It isn’t so much that Florida Gulf Coast is the surprise team of the tournament, it’s that they’re having so much fun while doing it.
Try and describe joy. Happiness? Contentment? Celebration? Those all work to an extent, but they don’t come close to doing the word justice.
Joy is one of those those things that almost needs to be experienced to be understood. Beethoven thought so highly of the emotion, he devoted an entire symphony to it.
Every year in the NCAA basketball tournament, an unlikely underdog rises out of some backwater to delight us with their chutzpah. George Mason rose out of Fairfax, VA a few years back with a run that set a high standard for Cinderellas. A trip to the Mecca of college hoops: THE FINAL FOUR.
But since then, VCU and Butler have made the final four, and that doesn’t seem so far fetched any more.
But low and behold, from Fort Myers, Florida, comes a group so unlikely to succeed, our ability to dream has been reignited.
Never in the history of the modern era of the tournament has a team seeded 15th advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Until now.
Florida Gulf Coast University has heretofore been known only as the school with dorms that have beachfront property.
Now they’re known for a rag tag group of players that didn’t even finish first in their conference in the regular season. Mercer did. Mercer? Where is that? Somewhere near Florida, I guess.
But it isn’t so much that FGSU’s Soaring Eagles have f-ed up everyone’s bracket by upsetting 2nd seeded Georgetown, and then handling an not-so-impressive San Diego State team.
It’s how much they appear to be having while doing it.
Usually, when a team like FGSU jumps out to a big lead against a team with tons of talent like Georgetown, and then Georgetown makes a comeback, you see tension start to appear on the HD closeups of the players faces.
Not these guys.
Nope, for them it meant the party was just starting.
A close up showed one guard flash a big smile at the other guard, as if they were in on a joke we weren’t privy to. Moments later, the second guard, instead of erring on the side of caution in a close game, tossed up a blind pass to a teammate, who slammed it home.
When San Diego State cut their lead in the second half, a close up of the bench revealed huge smiles all the way down the row. What? A team from what an ESPN announcer had declared “the best conference in the country” (since proven to be a load of crap FYI) was coming on strong, and you’re laughing?
I get it.
A few years back, a group of motley looking hunyaks from the Cathedral High on East Side of Saginaw had completed a mediocre 13-7 season, only to make their own run to the Sweet 16 of the Michigan State tournament. And I was on that team.
After dispatching of the 8th ranked team in the state in the districts, we found ourselves embroiled in a tight contest in the regionals, when during a time out late in the fourth quarter, I saw three guys on our team smile at each other knowingly. This meant one thing — they were about to start running. Using a fast break that had been ingrained in our heads since the fifth grade and reinforced on the playgrounds, the three friends led a 20-2 run to end the game, marking an easy 75-57 win.
Here’s to the Cinderellas of the world. And to the joy they experience.