Small crowd welcomes Eagles home
Fans welcomed back the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles to campus from their Sweet 16 tournament journey on Saturday.
The men’s basketball team, which lost to the Florida Gators 62-50 Friday night in the South Region semifinals after making history by advancing to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament, returned to Alico Arena at about 4:30 p.m. to a gathering of more than 100 fans.
Many local TV news affiliates attended the event and swarmed the newly-famous Eagles as they returned home.
Three days later, on Tuesday, the Eagles learned that coach Andy Enfield had accepted a job offer to coach the University of Southern California Trojans. Reports indicated he would sign a six-year contract with the Trojans at more than $1 million per season, more than 10 times what he earned at FGCU.
The Eagles, who were 41-28 during Enfield’s two seasons, made history last weekend by becoming the first 15-seed to ever make it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Senior Sherwood Brown, who sparked two Eagles’ wins with his inspiring play, was candid about his thoughts on the team’s experiences.
“I’m proud of the rest of the team. We did a lot of things people didn’t think we could do,” Brown said. “I think we made a big difference in the community and
for the basketball team.”
Brown was still in shock about how much attention the Eagles received during the tournament. “It feels good, it’s like a dream come true.”
Brown, a graduate of Orlando Olympia High School, was named Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press Monday afternoon.
Danielle Butler, an FGCU graduate and former student-athlete, attended one of their tournament games in Philadelphia and came to the welcome-home gathering.
She thought the basketball team made a great impression on the nation.
“This was a great thing for our school,” Butler said. “The team put (FGCU) on the map. I’m very proud to be an athlete of this school and I hope their trip inspired a lot of young people to not give up on their dreams.”
Josiah Mendez, a member of FGCU’s “Dirty Birds” student fan club, led the crowd in a chant of “welcome home” as the team got off the bus.
Brown savored the moment, as he played his final game as an Eagle this weekend. He signed autographs, posed for dozens of pictures and shook hands with every single fan.
“I’m surprised that they all showed up, but it proves they weren’t just here because we were in the tournament,” Brown said. “It proves they were here
because they really cared about us.”
Brown believes the team will be in capable hands going into next year.
“It’s always upsetting to know that you’re not going to be playing basketball in college no more, but we’re going to be a good team down the road,” he said.
When questioned about his future plans, Brown was adamant about his hope to continue his playing career.
“Everyone who plays basketball would like to play in the NBA, but if not I’d like to play overseas somewhere,” he said. “I had a lot of people contact me. We’ll see what happens next.”
Brown, who, like the rest of the team, has not been home much the last couple weeks, put their whole experience in perspective when asked about the rest of his day.
“Going to relax and take a couple days off, recuperate a little bit. Maybe catch up with some schoolwork.”