Before the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team was building up a national bandwagon, the Eagles’ bus was breaking down on a road trip to face Derek Waugh’s Stetson University squad.
Prior to FGCU running past Georgetown and San Diego State, it was a punching bag for Tony Ingle’s Kennesaw State teams.
Much of the excitement surrounding this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament stems from a No. 15 seed from Fort Myers — which most bracket pickers didn’t give a puncher’s chance — reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time.
But for Ingle, Dalton State College’s men’s basketball coach, and Waugh, the Roadrunners’ athletic director, it’s this specific underdog from the Atlantic Sun Conference that piques an interest.
“No. 1, I coached in the (Atlantic Sun Conference) and it shows people the A-Sun can play basketball,” said Ingle, whose first Dalton State team will take the court next school year. “Knowing the kids, who they had and watching them and how they’ve matured and grown (makes it interesting). They have so much confidence. And I’m pulling for them. I told my wife to put a lock on the cabinets because I get nervous when watching these games.”
Both Ingle and Waugh faced the Eagles. Both won against the Eagles. Both coached against some of the same players who gave a history-rich title contender, No. 2 seed Georgetown, the ill-fated pink slip and a boot out the bracket castle for good measure.
And now, both are watching FGCU garner the limelight reserved for only the prettiest of Cinderellas.
A Cinderella run
FGCU’s last loss was on Feb. 22, an 80-71 defeat at the hands of Stetson. Since then, the Eagles (26-10) have won seven straight games, including a conference tournament championship and two NCAA tournament games. This past Friday, they beat a perennial powerhouse, No. 2 seed Georgetown, 78-68 to advance to the round of 32. On Sunday, No. 7 seed San Diego State was the victim, falling 81-71.
FGCU is just the seventh No. 15 seed to advance to the round of 32 and the first to reach the Sweet 16. Due to the team’s ability to pull off highlight-reel dunks and the Youtube videos that followed, the program earned the moniker of “Dunk City” — the city of Fort Myers even changed its website to reflect the nickname. A rap video by Black Magic featuring Bambi highlights all the big plays. It was posted on YouTube Saturday, and as of Thursday night it had more than half a million views.
On Monday, after the team returned to campus, there was a pep rally held inside the gymnasium. According to a Fort Myers News-Press report, some 4,000 fans packed the arena. According to a Naples Daily News story, ESPN filmed the event. Immediately following the win against San Diego State, Florida Gulf Coast was the top-trending item on Twitter.
It goes beyond Fort Myers, too. Well-known rapper Lil’ Wayne asked on Twitter why one of the team’s alley-oop dunks didn’t make SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays this past Friday.
In short, and even if for just the brief time period allowed between rounds in the NCAA tournament, FGCU has become more than just a school with a student body of 13,000 that most didn’t know about — former NBA star and tournament analyst Charles Barkley asked on air where the school was located.
“They’re not a juggernaut,” Waugh said. “They just got on a hot streak.”
Next on the docket is tonight’s 9:57 tipoff in Dallas with an in-state foe, No. 3 seed Florida (28-7). The winner advances to the Elite Eight to play the winner of tonight’s game between Kansas and Michigan. FGCU, obviously, is the highest-seeded team remaining in the tournament. The only other double-digit seed left as of Thursday night was No. 13 seed La Salle.
“Everyone thinks Florida will beat the snot out of them,” Ingle said. “I’m a believer. I think they are going to give them a run for it.”