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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.”

CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Atlantic Sun Conference Preview

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.”

CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories

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.

Giacoletti resigns from Drake

Ray Giacoletti
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Ray Giacoletti’s tenure at Drake has come to an end.

In the midst of a 1-7 start to his fourth season, Giacoletti resigned Tuesday, handing the team over for the season to assistant coach Jeff Rutter.

“I think it’s time for a new direction,” Giacoletti told reporters at a press conference announcing the news.

Giacoletti compiled a 32-69 record with the Bulldogs, whose win totals decreased in each season from 15 in 2013-14 to nine the year after and seven last season. Giacoletti’s teams never won more than six games in Missouri Valley Conference play.

Prior to his six seasons as an assistant at Gonzaga under Mark Few, Giacoletti was the head coach at both Utah and Eastern Washington for three seasons each.

Drake’s start to this season has been nothing short of a disaster with its lone win coming against a Division III school and suffering a loss to Division II Alaska Anchorage.

Rutter joined Giacoletti’s staff in 2013 after serving as both an assistant and director of operations at Iowa State for Greg McDermott and Fred Hoiberg over the course of seven seasons. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Northern Iowa for three seasons. Previous head coaching experience came at Division II Wisconsin-Parkside, where he helmed the program from 1996-2003.

Drake athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb would not commit to retaining Rutter beyond the remainder of this season, which continues for Drake on Saturday against Jackson State.

The question for Drake, which has made just one NCAA tournament (2008) since 1971, is who will make the next hire for the program.

Hatfield Clubb is under pressure locally with her two hires – Mark Phelps and Giacoletti – having combined for two winning seasons since Keno Davis left for Providence after Drake’s tournament appearance in 2008. She was also recently named in a civil complaint from an athletic trainer who claims he was wrongly terminated due to a medical disability.

VIDEO: Mike Krzyzewski’s touching tribute to Jim Valvano

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The Jimmy V Classic, which Duke is participating in this season, is an event created to raise money for cancer research in honor of Jim Valvano, the legendary N.C. State head coach that passed away from the disease in 1993.

Mike Krzyzewski and Jimmy V were close – after his famous ‘Don’t give up’ speech, Coach K is one of the men helping Jimmy V off of the stage – and he spoke with Dear World about his memories of Valvano.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Frank Mason III, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball stand out

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks is reacts after making a basket during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: The latest impressive performance from Mason came against Stanford, as he finished with 20 points, five assists and four boards in a 15-point win over the Cardinal. He’s the engine that makes that team go, averaging 19.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.5 boards while shooting 56.1 percent from the floor and 48.4 percent from three, and he’s still the proud owner of the biggest shot of the season. Is anyone else fired up for when the Jayhawks head to Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky in January?

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Last Tuesday, we talked about how Hart has improved his three-point shooting and has added the ability to operate in ball-screens to his offensive repertoire this season. Then he went out posted a triple-double in a win over Saint Joseph’s while averaging 9.5 assists in two games. Prior to last week, Hart had never averaged more than 1.9 assists in any season in college.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: The value that Ball brings to this UCLA team goes well-beyond the numbers that he’s putting up, and his numbers are already quite impressive. He’s averaging 14.3 points, 5.0 boards, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals on the season, but it’s the nation’s-best 9.3 assists that he’s averaging that makes the difference. He, quite simply, makes everyone on the court around him better. It’s a cliché that’s used with point guards too often, but no one fits that mold better than Ball.

We saw it on Saturday against Kentucky. Ball struggled early in that game, committing five turnovers in the first 10 minutes as the Bruins dug themselves a 23-14 hole. When he finally turned it on, UCLA torched Kentucky’s defense, which is one of the best in all of college basketball. His unselfishness has permeated that roster. Watching the Bruins move the ball against a set defense is a thing of beauty. Draft Express posted a terrific breakdown of just what makes Ball’s passing so difficult to deal with last week.

4. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: The Wildcats ended up losing to UCLA on Saturday afternoon, but it was no fault of Fox, who finished with 20 points and nine assists while doing the heavy-lifting in keeping Lonzo Ball more-or-less in check. Fox is a terror in transition, nearly impossible to keep out of the paint, unselfish when he draws extra defenders and an elite on-ball defender. If he can find a way to become a consistently jump-shooter, he’s going to be very, very good.

5. Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard has been Duke’s best player this season, and that did not change in the last seven days, with the return of Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden. He had 20 points in a win over Michigan State and followed that up with a career-high 35 points as the Blue Devils knocked off Maine. If Tatum turns out to be as good as advertised and Grayson Allen eventually returns to health, think about how scary a Duke back court is when Kennard is the third-best weapon offensively?

6. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Let’s put the numbers that Fultz is averaging this season – 22.7 points, 6.7 boards, 6.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks – into perspective. No college basketball player since 1993 has averaged 22 points, six boards and six assists in a season before. Only 14 times in that time-frame has a player averaged 20 points, five boards and five assists, and only one of those 14 played at the high-major level – Evan Turner in 2009-10, when he averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 boards and 6.0 assists and won National Player of the Year.

Making those numbers even more impressive is that none of the 14 players on that list have A) averaged more than one block per game or B) come close to shooting 48.4 percent from three. It’s early, yes, and Fultz still hasn’t played any elite competition, but what he’s done this season is remarkable.

Washington, who is just 4-3 on the season, will get their first real test of the year when they square off with Gonzaga in Spokane on Wednesday.

7. Mo Watson, Creighton: For all the love that UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is getting this season, it’s worth noting that Watson is doing something similar for the Bluejays. He’s averaging 12.0 points and 9.0 assists, second nationally to Ball, for a Creighton team that is in the top ten and running one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses. He’s been terrific.

8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: We saw Berry’s value last week when he struggled against Indiana in Assembly Hall and the Tar Heels played their worst game of the season to date. He’s now dealing with an ankle injury that could keep him out for the next two games. With freshman point guard Seventh Woods stepping into the starting lineup against Davidson on Wednesday, we should really get a feel for just how imporant he is to this team.

9. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans was held in check for the most part in Oklahoma State’s loss at Maryland on Saturday and he still managed to finish with 16 points, five boards and five assists.

10. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan had a rough outing against Louisville last week. His finished with 14 points and 13 boards, but he also committed six turnovers and was one of the reasons that the Boilermakers had so much trouble on the offensive end of the floor in the first half.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Yante Maten, Georgia
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

All in the family: Duke coach to face her own daughter

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 03:  Coach Joanne P. McCallie of the Duke Blue Devils directs her team duing a win over the North Carolina Tar Heels at Carmichael Arena on February 3, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Duke won 84-63.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie is trying to treat Thursday’s game against Elon like any other. That might not be so easy, because McCallie’s daughter, Maddie, plays for the Phoenix.

“I’ve always known the game was on the schedule, but it always seemed so far off. Well, now it’s here,” the coach said.

“Elon’s a great school. Elon’s a little mini Duke,” she added. “We pay them money and that helps their program, so it made sense. I felt it was the right thing.”

But the rarity of coaching against her daughter, a reserve guard at Elon, wasn’t lost on McCallie.

“It’s a good story,” she said. “I feel honored for my family. I also have two nieces who play Division I basketball.”

Maddie McCallie is just excited for the chance to play at No. 21 Duke in its famous home building, Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and a lot of fun to play in Cameron,” Maddie McCallie said. “It’s a little weird seeing my mom right there on the sideline, but overall it’s another game.”

As much as the McCallies downplayed their mother-daughter matchup, it is definitely unusual. Cal State Bakersfield coach Greg McCall has gone against his daughter, Erica, twice over the last two seasons when his team played Stanford.

Although college players often play for their coaching parents, McCallie was happy her daughter chose Elon after transferring from Miami, Ohio, a few years ago.

“I’m really proud of her and she’s at the right place for her,” McCallie said. “I think it’s unique. One thing it speaks to, as much as I’d like Maddie on my team and she could have been, it’s really important to let your kids do their own thing. It would be fun; I didn’t think it was something that would help her develop. A lot of parents don’t know how to step away, and try to over-coach their kids. The best thing you can do is love them and step away and let other people coach them.”

Elon is only about 45 minutes from Duke, so McCallie has gone to see her daughter play a few times this year. Because the teams are scheduled to face each other, she had Maddie ask Elon coach Charlotte Smith for permission to attend.

Maddie had both her parents in the stands on Sunday. Hours after Duke upset No. 3 South Carolina, they were cheering on Elon against North Carolina.

“They have five seniors this year and are a terrific team,” McCallie said. “We talk often, but mostly not about basketball. It’s mostly about family. She’s really proud of her team. She was a starter last year and comes off the bench now. I’m really proud of her.”

While mother and daughter both know where they will be on Thursday, a big question will be where Joanne McCallie’s husband, John, sits and who he supports.

“I have a feeling that my dad will support me,” Maddie McCallie said, laughing. “Both ways are kind of weird to think about and both ways are kind of exciting. My dad will probably be supporting the Elon team and be sitting behind our bench.”

John McCallie, an economics professor at North Carolina, said it’s going to be a very tough choice.

“I haven’t decided on what to wear or where to sit yet,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “Definitely going to have both colors on.”

As far as which team he’ll be rooting for, that one was easy.

“I’m definitely pulling for a Duke win,” he said. “After all, we just got ranked and would like to keep that. It is going to be exciting, though. I’m really proud of Maddie and what she’s done forging her own path.”

Nicholls State coach DoBee Plaisance knows what the McCallies will be going through. She faced her daughter, Theresa, in 2010 when she was a freshman at LSU. The game was billed as a mother-daughter matchup, and the coach got LSU to take the hour-long trip to Thibodaux, Louisiana.

Six years later, Coach Plaisance still gets emotional talking about it.

“I remember the game like it was yesterday,” she said. “It was for me a very emotional, passionate struggle. There was a struggle from the onset. Scheduling the game, I didn’t want to do it. It was emotional for me for a while. Did I do right for the team? Did I show both teams respect?”

Her daughter had eight points, five rebounds and three assists in the 88-35 victory by LSU. The Nicholls State coach has a framed photo of a postgame hug with her daughter in her office, a constant reminder of a special day.

“The look on my face was a relief that it was over with,” said DoBee Plaisance, a court coach for McCallie at USA Basketball in 2006. “I hope Joanne has the same relief when her game is done.”

Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

No. 20 Arizona’s Jackson-Cartwright out up to 2 months

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Parker Jackson-Cartwright #0 of the Arizona Wildcats drives against the Butler Bulldogs during the championship game of the 2016 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on November 25, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Butler won 69-65.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright will miss about eight weeks with a high-ankle sprain, Wildcats coach Sean Miller said on Monday.

Jackson-Cartwright was injured last Wednesday in No. 20 Arizona’s home win over Texas Southern and did not play in the Wildcats’ loss to No. 8 Gonzaga in Los Angeles on Saturday.

The loss of Jackson leaves Arizona with its top distributor – 5.3 assists per game – and its roster even thinner.

The Wildcats lost forward Ray Smith to a season-ending knee injury during an exhibition game and Allonzo Trier has yet to play this season due to unspecified reasons.