20 years later: The 2002 FAU men’s basketball team remembers their time in the NCAA Tournament

The moments from the 2002 season remain vivid in the memories of former head coach Sidney Green and players 20 years later.

FAU+beat+Georgia+State+in+the+2002+Atlantic+Sun+Championship+game+to+qualify+for+its+first-ever+NCAA+Tournament.

Courtesy of Raheim Brown

FAU beat Georgia State in the 2002 Atlantic Sun Championship game to qualify for its first-ever NCAA Tournament.

By Richard Pereira, Florida Atlantic University

2002 was a historic year for the FAU men’s basketball team.

FAU finished with a 19-12 record (13-7 A-Sun), was one of the best squads in the Atlantic Sun Conference, and beat Georgia State University 76-75 in the A-Sun Championship to punch their ticket to their first NCAA Tournament in program history.

The team’s first-round opponent was the University of Alabama. FAU fiercely competed against the Crimson Tide. They led 40-38 at halftime and were 20 minutes away from pulling off the upset before Alabama took control and ended their season with an 86-78 score.

20 years later, the moments from that season remain vivid in the memories of former head coach Sidney Green and players alike.

Leading FAU to its first and only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2002, Sidney Green also won Coach of the Year in the Atlantic Sun Conference. (Courtesy of FAU Athletics)

Looking Back 20 Years Later

In his final collegiate season, senior center Raheim Brown led the team in scoring with 16.4 points while grabbing 8.5 rebounds each game. He noted how interesting the accomplishment was because he originally played with the University of South Florida before he came to FAU in 2000. When he made the tournament, he got a gift from his former coach Seth Greenberg.

“I got a basket sent to coach Green’s office from my old coach, coach Greenberg. And they were like, ‘you’re the first and only one to make it to the NCAA.’ I always think about that because it just kind of puts things in perspective of how rare it is to have a chance to even play in it because it’s so difficult to get there,” Brown said. “Then looking 20 years later, where we’re still the only [FAU men’s basketball] team to make it to the NCAA Tournament, [it] is a blessing.”

Earnest Crumbley Jr. — who averaged 11.3 points, 3.9 assists, and 2.4 rebounds a game as a sophomore guard — regarded the season as one of the greatest experiences of his life.

“The experience of the play, the travel, and the games is one of the most gratifying and some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, especially in basketball,” said Crumbley Jr.

Alvin Jeffrey Cowans placed himself on FAU’s all-time scoring list after four seasons, reserving fifth place with 1,388 points. (Courtesy of Raheim Brown)

As a sophomore guard, Alvin Jeffrey Cowans put up 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. He saw the campaign as one of the most memorable moments he ever lived through because he dreamt about making the NCAA Tournament.

“I still get goosebumps thinking about that experience, man. It was amazing,” Cowans said. “I still talk with my teammates [regularly] from that day, and we still get goosebumps about it.”

Even though coach Green suffered a stroke in 2017 that left him speech-impaired, his friend Dave Revzin assisted him with his answers. When Revzin asked him how he looks back on that season, the first thought in Green’s mind was that he was extremely proud.

“I asked him ‘why, why are you proud?’ And he said he believes in the team,” Revzin said. “He believes in the assistant coaches, he believes in himself, and it happens. That’s how he looks back on it, with extreme pride.”

Once the team won the A-Sun Championship against Georgia State, Brown said the team was on cloud nine because everyone played their roles and got the best out of one another.

“It was kind of a big payoff for everyone because they all locked in and believed what we were trying to do from the start,” Brown said. “We were excited but we also wanted to look forward to playing in the [NCAA] tournament and get prepared. So it was literally euphoria after that game, and for it to be a nail-biter, that was just a better finish.”

Crumbley Jr. said that what made winning the A-Sun title special was how no one gave them a shot at beating Georgia State.

“I don’t know if they have any footage but normally after you win the tournament, you get a hat, you get a t-shirt, you cut down the nets and all of that but we couldn’t get any t-shirts because they had them all made for Georgia State so we kind of messed up their party in a nail-biter,” Crumbley Jr. said. “They were a really good team that year but we were able to squeak out the victory and make history.”

Sidney Green (left), Raheim Brown (middle), and Alvin Jeffrey Cowans (right) speak to media postgame following the loss to Alabama on March 14, 2002. (Courtesy of FAU Athletics)

Taking on the Crimson Tide

When the team found out they were facing Alabama, who had a dominant 27-8 campaign in the Southeastern Conference and won the SEC Championship, they were not discouraged going against a powerhouse team.

“We didn’t care who we played; we were going to come out and play our game and we played them tough,” said Crumbley Jr., who had a team-high 18 points, nine assists, and six rebounds against Alabama. “I thought that we earned the respect of our opponents and we were worthy of being in the NCAA tournament.”

Cowans said the team at halftime was fully confident in their ability to beat Alabama as they believed they were better than them. What they didn’t account for, however, was Alabama guard Mo Williams lighting the nets up for 33 points, including 22 in the second half. Williams went on to have a serviceable 13-year career in the National Basketball Association, including an appearance in the All-Star game in 2009 and a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

“We were like, ‘yo, we’re better than them. If we just play our game and we continue to execute, we can beat them.’ And then when Mo Williams got hot, we were like, ‘oh, man,’” Cowans said. “We wish that we had played a different defense. If we would have double-teamed him or so, we probably would have won that game. He was almost the sole reason why we lost because he just got extremely hot.”

According to Revzin, Green said he taught the team the importance of greatness throughout his time there, especially during that season which he regards as the highlight of his 10-year coaching career.

“I said, ‘what do you mean by that, and how do you define that?’ And he said greatness is defined by doing the very best that you’re capable of doing, and you not only do it on the court, but you do it off the court as well. And that’s what he would teach them: to be great,” Revzin said.

Cowans said he now understands what players from Duke University and the University of Kentucky feel regularly.

“We felt like we were one of the best top 20 teams in the nation at that time. So it was a great experience,” Cowans said. “They didn’t treat us like we were just the team lucky to make it to the tournament; they treated us like we deserved to be there.”

Brown said the experience felt similar to going to a championship game, saying the tournament was what the team expected.

“I just remember all the different schools and different fans cheering for us, cheering for that underdog. They could see the fire in us, they can see the determination, they can see how we played, and they became fans,” Brown said. “That’s probably one of the proudest moments I remember; we had people from other schools cheering for us. The experience was like no other, man.”

Raheim Brown played two seasons with the Owls, being the team’s leading scorer with 16.4 points a game in the 2001-02 campaign. (Courtesy of Raheim Brown)

Where Are They Now

Graduating from FAU in 2002, Brown now resides in Australia where he owns several businesses, including a basketball academy named The Dream that he began in 2015 that allows players to go from high school to the professional level. Players involved with the academy who have since gone to the NBA include LaMelo Ball, Terrance Ferguson, Mitchell Robinson, and RJ Hampton.

“I tried to have an academy where we had media training, we had nutritionists set up, we had full elite training, we had NBA skills, we had everything in a package,” Brown said. “We were able to be the first to have an academy like that, and then it just opened up the floodgates so now that whole pathway is implemented into the NBL [National Basketball League] here.”

Concluding his time at FAU in 2004, Crumbley Jr. has since become a college coach. He is currently in his fifth year as an assistant coach at St. Petersburg College working with his father, Earnest Crumbley Sr. He has coached for 16 years at the NCAA DI level, at the junior college level, and the community college level.

“It was pretty much in my blood. I grew up in a gym. I already knew what I wanted to do with my life at a young age,” said Crumbley Jr. “So that’s kind of what I’ve been doing, just coaching basketball and working with young people.”

Cowans graduated from FAU in 2004 and went to Barry University in 2006 to earn a master’s degree in biomedical science in 2008 and a doctorate in podiatric medicine in 2012. He now lives in Powder Springs, Ga., working as a podiatrist—someone who treats foot ailments—at Optimum Podiatry.

“I tell people all the time that everything I’ve learned in basketball being at FAU with Sydney Green and the team is what helped me to get through medical school,” Cowans said. “So I took that same discipline, that same hard work ethic and I applied it to medical school, I applied that to residency, and now I apply that to my practice.”

Green finished his coaching career at FAU in 2005 and served as an ambassador for the Chicago Bulls, the team who drafted him in 1983 during his playing days, from 2008 to 2017. As Green lives in Nevada with family members while he recovers from the stroke, Revzin said that he’s making physical breakthroughs and is seeing improvement.

“A tremendous amount of time is being spent rehabbing… the ability to stand, the ability to walk when he holds on to something, learning the ability to walk with a cane, the ability to get up and out of his wheelchair, and strengthening both sides of his body but especially the left side,” Revzin said.To me, it’s especially exciting because I never got to work out with a world-class athlete and it’s blowing my mind with the improvements he’s making.” 

Earnest Crumbley Jr. talked to his FAU teammates via Zoom on May 24, 2020 to relive memories of their playing days. (Courtesy of Earnest Crumbley Jr.)

An Everlasting Team Bond

Even though everyone on the team went on separate career paths, they still reunite to relive what they did in 2002.

Whenever he can, Crumbley Jr. goes on Zoom calls that have the whole team and most of the coaches to celebrate their accomplishments from that season.

“I know this year is gonna be a little bit different because it’s 20 years. It’s kind of flown by, but it’s a testament to that group and how great we were that year and how tough it is to win the championship,” said Crumbley Jr.

Cowans echoed a similar statement, saying that the team would go on the Zoom call and talk for hours about that season.

“We talk about the practices, the NCAA experience, winning the [A-Sun] championship, and we literally would just reminisce about those time periods or so,” Cowans said. “And another thing we would do is if we were ever traveling to different cities and our teammates were in town, we will always make time to see each other and speak to each other when we get to their town.”

Brown described their time together as a relationship that picks up where they left off. Even when everyone’s busy, whenever they get together, the same chemistry they had on the court then remains to this day.

“Everyone’s living their own lives and doing their things but we still got love for each other,” Brown said. “We still check on each other but everyone’s doing well and [I’m] proud of everyone, man.”

Earnest Crumbley Jr. spent his entire collegiate career with FAU, finishing second on the all-time scoring list with 1,559 points. (Courtesy of FAU Athletics)

Advice to Future FAU Squads

The men’s basketball team has yet to return to the NCAA Tournament for 20 years and counting.

Cowans said that for future FAU squads to succeed, they have to practice like they are playing the most important games of their lives.

“You should see our practices. Our practices were like we’re playing for the championship every day because we all bought into that goal to win the championship,” Cowans said. “That would be my advice: utilize each other’s skills [and] come together [because] every practice is gearing you up for the championship game.”

According to Brown, having chemistry with teammates and buying into the footprint of the team was what helped them make the NCAA Tournament. He believes that for FAU to return to the big stage, they need everyone to buy into their roles.

“Everyone tries to do the scoring or everyone tries to just be a little selfish, but it’s really about taking your role and just literally trying to master that,” Brown said. “So the very advice I would give to them is buying into what the coach is trying to create. Also just do your position, do your job to the best of your ability, support your teammates, and good things will come right.”

Revzin said that Green had one special request to make for FAU that he believes will help progress the program: retiring the jerseys of Crumbley, Cowans, and Robert Williams, the last who played as a center for five seasons with the Owls.

“I asked him why and he said those three responded to his coaching from start to finish. The way that they were able to do that showcased what the team should do, and that’s what brought the team to where it went,” Revzin said. “He also feels [retiring the jerseys] would be a great inspiration and remind the guys of the greatness that occurred 20 years ago.”

Crumbley Jr. said one of the biggest factors that helped the team that year was they didn’t care who got the credit and instead focused on winning together as a group.

“We only had one goal in mind and that was trying to bring the championship. For future teams, I wish you guys the best,” said Crumbley Jr. “Just don’t care who gets the credit. At the end of the day, when you win, everybody wins.”

This story was originally published on University Press on March 14, 2022.