribute considerably.

FAU will try to parlay increased length, depth and athleticism into more defensive pressure. Opponents out-shot the Owls substantially from the field (44 to 41 percent) and 3-point range (36.9-33.9 percent) in 2011-12.

"We've got guys that I think are going to be really hungry and want to play defense, and they're gonna have to in order to play," Jarvis said. "This will be the deepest team since I've been here. We're gonna be young, but we'll be deep and long. We'll be athletic, and I think we'll be able to get after people much more in a lot of different ways."

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B
BENCH/DEPTH: B-
FRONTCOURT: B-
INTANGIBLES: B-

The young Owls will be wide-eyed when they enter North Carolina's Dean Dome for their opener. They will also visit hallowed Assembly Hall to play Indiana.

"You better be as ready as you can be, because when you go into those places, those teams are going to try and kill you," Jarvis said. "They're not gonna try and beat you, they're gonna try and kill you."

Of course, if last season didn't finish off Jarvis, a rugged non-conference schedule with a youthful squad might feel like a fun adventure.

"It didn't happen last year," Jarvis said. "But you know what, it was a great learning experience for everyone, probably more so for the coaches than the players. Like Patrick Ewing used to tell his teammates all the time [when Jarvis coached him in high school], his mother taught him if it don't kill you it'll make you stronger. And in the end, I think it'll make us a lot stronger.

"I haven't been this excited about coaching a group of young men in a number of years. With the help of the good Lord, we got some kids that maybe we shouldn't have gotten."

Addition by subtraction isn't uncommon, especially if size and athleticism are netted while losing experience. But it's hard to see all the turnover immediately adding up to a contender.

"We're probably gonna be picked somewhere near the bottom of the league," Jarvis said. "And we're not gonna be at the bottom -- I can tell you that."

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.