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Welcome to Dunk City, USA, and the Sweet 16 run for the ages.
The Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team has ramped up the excitement level in Southwest Florida and across the nation with its stunning run to Dallas to play on the biggest of stages against the Florida Gators in the NCAA South Regional tonight.
This 2013 version of Hickory, the small team of no-names from nowhere depicted in the movie Hoosiers who shocked the Indiana basketball world by winning the state championship, has exploded into a media sensation and the talk of the basketball world. They have swagger, they have fun and they have a menu of heart-pounding dunks that have been featured on more videos and more news highlights this week than the new Pope. They have had donuts and candy shoes made in their honor and their merchandise is moving faster than Nike apparel.
Move over Cowboys, this is America’s team now and they will be playing in your home, bringing their high-flying act before millions of television viewers and before the 40,000 or so fans who will pack the stadium.
Sportscaster Dick Vitale wondered how this team, which shocked Georgetown and San Diego State to make history and become the first 15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16, could lose twice to Lipscomb and to Maine. He should have asked how this team could have pounded on the University of Miami, also a No. 2 seed and still alive in the tournament, by 12 points earlier in the season, and beat Mercer by 13 on its home court to win the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship game. He should have studied the Eagles’ record against teams residing in the state of Florida — an astounding 10-1.
The fans – both the loyal ones who have followed this team for 11 years and the new ones who have embraced Dunk City in the last week — love this team’s style.
There will probably be more fans in Cowboys Stadium watching the Eagles play today then watched them play all season in Alico Arena. Yes, the stage is big, but it was big last week when the Eagles started their historical run. As coach Norman Dale reminded the team in the movie Hoosiers, when it first entered the mammoth gym called Hinkle Fieldhouse, seating 15,000, the basket is still 10-feet high and the foul line still 15 feet away — the same dimensions as the the team’s tiny gym in Hickory.
The dunk show that has defined this Eagles team during the season and captured the nation’s attention this week will still work in Dallas because the basket is still 10 feet high — the same height as their 4,500-seat arena in Fort Myers.
FGCU has made us all proud and brought such a high level of attention that none of us could have predicted.