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Florida Gulf Coast University goes from unknown to tournament darling

Florida Gulf Coast University Basketball
(CNN) — Andy Enfield would be on the phone talking with a recruit’s parents.

The new head coach wouldn’t be explaining what offense his team ran or how much playing time was available.

He’d have to explain where exactly Florida Gulf Coast University is — and what kind of school it was.

“They’d think we were the Gulf Coast Community College in the panhandle,” he said recently as his basketball team prepared for its first NCAA tournament game. “I would to keep saying, ‘No, we are a Division I school. We are in Fort Myers.’

“It just wouldn’t register because they had never heard of us.”

Well, that sure has changed.

After becoming the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament, the Eagles are getting fewer requests for directions and more requests to do TV interviews.

The requests poured in Monday. Too many to count, says Patrick Pierson, who manages communications for the basketball team.

It’s been a quick rise to prominence for a school that didn’t even exist 16 years ago and only started its sports program in 2002.

The hoops team, which only became Division I two years ago, was coming off a 10-20 season when Enfield, now 43, was hired away from his assistant position at Florida State.

It was a tough start. Three team leaders transferred. He had to recruit players while his wife was in the hospital having their third child. (Well, he didn’t HAVE to, but he did)

The coach recalls telling his staff that they had two goals: quickly recruit talent and make the players that were recruiting better.

“We had no time goal for when we could win the league, when we could go to the NCAA tournament or the (National Invitation Tournament),” he said. “We just showed up every day, saying let’s make this a better place.”

But it’s not like Enfield isn’t used to success. He was valedictorian in high school. As a college guard, he set the NCAA Division III record in 1991 for career free throw percentage at 92.5%. He parlayed his reputation as a great shooter into a job as a consultant to NBA teams where he helped players improve their form.

Two of those gigs turned into full-time positions as an assistant coach, one with the Boston Celtics. While Enfield taught good shooting technique, he also learned about coaching from Rick Pitino, who is now the head coach of No. 1 seed Louisville.

Enfield, who majored in economics at Johns Hopkins and received an MBA from Maryland, left coaching in 2000 to co-found Chattanooga, Tennessee-based TractManager, a contract management company in the health care industry.

Sports Illustrated reported that the privately held company is worth at least $100 million.

“I retain a part of company, but I’m not involved any way in management,” Enfield told the magazine this week.

His partner, Tom Rizk, said he asked Enfield to be one of the initial investors because he saw some genius in him.

“One of his very significant talents was to be a leader,” Rizk told the News-Press of Fort Myers. “People were following him. He is a special guy. He’s smart. He’s articulate. He’s very positive. If there’s a guy that could turn a program around like yours, it’s him.”

While he was working in New York for the company, he was set to drive to Boston to watch the NCAA tournament. A friend said her girlfriend had tickets too. They were going to fly, but Enfield offered them a ride so they could save the $500.

The girlfriend was Amanda Marcum, a model who had appeared on the covers of magazines such Maxim and Vogue and did runway work in Europe.

“I didn’t know her at the time,” Enfield said, “but I knew as soon as she got in the car, I knew it would be a great trip to Boston.”

For the future Mrs. Enfield, it wasn’t exactly love at first four-hour trip.

“No. No. But it worked out after a while,” the ardent Oklahoma State fan told the Oklahoman newspaper. “We got engaged pretty quickly after we started dating, and that happened fast, but, no (immediate attraction).”

So Amanda modeled and Andy continued to work as an entrepreneur (he also had a basketball shooting technique video and company). She traveled the world and he watched his company grow.

He wanted to go back to coaching and thought it would be better to raise a family in a college environment. He got an offer from Florida State in 2006, joining the staff of a middling team in the powerhouse Atlantic Coast Conference.

Andy Enfield grew into a highly respected recruiter and his wife became a mother of three and, for the most part, gave up modeling. The Seminoles became known for their defense and made the NCAA tournament.

When the Florida Gulf Coast job opened up, Enfield e-mailed about it. Like so many people, he only had seen their scores on the TV ticker and had never been to the campus.

“I didn’t know much about the school when I took the job,” he said, adding that Athletics Director Ken Kavanagh sold him on the idea of quickly making it place to build a tradition. “I wanted that opportunity, so that’s why I took it.”

Enfield signed a five-year contract (which may not stop larger schools from looking to Fort Myers for a coach this off-season) and quickly built a program almost from scratch.

There are just two seniors and two juniors on this year’s roster. He recruited four high school seniors and one transfer.

The young Eagles are exciting to watch, and their high-flying offense and highlight reel jams have given Fort Myers a new nickname — Dunk City.

“I’m pretty confident that we can run with anybody,” said Eddie Murray, a 6-foot-8 senior forward. “We don’t have the typical big body guys. We have the long, athletic guys who want to run.” They also play tough defense, just like Florida State.

Enfield knows that when it comes to recruiting, he’s necessarily not going to get guys ready for Division I. Those players go to Kentucky or Duke or other top schools, he said. He gets players who have some talent — and some flaws, he said.

“We have some of the most improved players in the country on our team this year. They’ve made huge jumps, and I think that’s big in selling that recruiting,” he said.

Besides good technique, there is one other thing he teaches them.

“The biggest thing he’s given me has just been confidence,” Murray said.

The Eagles are confident they can keep pulling off upsets like the ones they sprung on Georgetown (a No. 2 seed) and San Diego State (a No. 7).

On Friday they face Florida in a game scheduled to begin just after 10 p.m. ET. Florida began the tournament as the 12th-ranked team in the country. Oddsmakers have the Gators as heavy favorites.

But two years ago, just before he took the Florida Gulf Coast job, Enfield went to the Sweet Sixteen with Florida State. They lost to an underdog, to a Cinderella team. That gives him confidence that Florida Gulf Coast can pull another surprise.

Whether Enfield’s Eagles pull a similar upset, one thing is for sure: Recruiting will be a whole lot easier when he has to call those prospects’ parents this off-season.

By Steve Almasy

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