‘Mikey’s Got This’: Ely alum Michael Forrest is FAU’s durable veteran on Final Four run
FAU’s Michael Forrest calmly stepped to the foul line in New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
More than 1,200 miles away, his high school coach, Melvin Randall, was sweating.
“I was a nervous wreck, pacing the floor in my home,” said Randall, who coached Forrest for three years at Pompano Ely, winning two state titles together. “I couldn’t sit still.
“But I knew Mike was going to make those free throws because he was cut that way from my cloth, if I can say that. He has ice in his veins.”
That ice allowed Forrest to keep chill through the tense final moments of Saturday’s 79-76 win over Kansas State.
Forrest went 4-for-4 on free throws in the final 18 seconds, helping to send the ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic University Owls to the Final Four in Houston, where they will face fifth-seeded San Diego State (31-6) on Saturday night.
Prior to this season, FAU (35-3) had never won a single NCAA Tournament game. Now, they are two victories away from what would be a miraculous national title, and one of those triumphs may have to come against the Miami Hurricanes on Monday night.
Improbable doesn’t even begin to describe what has been accomplished in Boca Raton this season by FAU and Dusty May, who came to the Owls in March of 2018 as a first-time head coach.
May, who had been a Florida assistant in his previous stop, made Forrest – a 6-foot-1 guard -- his first recruit that summer.
Forrest was being recruited by DePaul, Hofstra, James Madison and American University. Hofstra intrigued Forrest because of its New York City location.
But, as it turned out, Forrest got his Big Apple fix last week in upset wins over wins over Tennessee and K-State. Forrest combined to score 17 points in those two games.
Instead of Hofstra, Forrest settled on the school close to home – not that his father interfered with his son’s decision.
“I told my son, ‘Don’t tell me where you are going to go to college’,” Michael Forrest Sr. said. “I didn’t want to influence him. I was going to be OK with whatever his decision was.”
Forrest Sr.’s only advice was the following:
Go where you are wanted.
Go where you are needed.
The Owls have certainly wanted and needed Forrest for all five of his years on campus. Of the 160 games the Owls have played during that span, Forrest has appeared in 158.
Forrest was just as durable in high school. As a senior, he suffered a dislocated pinky finger, which can be a painful injury. Forrest, though, popped his finger back in place and kept on playing.
At FAU, Forrest has started 87 games. For his career, he is averaging 10.2 points, 2.1 assists and 1.0 steals in 26.5 minutes, shooting 36.2 percent on 3-pointers and 77.9 percent on free throws.
May said Forrest has filled a variety of roles without complaint.
“As a freshman, he was our starting point guard, and as a sophomore he was our starting shooting guard,” May said. “As a junior, he was our sixth man. As a senior, he was our starting shooting guard again.
“This season, he has been our sixth, seventh or eighth man, depending on the flow of the game.”
A native of Plantation, Forrest is the son of two Jamaican-born parents, including his mother, Karen. He also has two older sisters: Leilah and Chelsea.
Growing up, Forrest played a bunch of sports.
Baseball was too boring for him – he spent much of his time kicking rocks in right field.
Soccer was too hot.
Football was too physical – he took a couple of hard hits and didn’t wish to continue.
Basketball was just right, however, and Forrest learned the game at the same time as his father, who had no experience in the sport.
“One day, we would practice only layups,” Forrest Sr. said. “Another day, we would practice 3-pointers. We would laugh and have fun with it, and then we would go eat.”
The plan worked as Forrest was named Broward County’s Player of the Year as a senior, averaging 26.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.3 steals.
“When we first got him, I knew he had the tools,” Randall said. “But he had to stay after practice and do extra work. We were preparing him mentally and physically for the varsity.
“By the time he was a senior, he put our team on his back. What he is doing now is pretty much expected because he has worked so hard. I’m so proud of that young man.”
Forrest, who is set to graduate in May with a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, has also earned praise from May.
Following the win over Kansas State, May said he would only do the postgame CBS interview if he could bring his whole team with him, which he did.
Asked what he thought when Forrest went to the line at the end of that game, May did not hesitate.
“I was thinking, ‘Mikey’s got this.’ I’ve got a lot of pride in Mike,” May said. “He’s (about to get) an engineering degree. He’s going to play pro basketball. He’s a champion. He’s a Final Four participant, and we’re still going.”
If this season ends with a national title, it will be mean obvious jubilation for the Owls.
But, for May, it would be bittersweet.
“It will be a sad day when I look in the gym, and he’s not there,” May said of Forrest. “He’s been a great ambassador for our program.”