College basketball: Dunk City's new coach getting comfortable, recruiting

William DeShazer/Staff
Joe Dooley addresses members of the media at Alico Arena after introduced as the new coach of the men's basketball team at Florida Gulf Coast University on Monday April 22, 2013.

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William DeShazer/Staff Joe Dooley addresses members of the media at Alico Arena after introduced as the new coach of the men's basketball team at Florida Gulf Coast University on Monday April 22, 2013.

FGCU Hoops: Dooley on Recruiting

FGCU men's basketball coach Joe Dooley talks ...

It’s been less than three weeks since his hiring, but new Florida Gulf Coast University coach Joe Dooley said Wednesday morning it’s all coming together.

The signees are coming, chemistry, enthusiasm and name-recognition are growing, the third assistant should be named next week and the Eagles will all be on campus for the second summer school session.

Looking right at home in a white FGCU polo and dark shorts, the 47-year-old Dooley said his top priority since his formal introduction on April 22 has been “getting to a comfort level with” his returnees. He has 10 of those, counting junior center Nate Hicks and junior guard Jamail Jones, both of whom sat out last season after transferring from Georgia Tech and Marquette, respectively. They’ve been streaming to his office and he also has been texting with them.

Last season’s FGCU team that went 26-11 and, stunningly, into the Sweet 16, lost just one starter, Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Sherwood Brown, a guard.

“Adding Mello (Jones’ nickname) and Nate, we’ll have a little more depth,” said Dooley, who loves his team’s athleticism that led to the Dunk City moniker during the Sweet 16 run. “We still want to add one more player for next year.”

What Dooley is looking for is immediate help from a perimeter scorer. Also, more time and effort in the weight room and in conditioning from the current Eagles.

“A lot of that’s maturity, and I think the guys are ready to do that,” Dooley said.

While helping Bill Self revive Kansas (the Jayhawks won the 2008 national title) the past decade, Dooley made a name for himself as one of the country’s best recruiters. He took over at FGCU in time to hit the major AAU circuits before the regular signing period ends next Wednesday.

FGCU is a different sell than Kansas, of course. But it’s also carries much more stock than when Andy Enfield — now USC’s coach — took over a program that had never won more than 11 games in a Division I season two years ago.

“There’s some positive momentum,” Dooley said. “There’s obviously a lot more name recognition. I think the whole Dunk City thing has created some excitement.

“That being said, I don’t think tons of guys go to school because of their name or a sell. They’re looking for playing time, looking for a good fit. We’ve been received pretty well.”

A New Jersey native who played at George Washington, Dooley’s main recruiting areas have been the northeast. But he wants to start in Florida, then branch out.

“We’ve got to recruit at home first,” Dooley said. “Proximity to players — to get guys whose parents can come watch them play — I think is a big deal. Then we’ll sort of pick and choose relationship places. We want to get into Louisiana and Georgia a little bit. Then in the northeast — some of those guys are going to want to get out of the cold weather.

“Then you look at some of the major Midwestern states, a place like Minnesota and realize there’s only one Division I program in the whole state. Some of those kids have to go somewhere. If you’ve ever been in Minnesota in December, it might be a great idea to move to Fort Myers for four years of your life and probably never leave once you feel the weather here.”

Still, Dooley was quick to say most players don’t pick a school for beaches or climate.

“They’re going to come here because they think they can win,” Dooley said. “They’re going to come here because of the atmosphere. They’re going to come here for the arena. They’re going to come here because they can get better. All those things. Then you factor in that it’s not bad when there’s a beach right here and you’ve got a great climate. Those things are a bonus.”

Dooley’s first recruiting job at FGCU, after convincing the returnees to return (junior reserve guard Christophe Varidel had already planned to transfer to play in Hawaii and he signed with Chaminade this week and seldom-used freshman guard Alexander Blessig wasn’t expected to be back), was keeping the signees. Highflying forwards Logan Hovey of Oviedo-Hagerty and Jordan Neff of Kennesaw, Ga., are committed.

“Their finishing up their high school graduation, prom and all that fun stuff, but they’ll be here soon,” said Dooley, grinning. Division I programs now have eight summer weeks to work with their players and Dooley will spend three of them in the first summer school session when four Eagles — including starting sophomore point guard Brett Comer and starting sophomore forward Eric McKnight — will be on campus.

“Probably within the next 10 days or so we’ll get them on the court,” Dooley said.

He’s saving five weeks for the second session, when all the Eagles will participate.

Dooley retained FGCU assistants Marty Richter, 36, and Michael Fly, 30, but has one more to add. The required job posting time has passed and Dooley will begin “bringing people in this week.” He hopes to have a hire to announce next week.

He said it won’t be someone with whom he’s worked before, but it likely will be someone Dooley already knows. As for the newish trend of hiring aging former head coaches to assist, Dooley shook his head.

“I like energy,” Dooley said. “I’ve done this for 25 years, and I’d rather have guys who are energetic and a good fit. And hopefully some recruiting experience in some areas where we’re not as strong as we want to be.”

Dooley’s wife, Tanya, and son Max still live in the family home in Lawrence. Dooley, who is living in an FGCU property until he finds a full-time residence, has been back and forth and was in Kansas for Max’s 10th birthday Tuesday. The family is waiting for Max to finish school on the 24th, then get through youth baseball and a Jayhawks basketball camp before settling into Southwest Florida in time for Dooley’s FGCU camps in mid-June. They’ve already scouted out some homes.

And Dooley already has been called on to fundraise.

“There’s a different level of interest the team created last year,” Dooley said. “Now’s a good time to build on that momentum. We have to be as visible as possible — our players, our staff. We have to make sure we’re out there and continue to create interest.”

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