Little-known Florida Gulf Coast U takes on Georgetown

Star Sherwood Brown had never heard of Florida Gulf Coast until he was recruited.
Star Sherwood Brown had never heard of Florida Gulf Coast until he was recruited. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 23, 2013

If you haven't heard of Florida Gulf Coast University, nobody from Florida Gulf Coast University will hold it against you.

"I didn't know about the school," said Gulf Coast guard Christophe Varidel.

Makes sense, since Varidel is from Versoix, Switzerland. He barely knew anything about Division I hoops, he said, never mind a little school in Fort Myers, Fla.

But Gulf Coast star Sherwood Brown is from just up the road in Orlando. "To be honest, I'd never heard of the school until they started recruiting me," he said.

The short version on what you need to know about the 15th-seeded Eagles, champions of the Atlantic Sun, facing No. 2 Georgetown on Friday in an NCAA South Regional second-round game at the Wells Fargo Center:

The school's name is legit. Florida Gulf Coast's campus sits on the Gulf of Mexico, sporting an on-campus beach and beachside dorms. It may be the only school in D-I with lifeguards.

More relevant: These Gulf Coast ballplayers, eligible for NCAA play just the last two years, play a dangerous brand of full-court fastbreak hoops, with a seriously pedigreed coach. Miami may have won the Atlantic Coast Conference, but when the Hurricanes visited Fort Myers early in the season, they headed home across Alligator Alley with a 12-point loss.

When they arrived here, the Gulf Coasters ran the Art Museum steps, "the Rocky steps," and they do get that every region must have a Rocky, and here it is them.

On and off the court, this group is refreshingly modern. A lot of teams include Twitter handles now in press guides. The Gulf Coasters add hash tags. Eagles guard Bernard Thompson goes with #watchyourwallet. (He's the steals leader.)

Florida Gulf Coast's campus was carved out of the woods just in the last two decades, located halfway between Fort Myers and Naples in the southwest part of the state.

Eagles forward Eddie Murray is the squad's historical authority, by virtue of growing up in North Fort Myers, which meant he'd not only heard of the place, but he's been to it. He remembers going to the campus years ago to play three-on-three.

"There were a couple of dorm rooms, but there were wild animals crossing the road," Murray said.

What kind of animals?

"Personally, I've seen everything from wild boar, bobcats, alligators," Murray said.

It's better that they emphasize the beach. Varidel and Brown share a suite overlooking it. Shouldn't that be on recruiting posters?

"It should," Varidel said in the locker room. "The coach doesn't understand how good it is."

How good?

"It is crazy," Varidel said. "The part I like the most, we can rent boats, like little boats, kayaks, paddle boats. It's all free from 11 to 5. It's pretty good."

Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield gets the whole thing, especially how this one game, win or lose, could get him into a whole new level of homes.

"I can remember making recruiting calls saying, 'Hey, I'm the head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University,' and I'd be 15 minutes on the phone with a player, a parent, a high school, from around the state," Enfield said. "And they'd think we were the Gulf Coast Community College in the panhandle. I would keep saying, 'No, we are a Division I school.' "

Previously, Enfield's best recruiting pitch probably was about himself. He's actually a Pennsylvania guy, grew up in Shippensburg. At Johns Hopkins, he set an NCAA record by making 92.5 percent of his free throws. (If you're painting a picture for yourself, paint a slightly different one. He's married to a former model.)

He first made his mark as a skills coach, joining the Milwaukee Bucks under Mike Dunleavy, then the Boston Celtics when Rick Pitino coached the team. He became a full-time Pitino assistant, later worked individually with NBA players, and then joined Florida State in 2006 as an assistant under Leonard Hamilton. He's been at Florida Gulf Coast for two seasons.

"When I was being recruited, I expected us to be pretty competitive," Brown said. "But I would have never imagined something like this."

Varidel didn't see it coming either. How did a guy from Switzerland end up at a place at the beach? A teammate sent tape, thinking it was a D-II school. The school called back, explaining it was D-I, and liked this other guy, Varidel.

Makes as much sense as the rest of the story.

"Coming from Switzerland, to end up in a place where the sun is there every day, is just amazing," Varidel said.

Contact Mike Jensen at Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.

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