PHILADELPHIA — Build a state university in the south Florida swamplands. Move the athletic program to the highest level in college sports and hire a self-made millionaire coach. When his team makes the NCAA Tournament, say in Year 2 of its eligibility, beat a tradition-rich opponent like a Georgetown.
That is Florida Gulf Coast University’s formula for success.
It took 16 years, and now the school from south Florida is the talk of March Madness.
“Fort Myers is kind of rocking and rolling right now,” Florida Gulf Coast forward Eddie Murray said Saturday, a day after the No. 15 Eagles beat second-seeded Georgetown, 78-68. “They’re really excited. This is a big thing for the city, and I’m glad we could deliver this.”
It was one heck of a delivery.
Today, Florida Gulf Coast (25-10) will try to extend its tournament run even farther, meeting San Diego State (23-10) with a berth in the Sweet 16 at stake.
“I probably knew more than any coach in America about them because I’ve got a condo I’ve had from my days in the Midwest in Fort Myers Beach, a stone’s throw from Florida Gulf Coast,” said Aztecs coach Steve Fisher, who coached Michigan to the 1989 national title and two other Final Four appearances.
“I read all about them starting sports. I went over to the campus. I’ve been on the campus. I’ve toured it. … “They’re good. I think it’s legitimate.”
Suddenly, a school with an enrollment of about 12,000, whose first graduating class wore the caps and gowns in 2001, is getting national attention because of a basketball team loaded with players whose best recruiting offers were from conferences such as the Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley.
The teenagers bought into the pitch by Andy Enfield, a coach who made millions starting up a document imaging and contract management company in the health care industry, and who happens to be married to former supermodel Amanda Marcum. They have three children.
Hard to argue with that kind of salesman.
“Yes, we sold this vision,” said Enfield, who has also spent time as an assistant in the NBA and at Florida State, and has been a shooting consultant for several NBA players. “It wasn’t play San Diego State in the (third) round on a Sunday in Philadelphia, it was a vision of success, it was a vision of … what they could expect in the classroom, off the court and on the basketball court. That’s the vision we sell.”
Enfield’s motto is simple and he’s lived up to it. “I aim for the stars,” he said.
Right now he’s taking the team and the school with him.
FLORIDA GULF COAST VS. SAN DIEGO STATE
■ WHEN: 4:10 p.m. today
■ WHERE: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
■ TV: TBS (7)
■ LINE: San Diego State -7.5; total 132