Florida Gulf Coast's players, fans enjoying wide ride

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Sherwood Brown only wanted a bagel.

Florida Gulf Coast's surprise success has its campus of about 11,300 students in a frenzy and people eager to learn about the college, which is only 16 years old.  SCOTT MCINTYRE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
SCOTT MCINTYRE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Florida Gulf Coast's surprise success has its campus of about 11,300 students in a frenzy and people eager to learn about the college, which is only 16 years old.

The Florida Gulf Coast star walked into a restaurant on campus Monday and was surrounded. People wanted autographs, photos and to just yell words of encouragement.

A school that opened 16 years ago is front-and-center in March Madness, one of only 16 teams.

“I had no idea it was going to be like this, but I’m loving it,” Brown said as he made his escape. “I feel like we’re getting a lot of America behind us. I guess you could say we’re a part of America’s team at this point.”

The Eagles spent the day savoring their moment.

At the campus bookstore, more than 100 people were in line to pay for their FGCU shirts and hats. Phone lines were jammed by those seeking tickets for this weekend’s South Regional. Players arriving at classes were met with applause.

“It’s so brand new,” Eagles coach Andy Enfield said. “No one knows – no one knew – what FGCU stood for, the letters. Now it puts our university in a national spotlight and rightly so, because this is a great place. It’s a young, vibrant university with just a lot of energy.”

The Eagles play Florida in the South Regional semifinals Friday night, two wins from a most-improbable trip to the Final Four. Seeded 15th in their region, FGCU knocked off No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State over the weekend.

The school has about 11,300 students, half of whom come from the state’s southwest. The campus – which includes a manmade lake and actual beach where students flock – sits on 760 acres of land donated by Ben Hill Griffin III. That lends a certain irony to the Eagles-Gators matchup, given that Florida’s football stadium is named for Ben Hill Griffin Jr.

Erica Turczyn used three words to describe the mood on campus right now: crazy, nuts and chaos.

“Professors canceled classes today, some of them,” she said. “I don’t know how anyone can focus right now.”

Give FGCU guard Brett Comer some credit. He was trying to focus, anyway.

Comer got three hours sleep before waking up Monday to hit his statistics class. As he arrived, his professor asked why he was there.

“A lot of students didn’t seem to make it to class today,” Comer said. “But I was.”

He won’t be at any classes later this week. The team’s annual banquet is scheduled for April 2. Someone in the lobby of the arena saw that sign Monday and asked if it would be canceled if the Eagles make the Final Four.

A good question, one that no one even a few days ago would have imagined would have ever been uttered at FGCU.

“Our heads have not gotten bigger,” Bradshaw said. “But we really are excited about the attention that we’re getting. And I’ve said this before: If it takes our very successful basketball team to get people to come to our website and learn more about Florida Gulf Coast University — and there is so much more — then I’m fine with that.”


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