Florida Gulf Coast, a No. 15 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament, stole my heart—and that of almost every other basketball fan as well—with its freewheeling takedowns of No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16. Rarely does a high seed possess players with such athleticism and panache, qualities most commonly associated with the professionals of the NBA.
How do the Eagles compare to NBA pros past and present, both in playing style and personality? Let's run through the roster and have some fun. After all, it's what they would do.
Brett Comer inspired this piece with his spectacular play this weekend. He notched 12 points and 10 assists against the dumbfounded Hoyas, followed by 10 points and a career-high 14 assists to dissect the Aztecs.
It's how Comer earns those dimes that sparks the imagination. He's completely fearless and seems to have 360-degree court vision. He makes you hold your breath with each play, thinking he's about to turn it over, then out of nowhere he finds a wide-open teammate for a three-pointer or a devastating alley-oop.
As related by ESPN's Dana O'Neil, FGCU coach Andy Enfield sometimes tells Comer, "I don’t know how you made that pass." Comer's response: "Honestly, sometimes I don’t know how I made it either."
Add Comer's boyhood fascination with Pete Maravich (via O'Neil), and the NBA comparison is only natural.
Jason Williams set the league afire from his rookie season in 1998 with dynamic, daredevil passing, inspiring Maravich comparisons. Toss in tattoos and a healthy dose of swagger, and Williams is clearly Comer's best NBA comparison.
Per Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated, after Williams pulled off a particularly mind-boggling move, Sacramento Kings coach Rick Adelman told him he'd "never seen that move before." Williams' response: "I haven't either."
Guard Bernard Thompson strikes me as a silent assassin. While you marvel at the Eagles' alley-oops, Thompson steadily stuffs the stat sheet. He scored 23 points in each of the two tournament games, an average that leads the team.
Let's see—a rail-thin shooting guard (6'3", 166 pounds) from Georgia who led his Rockdale County team to a state championship game, close-cut hair, a knack for putting the ball in the hoop without relying on spectacle...
A skinny shooting guard from Georgia, you say? Lou Williams (6'1", 175) fits the bill with the unassuming appearance to match.
He hails from Snellville, just half an hour from Thompson's hometown of Conyers. He also led his South Gwinnett squad to a Georgia state championship in 2004.
Chase Fieler nailed Georgetown's coffin shut when he slammed home an alley-oop from Comer late in the game Friday night.
The 6'8", 205-pound forward from Parkersburg, West Virginia has displayed all-around dexterity, averaging 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks per game in the NCAA tournament.
Most memorable, though, are his startling hops. Fieler springs into the air with abandon and dunks with royal authority.
Shaw Marion played his high school ball in Clarksville, Tennessee, just a seven-hour drive from Parkersburg.
Like Fieler, The Matrix is built like a pogo stick (6'7", 220)—perfect for snatching rebounds, swatting shots and slamming like a savage.
Clearly talented but inconsistent, power forward Eric McKnight logged nine statistically empty minutes against Georgetown.
Against San Diego State, though, he posted 26 productive minutes (nine points, four blocks, four rebounds, two steals) and his share of rim-rattling highlights.
McKnight's inconsistent play recalls the early years of Andrew Bynum's NBA career. Bynum's a bit bigger, but they show the same flashes of brilliance interspersed with immaturity.
Forward Eddie Murray, a redshirt senior, serves as FGCU's hustle player off the bench. He provides a spark when you need one and does the dirty work without being asked.
Against Georgetown, Murray contributed nine points and five rebounds, stats bolstered by a stunning putback dunk at the start of FGCU's decisive 21-2 second-half run.
His slam notified the nation that the Eagles aren't your run-of-the-mill Cinderella squad: They come from Dunk City.
Senior guard Sherwood Brown leads the Eagles both statistically and emotionally. The Atlantic Sun Player of the Year averaged 15.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in the regular season, numbers he's pushed to 20.5 and 8.5, respectively, in the NCAA tournament.
More importantly, Brown is the heart of the team. He circulates energy and passion throughout the roster, both with pregame speeches and in-game play.
San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin recognized both qualities. After the Aztecs lost to the Eagles, Franklin pulled Brown aside and implored him to keep leading his team as far as it can go (h/t Jeff Eisenberg, Yahoo! Sports).
Forget the obvious similarity (the dreads). Ignore the stark differences (size and position).
Kenneth Faried and Brown share a leader's most essential qualities: heart and courage.
As a senior in 2011, Faried led the No. 13 Morehead State Eagles (now that sent a shiver up my spine) to a huge upset of a Big East heavyweight (No. 4 Louisville) in the NCAA tournament. While he didn't advance to the Sweet 16 as Brown has, Faried parlayed his tournament success into an NBA career—something Brown would surely love to share as well.
Straight out of Switzerland, Christophe Varidel specializes in long-distance shooting. He ranks first in FGCU's brief history with a 39.5 percent mark from beyond the arc and knocked down three huge triples against San Diego State on Sunday.
Oh, and he wears a headband.
Why is this important?
This one's almost too easy.
A headband-wearing, European three-point specialist?
Sasha Vujacic, come on down.
The Slovenian made 37 percent of his career three-point attempts in the NBA and achieved cult status for his headwear, inspiring fans to send him headband options to choose from.
We end with the mastermind of Florida Gulf Coast's attack, the supervisor whose group doesn't take itself too seriously.
Head coach Andy Enfield has chops. He served two stints as an NBA assistant in the 1990s (with the Bucks and Celtics) and later helped coach Florida State to three NCAA tourney appearances under headman Leonard Hamilton.
Mixed with the X's and O's, though, is a love for basketball manifested in the Eagles' free-flowing approach. "I don’t like to slow our style down," Enfield said Sunday (via Scott Cacciola of the New York Times). "I like to let our guys play."
"I don't like to call a lot of plays. I like it to flow."
Could it be anyone else?
Mike D'Antoni prides himself on not overcoaching (h/t Ken Berger of CBSSports.com), which led to great success with the Phoenix Suns.
In fact, one can easily compare the Eagles to D'Antoni's Suns squads. Comer is Steve Nash, Thompson is Joe Johnson, Fieler is Shawn Marion...
Anyone want to take that ball and run with it?