The Sweet 16 is littered with many of the usual suspects from Tobacco Road, Hoosier territory, bluegrass country and Kansas.
And then there is every unaffiliated fan’s new favorite team – Florida Gulf Coast University.
Every now and again a truly unifying entity emerges, and tonight one of those bandwagon agents will have just about everyone in the nation on board cheering for the team from “Dunk City.”
FGCU – the school that didn’t exist until 1997 and few people knew of that existence until last Friday – is the first No. 15 seed to ever sniff the sweet air of the regional semifinals. The high-flying Eagles that everybody has suddenly fallen in love with will be taking on the Florida Gators – the flagship program everybody not associated with the Gainesville, Fla., school loves to hate.
As a lifelong fan of the Richmond Spiders who holds three credit hours from Virginia Commonwealth and once lived around the corner from George Mason, there is no hesitation in admitting that Florida Gulf Coast is the greatest bracket-busting story in the long history of March Madness.
Seriously, a week ago you didn’t even know what the initials stood for as you reflexively scribbled in “Georgetown” as the winner of the first round game. Now after two electrifying upsets, we can’t get enough of the Eagles.
What about the FGCU story ISN’T awesome?
There’s the viral video of “Dunk City” written in 10 minutes by two FGCU students and a dirty-bird dance that spontaneously sprang from the bench.
There’s the head coach – who may or may not be independently wealthy from a co-founding a health care business information firm – who was once a barn-storming shooting guru with an actual supermodel wife.
There’s a roster of joyful, free-wheeling athletes who perform on the biggest stage in college basketball as if it were a pickup game in the gym.
“You can’t just be too uptight and serious all the time, and my players, they have unique personalities,” said coach Andy Enfield. “You’ve probably seen that. I think that helps them tremendously in games because they don’t care who we play. They don’t care what stage they’re on. They don’t care where they play. They just have this unique confidence about them to compete.”
This is what makes the NCAA Tournament so irresistible – improbable teams from little known conferences wreaking havoc with the presumed powers. It’s something that can’t be replicated in football.
Florida Gulf Coast’s success has created all sorts of fan-demonium. School students Black Magic (Malike Adigun) and Bambi (Amber Angeloro) wrote and performed a music video immediately after the Georgetown upset that has generated nearly 500,000 hits on YouTube and countless more on aggregation websites.
The school’s newspaper – The Eagle News – published a special 16-page Sweet 16 edition this week.
The school’s Web site – which shut down at one point last weekend due to unprecedented traffic volume – is breathlessly trying to keep up with its overnight stars on the court.
“The FGCU men’s swagger and spirit, not to mention their speed and dunking finesse, have captured the hearts of hoops fans and underdog-lovers across the country,” wrote the team’s PR department. “The national buzz has ignited interest in Florida Gulf Coast University, now affectionately dubbed ‘Dunk City.’”
All the alley-oops and tomahawk jams have shocked opponents into submission, but it’s real talent that has carried them this far. A 21-2 second half run buried Georgetown and a 17-0 surge unraveled San Diego State.
All the while FGCU players laugh and dance and carry on with unbridled emotion like Ian Poulter at a Ryder Cup. The tongue-wagging Atlantic Sun player of the year Sherwood Brown threw out the “Dunk City” name after the Georgetown victory and it caught fire.
‘’They play with a swagger, and they have a right to do that,’’ said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who formerly rode Michigan’s swaggering Fab Five to consecutive national championship games.
Enfield – whose wife, covergirl Amanda Marcum, gave up the fashion runways from New York to Paris to raise their three kids and cheer from the bleachers – came to Fort Myers from Tallahassee two years ago and immediately transformed his program into giant killers.
While the closest thing to blue chippers are two transfers – 6-foot-10 Nate Hicks from Georgia Tech native Atlantan Jamail Jones from Marquette – he turned the unheralded players he inherited into shooting stars. The attitude is all theirs.
“If you’re not a fun loving guy, if you take yourself too seriously or you’re just a jerk, you’re not going to play for me,” Enfield said.
Who wouldn’t want to play for him?
“Our goal was to make history and we did it,” he said.
How much history remains to be seen. They have the talent and demeanor to become the greatest cinderella story since Jim Valvano ran around the court in Albuquerque, N.M., looking for someone to hug.
Valvano’s charmed 1983 N.C. State team may hold claim with many of the all-time fairy tale story because they actually got to (in the tournament sense) “live happily ever after.” The Wolfpack cut down the nets in the end, as did No. 8 seed Villanova two years later.
But N.C. State and Villanova – for all their unlikely success – had power conference pedigrees that FGCU of the A-Sun can’t boast.
Yet the Eagles have plenty to brag about. Keep on dunkin’ and dancin’ and everybody will long remember their new favorite team. The favored Gators, Jayhawks, Hoosiers and Cardinals better beware the kids from Dunk City.