The national championship game ended with UConn winning its second title in four years, but James Young left his mark midway through the second half. Amida Brimah gets a lot of his arm, and the 6-foot-7 Young was still able to finish.
The Razorbacks has two wins over ranked opponents during the 2013-14 season, both of which came against Kentucky. Arkansas left Michael Qualls alone on the baseline with time winding down in overtime. When you don’t box out one of the best dunkers in the country, this is what happens.
Apologies, Big Blue Nation. Kentucky is one the wrong end of another memorable dunk. Willie Cauley-Stein is arguably the best defensive player in the country. Buffalo’s Justin Moss didn’t care. The Bulls gave the Wildcats a scare before top-ranked Kentucky ran away with a 19-point win.
Florida Gulf Coast was branded “Dunk City” during its Sweet 16 run in 2013. That carried over to the following season thanks to Bernard Thompson. This was one of two dunks in a week-span for the star shooting guard. He had this tip slam against Northern Kentucky earlier that week.
Bernard Thompson received an alert from his phone on a Friday afternoon.
It was March 21, and the message was from the SportsCenter app, informing him that Mercer had defeated Duke, 78-71, on the second day of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Thompson, the all-Atlantic Sun guard from Florida-Gulf Coast, had elected not to watch the game after Mercer had dashed his team’s hopes of a return trip to the NCAA tournament by winning the A-Sun title on Florida Gulf Coast’s home floor 13 days earlier.
The roles had been reserved for the two rival A-Sun programs. In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast went on the road and topped Mercer in the conference championship game before becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. The Eagles’ high-flying offense made them overnight sensations, being labeled forever as “Dunk City” (coined by a certain college basketball website).
Chase Fieler has graduated, Eric McKnight and Dajuan Graf have both transferred and Filip Cvjeticanin is out for the season after undergoing back surgery, leaving the heralded senior back court of Thompson and Brett Comer as the only members from that 2013 Cinderella run on the FGCU roster this season. Despite a mostly new supporting cast, the original Dunk City duo is looking to put FGCU back in the national spotlight this March.
“I think the dynamics had changed a little. We went from a team that was really always an underdog and now the pressure had shifted. Now we were a team that had won the league,” second-year head coach Joe Dooley told NBCSports.com. “I think the experience of us having gone through that will help us this year.
“At our level it’s hard because it’s usual a single-bid league. The guys understand that trying to prepare to win the regular season in our league gives us the best change to play at home (in the conference tournament), but you can’t take anything for granted.”
Thompson, Comer and the rest of the FGCU program were fueled in the offseason workouts by the missed opportunity, understanding that a slow first half against Mercer, in which they spotted the Bears a 16-point halftime lead, meant the difference between the NCAA tournament and the NIT. Thompson, Comer and Jamail Jones, the third returning starter, give FGCU an experienced perimeter attack, but it’s the addition of the newcomers that should continue to make it an exciting brand of basketball to watch.
“I think this is going to be the most skilled team that’s been here,” Comer said. “Talent-wise it’s amazing here.”
In a league that’s thinned out as Mercer and East Tennessee State both defected for the Southern Conference, leaving the A-Sun with only eight teams, Florida Gulf Coast has stockpiled pieces around its three returning starters. Whether it be the playing style or the fact that the team’s home court, Alico Arena, is less than a mile away from the beach, Florida Gulf Coast has been a consistent landing spot for high-major transfers. Half of the roster began their college careers elsewhere before arriving in Fort Myers.
Jones (Marquette) and Nate Hicks (Georgia Tech) made their contributions last season as transfers. This year, Julian DeBose (Rice) and Brian Greene Jr. (Auburn) add depth to the perimeter. A trio of big men — all 6-foot-8 or taller — Marc-Eddy Norelia (Tulane), Eric Moeller (Central Florida/Missouri) and Demetris Morant (UNLV) give the Eagles a versatile frontline, allowing them to keep their fast-paced, highlight-filled style of play intact.
“We’re really excited about our frontline,” Dooley said. “Marc-Eddy sat out last year and was a real energy guy in practice. Nate played a lot of minutes. Demetris we were fortunate he was given a waiver by the NCAA, and he is long and as athletic as any guy I’ve coached. Then, Eric Moeller has very good skills and I think he has a big upside. They’re all young, they’re all sophomores. We have a bright future on our frontline.”
Dooley, who took over this team in 2013 after Andy Enfield left for USC, spent 10 seasons on the bench at Kansas. Despite the decade of dominance the Jayhawks have put forth in the Big 12, Dooley isn’t sure if he’s every coached a pair of first-team all-conference players in the same back court before. It’s a luxury to have, the foundation for the future with multiple high-major transfers is set, coupled with the experience of two of the most decorated players in the program’s brief history in Thompson, the school’s all-time leading scorer and Comer, the all-time leader in assists.
“It’s vital,” Dooley added. “Their our best players, their who were building around. They’ll carry us as our frontline big guys catch up.”
Despite not watching a minute of the Mercer-Duke game, both Thompson and Comer understood what their rivals were experiencing, as both can recall the sights and sounds from the Wells Fargo Center locker room after FGCU knocked off Georgetown and San Diego State in a three-day span back in March 2013.
“I was actually happy for them,” Thompson said. “I felt the moment. I know how it feels. I know the excitement and what they were going through. You live for moments like this, to upset big teams. Just to be in that type of atmosphere, it’s a great feeling.”
Just like how the whole Dunk City phenomenon began, two of the last remaining pieces want to go out with a bang. Come March, Thompson doesn’t want to follow the NCAA tournament through his phone like he did this past spring. He’d rather have his cell on ‘Airplane Mode’ because Dunk City intends on taking flight one more time.
For the second year in a row, an Atlantic Sun program captivated the nation in March, as Mercer defeated Duke in the Round of 64. The Bears reached the NCAA tournament after knocking off Florida Gulf Coast in the A-Sun title game, avenging a conference tournament loss from the previous season. Mercer exited the Atlantic Sun on a high note, as Bob Hoffman’s program is now a member of the Southern Conference.
Despite the departure of Mercer, one thing remains the same in 2014-2015: Dunk City will be the favorite once again. The conference’s two best guards — Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer — both reside in the FGCU back court. The three-year starters were part of the Original Dunk City back in 2013, the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Transfers Julian DeBose (Rice) and Brian Greene Jr. (Auburn) provide depth in the backcourt, and while the Eagles lose Eric McKnight to transfer and Filip Cvjeticanin to injury, Joe Dooley feels good about his frontline with returning Jamil Jones and Nate Hicks with newcomers Demetris Morant (a transfer from UNLV), Marc-Eddy Norelia and Eric Moeller.
Two teams that finished .500 last season could emerge as the biggest challenges to FGCU. Lipscomb has four starters back led by twin brothers Martin and Malcolm Smith. In Casey Alexander’s second season, his Bisons finished strong with eight wins in their last 11 games. North Florida has rookie of the year Dallas Moore in the back court and Beau Beech headlines a host of returnees on the interior who can help combat the loss of Travis Wallace, the team’s second leading scorer and top rebounder.
USC Upstate lost three of its top four scorers from a team that qualified for the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, but Ty Greene, one of two returning starters, can help keep Spartans in the top half of the league standings.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Atlantic Sun is the number of programs that have left the league. In addition to Mercer, East Tennessee State and Belmont have also left the league in recent years. Those were three of the best programs in the conference.
Out: East Tennessee State, Mercer
PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Bernard Thompson, Florida Gulf Coast
The 6-foot-3 shooting guard makes up one-half of FGCU’s star-studded back court. The team’s top scorer from a season ago posted 15.1 points to go along with his 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He is also has a presence on the other end of the floor being named A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2012-2013.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN TEAM:
Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast: The Dunk City floor general is the conference’s top returning assist man. First-team all-conference selection in 2013-2014.
Dallas Moore, North Florida: The Atlantic Sun Rookie of the Year averaged 12.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc.
Martin Smith, Lipscomb: The A-Sun’s top returning scorer at 15.6 points per game. Dropped 20 on FGCU twice last season.
Ty Greene, USC Upstate: The 6-foot-3 senior posted averages of 14.3 points, 3.0 boards and 3.5 assists per game.
Florida Gulf Coast doesn’t have the budget to compete with the best programs in college basketball, but the program’s medical team is using advanced on-campus medical practices to help players return from injury.
Dunk City is using platelet-rich plasma — more commonly known as PRP — which injects a portion of the patient’s own blood into an injury site.
The procedure has been used by NBA legends like Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady and has also been used by other athletes like Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Nadal.
Florida Gulf Coast is using PRP to heal injuries to men’s basketball players like senior guard Bernard Thompson getting an injection in his foot for plantar fasciitis in August.
In a story from Seth Soffian of the News-Press, Florida Gulf Coast gives Soffian access into how the procedure works and how the school is using it. The Eagles believe they are the first and only school doing PRP injections on its own campus, which saves them time and money since the procedure is uninsurable.
The school received an estimated $40,000 worth of equipment in February for the Alico Arena training facilities and about 25-30 injections have been done with about a 90 percent success rate, according to Florida Gulf Coast staff.
PRP has not yet been proven conclusive, but Florida Gulf Coast believes that research continues to grow more positive.
The NCAA is okay with the injections as long as a local anesthetic isn’t used to numb an injury.
Thompson is certainly a believer in the procedure. He’s had two injections in his foot since the end of the 2013-14 season to help heal his plantar fasciitis.
“It worked pretty good,” Thompson said to Soffian. “I’ve been pretty healthy for months now. I’m looking forward to the season, getting back into it with no injuries in my foot.”
As long as the NCAA okays it and Florida Gulf Coast maintains that it’s working, then this is a nice option for the school and its athletes to have to help injured players recover.
Although Dunk City can’t get on budget levels of power conference schools, this unique medical practice could be beneficial to the basketball program if it keeps players healthy.
On the first day of the month, Florida Gulf Coast looked liked it was in mid-March form early in the second half of its game against Northern Kentucky.
Dajuan Graf missed a mid-range jumper. A ball screen to get Graf the open look caused some rotations in NKU’s defense, leaving Bernard Thompson alone at the top of the key.
Thompson got a running start and threw down a putback dunk over a Norse defender, putting the Eagles up 60-39 with 15:45 remaining. Florida Gulf Coast cruised to a 92-72 conference win as he finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Dunk City is tied for first place in the Atlantic Sun with Mercer with one game remaining in the regular season.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”