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FAU basketball: Alijah Martin once Dusty May's odd man out. Now he's on pace with all-time greats.

HOUSTON — Dusty May had to break the difficult news to Alijah Martin's mother in spring 2020: There isn’t room for your son at Florida Atlantic basketball.

As much as he liked the Mississippi high-flyer, May — fresh off a 17-15 finish in his second season as FAU head coach — didn’t have an extra scholarship available on a young roster that was set to lose only a couple of veteran contributors.

One Friday in April, however, Martin's spot appeared in the palm trees: Canadian sharpshooter Richardson Maitre unexpectedly entered the transfer portal.

May wasted no time dialing Martin's lead recruiter, assistant coach Todd Abernethy, to set up a Zoom call that would change the course of FAU basketball history.

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"We were fortunate enough to sign him," May said Thursday in Houston.

“We got an iPad and a golf cart and we drove around campus and showed them everything we could think of in a two-, three-hour period."

Florida Atlantic's Alijah Martin (15) shoots over Kansas State's David N'Guessan (3) in the first half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament's East Region final, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Florida Atlantic's Alijah Martin (15) shoots over Kansas State's David N'Guessan (3) in the first half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament's East Region final, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

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Alijah Martin's recruitment

Martin was lightly recruited out of North Pike High School in Summitt, Mississippi, despite shining as a three-sport star in football, basketball and track and field.

He won multiple state championships as a track and field jumper, but saw a better future in basketball, particularly after a football injury sapped his joy for the gridiron.

Martin was left hanging by his biggest basketball suitors, however, and seemed bound for McNeese State in Louisiana before May's fateful phone call.

“I just remember it was very sunny outside. That's the only thing I could really see, a lot of palm trees,” Martin said. “I'm from Summit, Summit, Mississippi. We have pine trees instead of palm trees.

"I was looking at the area, the conference, I was going to trust God that it works, and just go with it.”

It has worked for Martin, May and Owls fans across the country.

Alijah Martin's historic pace

Florida Atlantic's Alijah Martin (15) cuts the net after Florida Atlantic defeated Kansas State in the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament's East Region final on March 25 in Madison Square Garden.
Florida Atlantic's Alijah Martin (15) cuts the net after Florida Atlantic defeated Kansas State in the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament's East Region final on March 25 in Madison Square Garden.

Martin is arguably the most accomplished basketball player in FAU history after just two seasons as a major contributor in the Owls' lineup.

He eclipsed 1,000 career points in the Elite Eight win against Kansas State and is on pace to challenge Greg Gantt's all-time scoring record (1,972) if he stays for his final two years of eligibility. Martin could surpass all other Owls for second place in program history with a strong junior campaign next season.

He's one of just five FAU basketball players in the program's three decades of Division I competition to earn multiple all-conference selections, joining Gantt (2010, 2011, 2013), Raymond Taylor (2010, 2011), Carlos Monroe (2007, 2008) and Mike Bell (2004, 2006).

Unlike Martin, none of those Owls ever won a game in the NCAA Tournament, much less four straight en route to the Final Four.

Such thoughts weren't on Martin's mind in spring 2020 and they weren't Thursday in Houston.

Instead, Martin has been focused on adjusting to the spacious caverns of NRG Stadium, which seats 71,000 spectators, as well as sharpening up his interview and autograph skills.

"They didn't really promise me anything. Just work hard and stay with it, I'll play minutes and stuff like that. But obviously, you've got to work for what you want, you know?

“It’s an amazing difference. I don’t think any of us can go anywhere on campus without taking a photo or signing something. We appreciate the love and support. It helps us keep going but we also have to stay locked in and in the moment. ... We always dreamed of this."

Eric J. Wallace is deputy sports editor for The Palm Beach Post. He can be reached at ejwallace@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Alijah Martin: FAU basketball almost didn't have room for star guard