The Climb: FAU's Ken LaVicka Dishes on Journey to Final Four

Head coach Dusty May of the FAU Owls celebrates with the team after beating Kansas State in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on March 25, 2023.
Head coach Dusty May of the FAU Owls celebrates with the team after beating Kansas State in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on March 25, 2023. Photo by Elsa/Getty
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday night’s two Final Four games, the 2023 March Madness tournament will be remembered for an underdog story years in the making — the improbable run by Florida Atlantic University to reach the elite stage of the championship.

The Boca Raton school has taken the college basketball world by storm, bypassing all Cinderella exits on its way to the finish line, just two victories shy of an NCAA championship. No longer little-known, but still the underdog, FAU faces five-seed San Diego State University on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. with a trip to the title game at stake.

While FAU’s run to the Final Four is the national story on the court, anyone that’s been following the Owls through the last decade-plus knows there's an off-the-court reason to stay tuned — Ken LaVicka, the 17th-year veteran radio voice of FAU and longtime radio host on ESPN West Palm 106.3 FM. Those that have followed LaVicka have watched as his social media feed took them along the ride through his travels to small towns in places like Kentucky and Louisiana to call FAU football and basketball games. Known for his pre-game long-distance runs that often end outside the stadiums where he works, LaVicka for years has documented what life as the voice of the FAU program looks like.

Against all odds, that voice is now at the center of the sports universe.

LaVicka's calls have spread like wildfire on social media throughout this year's NCAA tournament, introducing tens of thousands of people to FAU (and him) for the first time.

The Owls' success sent LaVicka on a sojourn to Madison Square Garden this past week, and now, he's headed for Houston as he readies himself to call FAU's game on Saturday night, April 1, against San Diego State in the Final Four.

“The entire thing has moved incredibly fast,” LaVicka tells New Times of FAU’s improbable ascent from Conference USA champions to a place in the Final Four.

“This is very high up on the list of career highlights. It may very well be number one.”
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LaVicka sitting courtside before a recent FAU March Madness game.
Ken LaVicka photo

Grateful for the kudos he's received over his passionate calls for FAU’s tournament wins, LaVicka says the art of relaying the action doesn’t change at the end of the day, no matter if the game is against Western Kentucky in December, or with millions tuning in for the Final Four.

“I do enjoy the fact that there are fans who hear my calls and have them resonate with them because I have been able to tap into a feeling that they’re having about this team, this run, and these moments,” LaVicka says.

“That’s the whole point — paint a picture with words and make the listener feel something.”

LaVicka says there’s a piece of him that is relishing in the fact that the Owls' run to the Final Four coincided with the Miami Hurricanes' success in the tournament.

“Selfishly, I like to think that these calls have also revealed that, in an area where the Miami market tends to overshadow the Palm Beach market, I’m pretty damn good at what I do.”

When asked what made him so sure that FAU has a puncher's chance against some of the higher-ranked schools, LaVicka said that he never envisioned the Final Four, but after FAU’s win against the Florida Gators in November, he had a feeling that this was an NCAA Tournament team.

“This team is extremely tight, extremely connected, and extremely driven. They don’t take any slights, real or perceived, lightly,” LaVicka says. “It’s easy for cliques to form on teams. It’s normal. There isn’t a single clique in this locker room. I’ve never seen that.”
From a technical standpoint, the consensus is FAU has gotten this far in the tournament by way of relentless play both offensively and defensively, being an elite rebounding team, and coming to the court with an extremely unselfish style.

After years of seeing the team's championship hopes fizzle out, LaVicka believes all those factors tie back to good coaching, a hallmark that’s been behind the FAU program's rise since head coach Dusty May accepted the job before the 2018-19 season.

“Since Dusty May showed up there’s been incremental progress each year,” LaVicka says. "This team showed signs of breakthroughs last year. The ingredients were there but they kept finding ways to lose close games."
Despite being on the cusp of playing Miami for a title in a game that, if it happens, would make for a historic NCAA storyline, LaVicka stresses the team hasn't been hyper-focused on the prospect of a Hurricanes matchup.

“The guys [FAU players] don’t care who they play,” LaVicka says. “Put the team in front of them and it’s time to hoop. I haven’t heard one word [about playing Miami] from them, and I’m with them a lot. It’s been all San Diego State.”

“If that does become reality, [remember that] Miami needed an Isaiah Wong buzzer-beater to take down FAU in Boca [in 2021],” LaVicka adds.

Whatever happens on Saturday night, FAU has already put a pin in Boca Raton on the college basketball map. Even as FAU's biggest supporter, LaVicka knows it's a story, like his own, that continues to defy logic.

“FAU in the Final Four is surreal. It’s insane. It’s axis-shifting,” LaVicka said.

“This run has defied everything anyone thought they knew about the sport in the NIL, multi-million dollar facility, five-star McDonald’s All-American era — and it’s awesome.”
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Ken LaVicka photo
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Ryan Yousefi is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, a lover of sports, and an expert consumer of craft beer and pho. Hanley Ramirez once stole a baseball from him and to this day still owes him $10.
Contact: Ryan Yousefi

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