03.25.13

Florida Gulf Coast University Are the Talk of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tourney

Florida Gulf Coast University shocked the world, becoming the first 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. So who are these Eagles, anyway?

The first known usage of the term “Cinderella story” in the arena of college basketball was back in 1950, when the City College of New York came out of nowhere to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. And every spring when the NCAA Tournament—or March Madness—kicks off, the phrase is thrown around like Mark Sanchez on third down.

Who will be this year’s Cinderella?

This year Florida Gulf Coast University, an approximately 13,000-strong college erected over 400 acres of alligator-infested wetlands in Ft. Myers, Florida, is that school.

On Sunday the FGCU Eagles became the first 15 seed in the 75-year history of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament to reach the Sweet 16, defeating 7-seeded San Diego State 81–71. Prior to that, the Eagles delivered the biggest shock of the tournament, defeating the 2-seeded Georgetown Hoyas 78–68 in the first round. They became just the seventh 15 seed in tourney history to win their first-round matchup. Now they’re 80 minutes away from reaching the Final Four.

And the young, talented team has won in style.

They don’t run a Princeton offense like most Cinderella squads, but instead adopt a swaggering, street-ball-style approach similar to that of Jerry Tarkanian’s famed “Runnin’ Rebels” UNLV squad in the early ’90s, relying on their strength and athleticism—including several jaw-dropping alley-oops.

Their de facto leader on the court is guard Sherwood Brown, a charismatic senior who averaged team highs of 15.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game during the regular season. He’s become more renowned, however, for his fiery pregame, locker-room speeches, celebratory tongue wagging during the game, and shaking hands with the TV announcers after each of the team’s upset victories. He also leads the team in a chicken dance—dubbed the Eagles Dance—similar to the St. Louis Rams’ bob-and-weave touchdown celebration during their 2000 Super Bowl run.

Florida Gulf Coast University isn’t like other schools.

Although founded in 1991, the college didn’t begin admitting students until 1997. That means that every student on its basketball roster is older than the school itself. And it is only the men’s basketball team’s sixth year competing in Division I and just their second year of being eligible for the NCAA Tournament.

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Their coach is Andy Enfield, 43. In just his second year with the Eagles, he’s led them on this historic tourney run. Last year his team narrowly missed the big dance, losing to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun Championship final. He graduated from Johns Hopkins with a degree in economics and also holds the school’s points record for basketball, as well as the NCAA record for free-throw percentage, shooting 0.925 during his college career. He served as an assistant coach for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks (1994–96) and Boston Celtics (1998–2000) before helping form Tracked Manager—a health-services startup company. He left Wall Street in 2006 and returned to basketball, taking a job as an assistant coach at Florida State—his firm would later sell for $100 million—where he helped guide the team to a Sweet 16 berth in 2011.

Enfield is also married to Amanda Marcum, a gorgeous model who has appeared in everything from Maxim to Victoria’s Secret ads. Their first date was at a Taco Bell in Queens, New York, in 2003, and he proposed eight months later by hiding the ring in a package of Krispy Kreme donuts. They’re now married with three kids.

On Friday following the upset win over Georgetown, FGCU saw Internet traffic on its online admissions page jump 431 percent, and after the win over San Diego State on Sunday, the school website was receiving so many visitors, it crashed.

The #FGCU hashtag is still trending on Twitter as of Monday morning, and rapper Lil Wayne, who nearly died last week from a seizure, found time to tweet his support for the team Saturday morning:

Let’s hope this Cinderella story continues.