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FGCU is what's right in college hoops
College basketball is a game of joy, but as of late, all the joy seems to have been sucked out of it.
Scoring is at its lowest point in decades. Coaches over-coach so much that point guards tentatively look to their benches before every offensive play, slowing the game to a snail’s pace. The NCAA and its Nurse Ratched-like enforcement arm make the coaches and players who follow the rules have to walk on eggshells all day long. The one-and-done epidemic means fans never get invested in the best players, so each year feels like a revolving door.
College basketball, some say, is dying.
This week we found the antidote.
Could there be anything more joyful and life-affirming than the tongue-wagging, lob-throwing, chicken-dancing, monster-dunking, giant-slaying, supermodel-marrying phenomenon that is the Florida Gulf Coast University basketball team?
A week ago this Florida Gulf Coast team was a blip on the radar. That blip was only because its coach, Andy Enfield, an entrepreneur-turned-NBA-shooting-coach-turned-college-coach-with-Rick-Pitino-as-a-mentor, married a legit supermodel (Vogue, Maxim, Elle, Victoria’s Secret). To be fair, even being a blip was moving in the right direction for Florida Gulf Coast, a school that was founded two decades ago, that held its first classes in 1997, with a hoops program in just its second season of Division I competition.
Well, the 15-seed beat the 2-seed Georgetown, then beat the 7-seed San Diego State, and became the first 15-seed to make the Sweet 16.
In doing so, the most joyful team in college basketball forced a rush to the Internet to figure out who exactly this school is. (Mascot: Azul the Eagle. Athletic conference: Atlantic Sun. Location: unincorporated Lee County, Fla., south of Fort Myers. Location of brand-new dorms: On a beach. Past athletic success: The women’s basketball team, which played in the Division II national championship game in 2007 and made its first NCAA Division I tournament a year ago. Notable alumni: Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, and … well, that’s about it.)
But don’t look too deeply here. That’s the point with the Eagles. Take them for what they are, and what they are is a lesson to us all about living life in the moment:
They represent the exact opposite of the fuddy-duddy-ness that represents today’s NCAA.
Just look here:
They represent the naïve and real joy of sports overpowering the money-printing machine that is the College Sports Industrial Complex. This team is about joy. The players are about throwing lobs when they’re supposed to be running out the clock. They’re about their best player, the dreadlocked Sherwood Brown, strolling over to the television announcers to shake their hands as the clock was winding down against Georgetown.
When people say college hoops is dying, tell them about the joy and free-spiritedness of this Florida Gulf Coast team. Tell them about how they celebrated their second win in the NCAA tournament by dousing their coach with water when he came into the locker room, then dancing like a bunch of damn fools.
Tell them about how operating outside the strictures of a constraining status quo can be a winning formula for everyone. Tell them there are other joyful, exciting, slightly nutty teams in this NCAA tournament: Wichita State and its giant-killing postgame dances, Marquette’s Buzz Williams and his don’t-give-a-damn postgame news conferences, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and his constant, genuine talk about how much joy he’s gotten from coaching his group of workaholics.
And if they try to argue, well, just throw a big Florida Gulf Coast lob in their mugs. That ought to shut ’em up pretty quick.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @ReidForgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.
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