By Christopher Wright
Sports Capital Journalism Program
HOUSTON – The 2023 NCAA Men’s Final Four, rife with coaching personalities, includes San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher, who brings a blue-collardom. The Aztecs’ coach rarely talks about himself but sings praises when any of his players are brought up. Dutcher has taken a defensively tough group to muck its way through a 31-6 season, a Mountain West Championship, and finally to the Final Four, the program’s first. Center Nathan Mensah, two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, is the highlighted name on the roster.
Then comes the newest face to not only the tournament, but to college basketball at large, the coach of the 35-3 Conference USA champions, Florida Atlantic, led by Dusty May.
During May’s media availability before the announcement that he plans to stay at FAU, questions shot up surrounding May’s “career suicide” comments and how he felt when he saw the more underdeveloped sides of FAU’s campus, looking for the angle if he were to leave. Curiosity had been circling around college basketball if the Indiana graduate and Bob Knight apostle would go to one of those bigger, badder spots elsewhere.
Folks from earlier in his career would argue that they knew the whole time that May wouldn’t sell out in his first opportunity to do so.
Mark Barnhizer, May’s coach from eighth grade through senior year at Eastern District High School in Greentown, Indiana, who now leads Lafayette Jeff High School’s basketball team, described his former captain. “His leadership wasn’t the kind of leadership where, when he was a freshman, seniors were put off by it,” Barnhizer said. “Everyone took to Dusty because of his work ethic and his dedication. From day one, we knew we were going to be pretty good, and we knew the main reason was because we knew that he could lead and kids would follow.”
After graduating from Eastern District in 1995, May went to Indiana University and worked as a student manager. He served as administrative assistant and video coordinator during the tenures of Knight and Mike Davis until 2004. From there, May worked at Eastern Michigan, Murray State, and UAB. Next was the 2011 Louisiana Tech position as an assistant, alongside Derrick Jones, Justin Argenal, and others on a staff that led Tech to a school record-tying total of 29 victories in 2013-14.
Jones is the coach at Catholic High School of Baton Rouge, La. and Argenal is coach at Dominican University of San Rafael, Calif. “He’s extremely competitive…he was a mentor to me and the other assistants on that team,” Jones said. “…He would play pickup every day at lunch, and there were some times where he had to get paired up with another guy because the two of them wouldn’t stop going at each other.”
Barnhizer described May as “fiery.” May began to grow self-aware of the comparisons to Knight’s behavior. He found Doug Lemov’s Coach’s Guide to Teaching while in 2020’s lockdown, and in it May discovered the coaching style that fit him best: one of progressive empathy with the balancing aspect of old-school composure.
Dutcher loves to make sure the players are the ones grabbing the attention, and by putting his name on the dotted line, May made sure of the same. “I think one thing we bought into was he was just an honest kid,” Barnhizer said, “and I mean honest in his work ethic, and I think his players see that in him too, that he’s in it for the right reasons.”
Derrick Jones said, “He’s paid his dues for this.”
Argenal said, “To those that know him, we knew it would only be a matter of time.”