Experienced backcourt of Comer and Thompson hope to lead Dunk City back to glory

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

America is familiar with common Florida destinations like South Beach and Disney, but last March, basketball fans quickly became aware of the brand-new Sunshine State landmark known affectionately by college basketball enthusiasts as “Dunk City.”

Dunk City — technically located in Fort Myers, Florida in the Southwest portion of the state between Tampa Bay and Miami — quickly became a national phenomenon, complete with gear, hashtags (#DunkCity) and the attention of the national media as the 15-seeded Eagles blew past Georgetown and San Diego State to become the first 15 seed to ever reach the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

Head coach Andy Enfield bolted for USC in the offseason and senior leader Sherwood Brown exhausted his eligibility but the good news for Dunk City is the return of four starters, led by the dynamic junior backcourt of Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson.

Comer and Thompson started all 37 games during Florida Gulf Coast’s 26-11 season in which they won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Eagles were a transitory Division I program beginning with the 2007–08 season and granted full D-I membership before the 2011-12 season, so for the Atlantic Sun program to receive at least four nationally televised games during the 2013-14 season is a testament to the power of Dunk City and how the nation took notice.

“Now I tell people that I go to FGCU and they’re like, ‘Oh, Dunk City!’ I could just tell them I go to Dunk City they say, ‘Oh, you go to Florida Gulf Coast!’ I like the name and it represents us well,” Thompson said. “We dunk and we have a high-flying style of play. So I think it’s good for us and our school since our school is so young and the nickname helps us.”

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Former long-time Kansas assistant coach Joe Dooley takes over for Florida Gulf Coast at head coach this year as the Eagles become the hunted. They’re the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic Sun thanks in large part to the passing of Comer and the all-around skills of off-guard Thompson. Comer was 14th in the nation in assists, averaging 6.6 dimes per contest last season, as many of his passes and lobs led to Dunk City throwdowns. The 244 assists Comer dished out were the second-most for a single season in Atlantic Sun history and he was the A-Sun Conference Tournament MVP.

Comer’s backcourt teammate Bernard Thompson is often on the receiving end of his point guard’s creative passes as the two close off-court friends have been in the Florida Gulf Coast program together since they were freshmen. Thompson won the A-Sun’s Defensive Player of the Year award as a sophomore and is the team’s leading returning scorer at 14.3 points per game. At 102 total steals last season, Thompson was second overall in the country in defensive thefts. Roommates the past two years, Comer and Thompson will take the Eagles as far as they can go this season.

“It’s nice to have Bernard back there. We both came in together and we’ve both grown together too. We create a lot off of each other here and we’ve been doing this for three years,” Comer said. “And having guys like Chase (Fieler) come back and our transfers will be coming in, so we’ll have a good core coming back and some new pieces here.”

Chalk up another assist to Comer for mentioning his teammates, as he’ll have plenty of weapons — besides Thompson — to work with this season. Fieler, a senior forward, averaged 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season while accumulating 59 dunks that helped him garner a 56 percent field goal percentage and forward Eric McKnight is a 6’9″ junior that put up 60 percent field goal shooting and adds a shot-blocking presence to the group. Marquette transfer and 6’6″ junior Jamail Jones is a former top-100 recruit that’s eligible this season and will replace Brown’s presence in the lineup and Georgia Tech transfer Nate Hicks adds a versatile 6’10” inside-out option.

“(Hicks is) good. He’s versatile and for someone his size, he can step out a little bit and knock down shots, so that helps us out a lot,” Thompson said of Hicks.

But new coach Joe Dooley, who is incorporating a similar high-paced attack for the Eagles this season, knows that his backcourt will make all the difference if Florida Gulf Coast is to make another NCAA Tournament run this season.

“We’ve got some experience back, four starters and those guys have a pretty good feel for how to play together,” Dooley said. “You have a point guard that’s a two-year starter and you have a two-guard that’s a two-year starter and they have some familiarity playing in the conference and playing together and hopefully they’ll make another jump this year.”

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Thompson and Comer spend plenty of time away from the court playing Call of Duty, getting food or  just hanging out, but together in the same backcourt, they know where each other is going to be at all times.

“Brett just has tremendous, tremendous vision. He’ll see me and we just read each other,” Thompson said. “It’s just a great chemistry that we have; a great bond that we have. You’ll see it on and off the court. It makes it a lot easier for me and him that we know each other’s tendencies.”

Because of their chemistry and experience, the Eagles have expectations that exceed the results of last season’s group. It’s hard to contemplate another Sweet 16 run — or beyond — but Dunk City is trying to follow-up on last season’s run with another run that matches or exceeds that effort.

“We want to win the conference regular season — which we didn’t do last year — and we want to win the conference tournament again and we want to make the NCAA Tournament and make more noise,” Comer said of the team’s expectations. “I think that we showed that we have good players and we can compete with anybody.”

But in a state that LeBron (currently) calls home, Dunk City is just happy to have found its place on the national basketball landscape for the time being.

“We had people come out-of-state just to see us, just to come get our autograph,” Thompson said.  “And the fans, the Dirty Birds (the student fan base), just come out to everywhere we play just to support us. It’s just been good that we’re recognized and when you go somewhere people are like, ‘Florida Gulf Coast,’ and know it’s us. So that feels good just to get the recognition.”

Excitement for the sequel to Dunk City is building. Dunk City after Dark — the program’s season-opening madness event — will air on ESPNU as one of nine programs that the network will air and Comer said that excitement for all sports on Florida Gulf Coast’s campus was continually building over the course of 2013.

Dunk City is squarely on the map for now, but are they here to stay? The Eagles are enjoying the ride and they hope it continues in 2013-14 and beyond.

“I think we helped put the school on the map and it’s growing from that. It’s a lot of fun down here now,” Comer said.

John Calipari lobbies for change in one-and-some rule to help athletes

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Kentucky head coach John Calipari is hoping the one-and-done rule changes so that athletes have more rights.

In a revealing interview with Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Calipari went into great detail about his thoughts behind a rule that many believe he has exploited greatly to his benefit over the last 10 years. Even though the Wildcats and Calipari have figured out the one-and-done rule to their advantage, the Hall of Fame coach still wants the rule to be abolished.

“Kids should be able to go (to the NBA) out of high school. That’s not our deal. That’s between the NBA and the Players Association,” Calipari said Friday. “Don’t put restrictions on kids.”

Calipari told Engel that he met with the NBPA last week in the hopes of the organization creating a combine for worthy high school juniors with pro potential. Calipari also wants agents more involved with high school kids.

“The players and the families need to know – here are the ones who should be thinking about the NBA, and here are the ones who should not,” Calipari said. “That’s why you need a combine.”

“If they want to go out of high school, go. If they want to go to college and then leave, let them leave when they want to leave. Why would we force a kid to stay? ‘Well – it’s good for the game?’ It’s about these kids and their families. Because let me tell you, if we (abolish one-and-done), the kids that do come to college will stay for two to three years.”

Calipari also has plenty of thoughts on the NBA G-League and how the league could potentially help young athletes with an education fund if they choose to turn pro directly out of high school. Regardless of what happens with the NBPA and the one-and-done rule, Calipari also said that his program would be fine — regardless of the rules.

Given that Calipari has operated on a different recruiting plane than everyone else in college basketball (with the exception of a few other bluebloods like Duke and Kansas) the last several years, it’s always notable when he gives his thoughts on the overall landscape of basketball.

But is Calipari actually lobbying for this? Or is this yet another way for Calipari to mold quotes into a recruiting pitch for elite players? Ultimately, it’s up to the NBPA to decide how the rules will be for future pros.

Report: NCAA allows Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale to compete on Dancing with the Stars

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After a memorable March Madness run that included two game-winning jumpers in the Final Four and an eventual national title, Notre Dame junior guard Arike Ogunbowale became a breakout national star.

Ogunbowale already appeared on Ellen while meeting her basketball idol, Kobe Bryant. Now, Ogunbowale will get the rare opportunity to appear on Dancing with the Stars — which the NCAA will allow even though Ogunbowale is still a rising senior who is scheduled to return to school next season.

Dancing with the Stars compensates its contestants and also has a prize for the winner. Under NCAA Bylaw 12.4.1, college athletes cannot be compensated based on their athletic abilities.

But the NCAA is arguing that Ogunbowale’s appearance on the show is “unrelated to her basketball abilities,” according to a statement they released regarding the decision. According to a report from Jacob Bogage of the Washington Post, the NCAA is also limiting Ogunbowale’s visibility for the show’s promotional tools.

From the Washington Post report:

The NCAA has placed restrictions on Ogunbowale that limit her involvement with the show and her potential to build her brand. She is not allowed to appear in promotional materials for the show, including commercials, according to the NCAA’s statement. She didn’t join other contestants during a group appearance on “Good Morning America” last week. Show handicappers have already wondered whether the NCAA’s limits will hurt her chances.

And the NCAA could turn down future requests by arguing that Ogunbowale is not endorsing “Dancing with the Stars” by appearing on the program, but instead is participating in a “personal growth experience” by learning how to ballroom dance, said Barbara Osborne, a professor of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina.

This is a slippery slope for the NCAA to take with this. Ogunbowale is, quite clearly, a famous basketball player. She’s on Dancing with the Stars because of her basketball abilities. The NCAA arguing anything else is just silly and embarrassing. The NCAA is also trying its best to uphold its argument about amateurism in the only way they know how.

But could this also could be a sign that the NCAA is perhaps open to the potential of allowing athletes to profit off of themselves in the future? The NCAA is currently handling a number of different court cases regarding amateurism, so it’s hard to say where all of this might go until the legal process starts to clear up.

Either way, this should be a fun experience for Ogunbowale while providing great national exposure for herself and women’s basketball. Ogunbowale might not be technically allowed to build her own brand during the show, but she’ll be gaining tons of new exposure for her basketball future — regardless of what the NCAA says in a statement.

Memphis center Karim Sameh Azab diagnosed with leukemia

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Memphis center Karim Sameh Azab announced on Saturday that he’s been battling leukemia lymphoma.

The 6-foot-11 big man from Egypt has been receiving medical treatment since the beginning of April as he took to Twitter to announce his current status.

Sameh Azab played in 15 games this season for the Tigers as he saw action for 84 total minutes. The reserve big man was a late addition in former head coach Tubby Smith’s first recruiting class at Memphis as he didn’t quality to play during his first season.

“Karim has my full support and the support of our whole team,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said in a statement earlier this month. “While we appreciate the support of the Tiger family in this matter, we would also like to protect the privacy of Karim and his family.”

South Dakota State’s Mike Daum declares for 2018 NBA Draft without an agent

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South Dakota State big man Mike Daum will enter the 2018 NBA Draft without an agent, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 redshirt junior has been a mid-major draft darling the past few seasons as Daum was one of the most productive players in the country last season. Putting up 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, Daum shot 46 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range during the season.

With his size and unique floor-spacing ability, Daum is going to be an interesting player to track during the NBA draft process. Teams are always looking for big men who can space the floor, and if Daum shoots well in workouts, he could wind up staying in the draft.

If Daum returns to South Dakota State, then he once again makes them a major NCAA tournament contender after the Jackrabbits won the Summit League last season.

Marquette lands Fordham grad transfer Joseph Chartouny

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Marquette pulled in a quality graduate transfer commitment on Friday as Fordham guard Joseph Chartouny pledged to the Golden Eagles.

The 6-foot-3 Chartouny was a three-year starter for the Rams as he should help offset the loss of guard Andrew Rowsey to graduation. While Chartouny isn’t nearly the perimeter threat that Rowsey was, he should be able to help significantly on the defensive end for Marquette. Chartouny put up 12.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game last season as he was one of the more productive all-around players in the Atlantic 10.

One of the nation’s leaders in steals the past three seasons, Chartouny has much better size to play alongside Markus Howard in the Marquette backcourt than Rowsey (5-foot-11) had. Since Howard is also 5-foot-11, Chartouny can now guard the bigger and more athletic perimeter matchup as Marquette tries to improve its porous defense from last season.

Marquette still has an open scholarship for next season as they’ve been investigating other transfer options to bolster the roster. Returning most of last season’s roster, the expectation will be for the Golden Eagles to make it back to the NCAA tournament next season.