MACON, Georgia – They had a plan even though the odds were against the Florida Gulf Coast University men's basketball team.
An hour before FGCU took on Mercer with an NCAA berth at stake, someone with the Atlantic Sun talked to FGCU officials about the fans rushing the court after they win. They were talking about Eagles fans rushing the court, where Mercer had been 17-0 this year.
For the record, FGCU celebrated for over 30 minutes and cut down the nets without incident.
This was not suppose to happen. Not Saturday and certainly not this quickly.
There are always so many stories on a championship team but college basketball starts with coaching and a staff that can recruit.
The first two players Andy Enfield and his assistants (Kevin Norris, Marty Richter, Michael Fly) brought on board were guards Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer.
Thompson is the A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year.
Comer was the A-Sun Tournament MVP.
Comer is the talented-but-sometimes-erratic point guard. He plays the most important position therefore often as he goes, so go the Eagles. Comer played horrible in the first half of Friday night’s semi-final game. The Eagles were struggling. After a short-but-sweet tongue-lashing from the staff, the team headed back out to the court -- all except Comer.
The sophomore guard was shaken. He was feeling the pressure and succumbing to it. Enfield noticed and kept his floor leader on the bench. The two had a private 3-minute talk that each will remember forever.
Comer went on to play the best basketball of his life.
When Enfield and Co. showed up 100 weeks ago, they worked out the returning players to see just what they had. A brutal hour meant to send a statement. Some players threw up. Others made excuses to stop. Sherwood Brown stood there and looked back at his new coaches as if to say "there is nothing you guys can do that I can't handle."
Two years later, the former walk-on is the A-Sun Player of the Year.
FGCU has only played Division 1 basketball for six years. Eddie Murray has been there for five of them. The former Bishop Verot big man in many ways epitomizes the program. He was the classic "project" player. The FGCU men’s basketball team was also a project in March 2011 before Enfield arrived.
Two years ago, FGCU was rated No. 281 in Division I. That’s out of the 345 programs,
Which means in two years, the Eagles have gone from being better than only 64 teams to becoming one of the 64 teams (after the play-ins) at the center of the college basketball universe.
These program turnarounds don't happen very often.
It wasn't supposed to happen at this time and in this place.
But it did. Because this staff and these players thought it could and then proved it.
FGCU's hotel was 10 minutes from Hawkins Arena. Brown danced in the aisle on the bus for the entire ride to the game.
No sense stopping now Sherwood.
FGCU is going to the Big Dance.