Oct 12, 2013, 3:00 PM EST
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.
America is familiar with common Florida destinations like South Beach and Disney, but last March, basketball fans quickly became aware of the brand-new Sunshine State landmark known affectionately by college basketball enthusiasts as “Dunk City.”
Dunk City — technically located in Fort Myers, Florida in the Southwest portion of the state between Tampa Bay and Miami — quickly became a national phenomenon, complete with gear, hashtags (#DunkCity) and the attention of the national media as the 15-seeded Eagles blew past Georgetown and San Diego State to become the first 15 seed to ever reach the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
Head coach Andy Enfield bolted for USC in the offseason and senior leader Sherwood Brown exhausted his eligibility but the good news for Dunk City is the return of four starters, led by the dynamic junior backcourt of Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson.
Comer and Thompson started all 37 games during Florida Gulf Coast’s 26-11 season in which they won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Eagles were a transitory Division I program beginning with the 2007–08 season and granted full D-I membership before the 2011-12 season, so for the Atlantic Sun program to receive at least four nationally televised games during the 2013-14 season is a testament to the power of Dunk City and how the nation took notice.
“Now I tell people that I go to FGCU and they’re like, ‘Oh, Dunk City!’ I could just tell them I go to Dunk City they say, ‘Oh, you go to Florida Gulf Coast!’ I like the name and it represents us well,” Thompson said. “We dunk and we have a high-flying style of play. So I think it’s good for us and our school since our school is so young and the nickname helps us.”
Former long-time Kansas assistant coach Joe Dooley takes over for Florida Gulf Coast at head coach this year as the Eagles become the hunted. They’re the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic Sun thanks in large part to the passing of Comer and the all-around skills of off-guard Thompson. Comer was 14th in the nation in assists, averaging 6.6 dimes per contest last season, as many of his passes and lobs led to Dunk City throwdowns. The 244 assists Comer dished out were the second-most for a single season in Atlantic Sun history and he was the A-Sun Conference Tournament MVP.
Comer’s backcourt teammate Bernard Thompson is often on the receiving end of his point guard’s creative passes as the two close off-court friends have been in the Florida Gulf Coast program together since they were freshmen. Thompson won the A-Sun’s Defensive Player of the Year award as a sophomore and is the team’s leading returning scorer at 14.3 points per game. At 102 total steals last season, Thompson was second overall in the country in defensive thefts. Roommates the past two years, Comer and Thompson will take the Eagles as far as they can go this season.
“It’s nice to have Bernard back there. We both came in together and we’ve both grown together too. We create a lot off of each other here and we’ve been doing this for three years,” Comer said. “And having guys like Chase (Fieler) come back and our transfers will be coming in, so we’ll have a good core coming back and some new pieces here.”
Chalk up another assist to Comer for mentioning his teammates, as he’ll have plenty of weapons — besides Thompson — to work with this season. Fieler, a senior forward, averaged 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season while accumulating 59 dunks that helped him garner a 56 percent field goal percentage and forward Eric McKnight is a 6’9″ junior that put up 60 percent field goal shooting and adds a shot-blocking presence to the group. Marquette transfer and 6’6″ junior Jamail Jones is a former top-100 recruit that’s eligible this season and will replace Brown’s presence in the lineup and Georgia Tech transfer Nate Hicks adds a versatile 6’10″ inside-out option.
“(Hicks is) good. He’s versatile and for someone his size, he can step out a little bit and knock down shots, so that helps us out a lot,” Thompson said of Hicks.
But new coach Joe Dooley, who is incorporating a similar high-paced attack for the Eagles this season, knows that his backcourt will make all the difference if Florida Gulf Coast is to make another NCAA Tournament run this season.
“We’ve got some experience back, four starters and those guys have a pretty good feel for how to play together,” Dooley said. “You have a point guard that’s a two-year starter and you have a two-guard that’s a two-year starter and they have some familiarity playing in the conference and playing together and hopefully they’ll make another jump this year.”
Thompson and Comer spend plenty of time away from the court playing Call of Duty, getting food or just hanging out, but together in the same backcourt, they know where each other is going to be at all times.
“Brett just has tremendous, tremendous vision. He’ll see me and we just read each other,” Thompson said. “It’s just a great chemistry that we have; a great bond that we have. You’ll see it on and off the court. It makes it a lot easier for me and him that we know each other’s tendencies.”
Because of their chemistry and experience, the Eagles have expectations that exceed the results of last season’s group. It’s hard to contemplate another Sweet 16 run — or beyond — but Dunk City is trying to follow-up on last season’s run with another run that matches or exceeds that effort.
“We want to win the conference regular season — which we didn’t do last year — and we want to win the conference tournament again and we want to make the NCAA Tournament and make more noise,” Comer said of the team’s expectations. “I think that we showed that we have good players and we can compete with anybody.”
But in a state that LeBron (currently) calls home, Dunk City is just happy to have found its place on the national basketball landscape for the time being.
“We had people come out-of-state just to see us, just to come get our autograph,” Thompson said. ”And the fans, the Dirty Birds (the student fan base), just come out to everywhere we play just to support us. It’s just been good that we’re recognized and when you go somewhere people are like, ‘Florida Gulf Coast,’ and know it’s us. So that feels good just to get the recognition.”
Excitement for the sequel to Dunk City is building. Dunk City after Dark — the program’s season-opening madness event — will air on ESPNU as one of nine programs that the network will air and Comer said that excitement for all sports on Florida Gulf Coast’s campus was continually building over the course of 2013.
Dunk City is squarely on the map for now, but are they here to stay? The Eagles are enjoying the ride and they hope it continues in 2013-14 and beyond.
“I think we helped put the school on the map and it’s growing from that. It’s a lot of fun down here now,” Comer said.
Dec 8, 2013, 2:16 AM EST
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Colorado 75, No. 6 Kansas 72 Yup, that was awesome. We already wrote two columns off of this game. My take on Kansas is here. Raphielle Johnson wrote on Colorado here. THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 17 Iowa State 91, Northern Iowa 82 OT We should just assume that…
Dec 7, 2013, 10:01 PM EST
Just one week ago Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats wrapped up a Battle 4 Atlantis crown that few people expected them to win. After taking care of USC the Wildcats beat Kansas and Iowa, resulting in their first ranking in more than two seasons. For a program that relies on so many young players, how Villanova…
Dec 7, 2013, 8:38 PM EST
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Dec 7, 2013, 7:39 PM EST
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Dec 7, 2013, 6:59 PM EST
Turns out that the sprained ankle he suffered in Monday’s loss at No. 12 UConn won’t result in any missed game time for Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, as he’s returned to practice and will play on Tuesday night against No. 6 Kansas. That’s important news for the Gators, who faced the possibility of…
Dec 7, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
Dear Kansas fans: Do not start freaking out just yet. I know what happened on Saturday. I saw Colorado’s Askia Booker hit that buzzer-beating, euro-stepping three to beat the No. 6 Jayhawks, 75-72. I saw the bench mob him at half court and Jimmy Dykes ask him questions on ESPN in the postgame that made…
Dec 7, 2013, 5:33 PM EST
After No. 6 Kansas scored the first seven points of the game, it would be difficult to blame any Colorado fans who managed to utter the words, “here we go again.” In last season’s meeting in Lawrence the Buffaloes were blitzed right out of the gates, and the end result was a 90-54 defeat that…
Dec 7, 2013, 5:07 PM EST
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Dec 7, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
Wisconsin was able to outlast in-state rival Marquette 70-64 on Saturday at the packed Kohl Center because they have more firepower. Although the No. 8 Badgers (10-0) and Golden Eagles (5-4) differ in the standings by a few games, they can both really defend and limit opportunities for their opponents to get good looks, but…
Dec 7, 2013, 3:15 PM EST
Missouri basketball may not have been in the limelight for very long on Saturday before the football team faces Auburn for the SEC Championship, but the basketball Tigers took care of business and had an impressive second half in their 80-71 win over No. 18 UCLA. Both Missouri and UCLA were undefeated entering the game…
Dec 7, 2013, 2:20 PM EST
Yesterday, news broke that Stanford guard Aaron Bright dislocated his right shoulder and will miss the rest of the season. It’s a big blow for the Cardinals, who are dealing with a lack of perimeter depth as it is and have been forced to use a bigger lineup. But here’s the kicker for Bright: he’s…
Dec 7, 2013, 11:30 AM EST
The Wisconsin Badgers and head coach Bo Ryan announced on Saturday morning that redshirt sophomore guard George Marshall has opted to transfer. The announcement of Marshall’s transfer was released on the Wisconsin athletics website this morning. “George came and talked to me and he informed me that he wanted to pursue his options of playing…
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
GAME OF THE DAY: No. 18 UCLA at Missouri (12:30 p.m., CBS) A matchup of 8-0 teams headlines Saturday’s improved slate of college basketball games thanks to the end of the college football regular season. The Bruins are 8-0 under new coach Steve Alford and have yet to face an opponent the caliber of Mizzou…
Dec 7, 2013, 4:02 AM EST
Last weekend, when John Calipari brought his team up to the Barclays Center to take on Providence, he made it a point to talk about how much he team has to learn defensively. In fact, in both the press conference he gave prior to the game and his postgame chat with reporters, Coach Cal used…
Dec 7, 2013, 2:36 AM EST
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Baylor 67, Kentucky 62 It didn’t have the atmosphere of a game that was one of the season’s biggest to date since it was played at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, but Baylor announced themselves to the country as a top team. They did it with Kenny Chery, a Junior College transfer in…
Dec 7, 2013, 1:58 AM EST
After graduation claimed do-it-all point guard Pierre Jackson from last year’s Baylor team, many wondered if Kenny Chery– a Junior College transfer from State Fair Community College in Missouri — could fill the void. Scott Drew was going to give Chery the keys to the car, but could he drive it? Chery answered that question in…
Dec 7, 2013, 12:17 AM EST
Credit Mike Montgomery and Cal for heading to southern California to play at UC Santa Barbara. It’s not too often that a program from a BCS conference travels to play at the gym of a mid-major team, but the Golden Bears did that tonight. Montgomery probably regrets it as Cal lost to UCSB, 72-65. While…
Dec 6, 2013, 11:19 PM EST
While some were no doubt irked that the Baylor vs. Kentucky game went into four overtimes — thereby causing the men’s game to begin roughly 80 minutes after its scheduled tip — the women’s game was a dandy. The 263 combined points eclipsed the previous record of 252 points. The two teams were neck and…
Dec 6, 2013, 10:49 PM EST
You know by now that every year at Taylor University they have their “Silent Night” game. On the Friday before final exams, the students gather in Odle Arena and the crowd remains dead silent until the tenth point is scored. Once Taylor reaches point number ten, pandemonium ensues. Afterwards, the crowd harmoniously sings “Silent Night.” Tonight…
Dec 6, 2013, 8:36 PM EST
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