Eagles learn tournament fate
FGCU will face Georgetown in NCAA Tournament
ESTERO — The masses eagerly awaiting entrance into Alico Arena on Sunday afternoon showed just how much passion the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball has generated in Southwest Florida and how deep the enthusiasm runs.
Eagles fans stood in line for an event that two years ago few could imagine: a watch party for NCAA tournament selection show, where FGCU would learn its fate live on CBS.
The crowd featured not just overzealous students, but enthusiasts from all walks of life from all over the country.
“What you see out here is the public, you see faculty, you see staff,” university President Wilson G. Bradshaw said. “They’re here from all over the region. It’s very gratifying.”
Mike and Cindi DeBrino, Estero residents, have watched the Eagles’ athletic program evolve in their nine years as season ticket holders. FGCU was an unknown Division II school when the couple arrived in Southwest Florida.
Now, most the college basketball world knows what the school’s acronym means.
“This puts us on the national map again,” Cindi DeBrino, 52, said. “The girls have done it before, now it’s the guys’ turn. It’s pretty cool to watch how far they’ve come and how much they’ve grown up.”
An estimated 700 fans, roughly half students, packed Alico as their team learned its fate in the Big Dance. The stands buzzed with excitement for the Eagles, who earned an NCAA tournament berth by winning the Atlantic Sun championship in their second year of Division I postseason eligibility.
Before the selection show, which started at 6 p.m. on CBS, there was a party outside Alico Arena, where the men went 15-1 this season. Music pumped out of speakers, fans showed off their craziest FGCU attire, and the raucous Dirty Birds student section held a private pizza party.
“We knew we were for real early in the year,” said FGCU sophomore Kevin Rankin, 20, from Tampa. “This is nothing right now. We’re not happy with the (No. 15) seed they give us (in the tournament). This team is going to be ready to go.”
Fans packed into one side of Alico were on the edge of their seats as the pairings were announced. When the projection screen showing CBS’s live show unveiled the first Nos. 2 and 3 seeds for the tournament, fans expecting a 15 or 14 seed groaned when FGCU wasn’t matched up.
Then the screen showed Georgetown, the No. 2 seed in the South Region. After seconds of suspense, CBS unveiled “Florida GC” on the next line and went to a live shot of Eagles players dancing on the Alico court.
Following a celebration, the student section broke into a repetitive chant of “We want Georgetown!” The 15th-seeded Eagles take on Georgetown on Friday in Philadelphia.
“The first game’s going to be tough,” said Clyde Perfect, 79, a seasonal Fort Myers resident from Lawrenceburg, Ind. “I think they can hold their own.”
As fans filtered out of the arena following the announcement, second-year Eagles coach Andy Enfield took to the microphone for a brief closing statement.
“Philadelphia is a 17-hour drive,” a smiling Enfield said. “See y’all in Philadelphia.”