FGCU players seek to shed ‘Dunk City’ label, create new tradition

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. — Ask virtually any college basketball fan the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of Florida Gulf Coast, and, almost without exception, they’ll mention the team’s 2013 run to the Sweet 16.

It was a special accomplishment, after all — the only time in history a 15-seed reached the third round of the NCAA tournament — and for four years, the “Dunk City” moniker has stuck, even after a first-round loss to top-seeded North Carolina this time last year.

But for the players on 14th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast, which faces No. 3 seed Florida State on Thursday, this year’s tourney is about more than doing right by the 2013 group and keeping its memory alive. It’s about creating a legacy of their own.

“It’s really important,” FGCU forward Demetris Morant said Wednesday, ahead of the Eagles’ final pre-tourney practice at Amway Center. “Coming in as a young team, I can say we don’t want to be looked at as the old Dunk City. We want to be looked at as ourselves. For people who only remember FGCU by the 2013 season, it’s, I don’t know, kind of disrespectful to us, in a certain way.”

That’s not to say that the team’s current players don’t have respect for what their predecessors accomplished. Several members of that 2013 team, including Eagles career assists leader Brett Comer, are expected to be in attendance on Thursday, and the current players say they’ve remained close with the Dunk City standouts who have since moved on.

Brandon Goodwin reacts during practice Wednesday in Orlando.  (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s good to have those guys on your side,” junior guard Brandon Goodwin said. “I think some people might, once they get done with their school or whatever, they just leave, but those guys, they stuck around, and they talk to us. They enjoy watching us play. We enjoy watching old highlight films of them, even though we watch it kind of every day.”

Instead, the hope is that this year’s squad can build on the foundation laid by the players who put the program on the map.

“You always want to add to your individual legacy and your team legacy,” junior guard Christian Terrell said. “We just want to be different than them. We don’t want people to think of us as them, you know what I’m saying? Respect to them, but we want to create our own legacy and hopefully make a run of our own.”

Even so, there’s no denying the role the 2013 team continues to play when it comes to the program’s reputation as a whole.

Florida Gulf Coast head coach Joe Dooley looks on during practice. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“When we go through recruiting when we call recruits, they recognize FGCU, Dunk City,” fourth-year head coach Joe Dooley said. “I think what that did, when you look at now the things that we’re selling from a basketball standpoint, you’re talking about five consecutive postseason tournaments, which that one started.

“That’s how tradition and that’s how legacies start, is step by step,” Dooley added. “I think that really gave us a big jump start.”

Aside from the obvious differences — none of the players on this year’s FGCU roster were on the 2013 team, which was coached by Andy Enfield — this year’s tourney opener may bear little resemblance to the spectacle fans have come to expect when the Eagles take the floor.

That’s not because Dunk City doesn’t dunk anymore — they do, as much as anyone in college hoops — but because the Seminoles feature several dominant rim-protectors, including a pair of 7-footers in 7-1 Michael Ojo and 7-4 Christ Koumadje.

“Honestly, that’s not really important to our game plan,” Morant said of the role the dunk has played as the team prepares for Florida State. “I mean, the game plan is to win and by any means necessary. If we don’t get any dunks, if we get 20 dunks, it doesn’t matter. I mean, as long as we come out on top, then that’s all it takes.”

“We didn’t really shoot many layups in practice because we can’t simulate (their height),” added Terrell, who said the Eagles used a sixth player on defense in practice. “There’s no way for us to do that; not with our scout team.”

 Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton

Still, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said his guys expect to get Florida Gulf Coast’s best shot, despite his team’s clear physical advantage inside.

“There’s nothing mysterious about them at all,” Hamilton said. “They’re a good basketball team. They have proven that they deserve a similar respect (to the 2013 team). … There’s so many different things you can get caught up in if you want to, but the most important thing is that we have to stay focused on just preparing.

“We have to worry about those errors that we can control,” he continued. “And that’s the practice, our focus, our execution, our ability to communicate with one another.”

Hamilton also doesn’t seem too concerned with Florida Gulf Coast’s reputation as a giant-killer or the idea that his team could soon find itself in the same position second-seeded Georgetown did against the Eagles four years ago.

“When the ball is thrown up, then that’s when you figure out what you’re capable of doing,” Hamilton said. “That’s really the only thing we’re concerned with. … We’re not going to allow ourselves to get caught up in all the other conversations.

“The interesting thing about college basketball is that sometimes the best teams don’t always win. We want to make sure we are mentally and emotionally engaged, so physically we can go out and be at our very best. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s out of respect for Florida Gulf Coast as much as anything else.”

Should the Eagles pull the upset, however, it’ll usher in a new era of Florida Gulf Coast basketball. And in the eyes of the players who make up the latest iteration of Dunk City, they’re ready for a fresh start.

“They built something from the ground up,” said Goodwin, a UCF transfer. “Now we’re in a position to continue that legacy. So I think what’s most important is just finishing what has been started.

“People see us as the underdogs,” Goodwin added. “People see it as David versus Goliath, all that type of stuff. But we know where we’re at. We know what we want to do coming into the tournament. We’re happy to be here. We think we belong here.”

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