Typically, I don’t get behind the whole Cinderella, upset-special thing of the NCAA Tournament, but this year, I would love to be a tax-paying resident of “Dunk City.”
The Florida Gulf Coast men’s basketball team came into the 2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament as a No. 15 seed and an unknown. After two “surprising” wins, the Eagles are now the most popular kids at the dance.
The Atlantic-Sun Tournament champions are fun, young and exciting, with a newly minted celebrity coach, high-flying dunks and an open-court style.
But as the nation is finding out, they are also a really good basketball team.
Think about it, FGCU came into the tournament as a mannequin to the flashy well-known designer fashion suit that is Georgetown. The Eagles came to life before a national TV audience and tore the suit apart, making every highlight reel of the tournament’s second round with monster slams and alley-oop dunks, in the process. This exciting style of play is something Eagles’ followers were familiar with. The university even tweeted out, “When people ask you where FGCU is, just tell them Dunk City, Fla.”
However, before March Madness, FGCU ran through its conference tournament with a defense led by the A-Sun’s Defensive Player of the Year in Rockdale’s Bernard Thompson, who just so happens to be in the top five in all of the NCAA in steals. The Eagles also defeated Miami during the regular season. They might not have been a top name in the SEC or ACC, but this was a top team led by a coach with a good reputation among Florida coaching circles.
I got the full on Andy Enfield-marketing line by Rockdale coach Alvin Williams when Thompson signed to play at FGCU after the 2010-11 season — “He’s one of those honest guys who teaches you what you need to know,” Williams told The News in May 2011. I also got to look further into FGCU’s successful recipe of a Defensive Player of the Year, A-Sun Player of the Year Sherwood Brown and star point guard Brett Comer a week before the tournament during an interview with Thompson for a story which appeared previously in The News.
Therefore, my attention was already on the Eagles. When they knocked off Georgetown, it was more of an “I told you so” situation. But as I watched highlight after highlight, saw “Dunk City” headlines all over ESPN, Sports Illustrated Bleacher Report, CNN and every other website you can think of, I started to get sucked in.
This team went from good, to unknown in a larger circle, to captivating. They play great basketball, true. But they are having the type of fun that I thought only spectators had when trying to catch 16 tournament games at once. They were high-fiving each other, laughing and dunking all over the place as Georgetown tried to mount a comeback Friday. And after the Eagles won, the players knew who to thank. In footage of the locker room celebrations, the players chanted, “Andy, Andy,” honoring their coach. These are guys I can support.
And support them, I have and will.
I wasn’t flipping back and forth from all the games offered Sunday night; no, my attention was on Florida Gulf Coast. And, boy, was I not the only one. Give FGCU, Florida Gulf Coast, Eagles, Enfield or Dunk City a Google search. The phenomenon — as Reggie Miller called the Eagles following the win that propelled them into history as the first 15 seed ever to reach the Sweet 16 — is something I don’t think a “Cinderella” or “upset special” team has ever seen.
Stories are everywhere on FGCU from Sports Illustrated, Forbes, USA Today, New York Daily News, Sporting News, The Daily Beast, Huffington News and seemingly everywhere in between. There’s even two rap videos on YouTube about FGCU, with the first song “Dunk City,” getting more than 400,000 hits in two days. The city of Fort Myers has even put #DunkCity on its official website. As the Eagles were walking out of the arena in Philadelphia following their win over San Diego State Sunday, people watching Duke take on Creighton came out of their seats just to shake the players’ hands.
It’s no longer a story of a team winning one game, and everyone getting behind them until they eventually lose to a better team. No, it’s a story of a good team, enjoying what its accomplishing and letting us watch it and root for it not to beat Goliath but to become Goliath.