NCAA Tournament

Florida Gulf Coast University, NCAA's Cinderella story, has a heartwarming local twist

Updated: 2013-03-29T12:36:33Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

— The playmaking specialist for the biggest story in the NCAA Tournament remembers his father every time he takes the court.

Brett Comer, the starting point guard for Florida Gulf Coast University, pays tribute to his dad, Troy. Comer wrote the verse that’s tattooed on his right arm.

…Love never hate, forgive but never forget

Live the life you’ve dreamed to the fullest

— Pursuit of Happiness

Inside his right arm, Troy’s name and the dates of his birth and death are tattooed.

“He’s always with me,” Comer said.

It’s been an amazing ride for Comer, who got his start in high school basketball at Blue Valley Northwest, and his teammates. Florida Gulf Coast has elbowed its way in with some of college basketball’s big names. After KU plays Michigan in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, the Eagles will take on Florida. The winners play Sunday for a berth in the Final Four.

Florida Gulf Coast is living the dream as the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles did it in only their second year of eligibility for the Big Dance.

A school that even diehard college basketball fans would have trouble identifying a month ago is the talk of sports. Florida Gulf Coast, which opened its doors in 1997 in Fort Myers, Fla., can’t keep souvenirs on bookstore shelves. The basketball team, which had never turned down media requests before this week, had to limit availability. Yahoo Sports search requests for Florida Gulf Coast University increased by 3,367 percent this week.

All because the team won two games. But they were big and unexpected victories. The Eagles stunned second-seeded Georgetown in their first NCAA Tournament game, then beat seventh-seeded San Diego State.

Suddenly, everybody wanted to know the Florida Gulf Coast University story.

Who knew it was so interesting?

The Eagles’ coach, Andy Enfield, made millions as an entrepreneur before becoming a full-time coach.

Oh, and he married a supermodel, Amanda Marcum, who held court Thursday inside the Eagles’ locker room at Cowboys Stadium, chatting up the joy of the team’s achievement and its impact on Fort Myers and southwest Florida. She was there with other coaches’ wives and their kids, an unusual sight to many longtime tournament watchers.

“I don’t know what happens with other teams,” Marcum said. “This is who we are.”

The Eagles are a loose bunch, on and off the court. At the open practice session attended by several thousand people on Thursday, the players wore different jersey numbers because, well, that’s what they do.

They kid around in the locker room, joke and dance, and the approach on the floor has a similar feel.

In the Eagles’ victory over Georgetown, a 19-point lead had been reduced to seven. At this point, teams might play conservatively to protect the lead. But Comer flipped a pass over his shoulder that Chase Fieler slammed home for one of Comer’s NCAA Tournament-leading 24 assists.

“What you’re seeing is genuine,” Enfield said.

And, from Comer, heartfelt, with a Kansas City area twist.

Comer’s parents, Troy and Heather, lived for four years in Overland Park, and Brett attended Harmony and Lakewood middle schools before playing for two years at BV Northwest under coach Ed Fritz.

“You could tell right away his game was a little different, more advanced,” Fritz said.

Comer played on the junior varsity in his first game as a freshman and was on the varsity while he remained with the Huskies.

He was a member of The Star’s All-Johnson County team as a freshman, joining the likes of Bishop Miege’s Travis Releford, now a Kansas senior, and Shawnee Mission South’s Will Spradling, a Kansas State junior.

The honors continued as a sophomore, all-Eastern Kansas League, second-team all-Kansas 6A state.

“He was an amazing player, always in control of things on the court,” said George Bugarinovic, a teammate of Comer’s at Northwest who just completed his sophomore season at Johns Hopkins. “He was something of a celebrity. He had elementary kids, middle school kids amazed at him.”

Northwest reached the state tournament in Comer’s freshman year and just missed his next year. Toward the end of that season, Burgarinovic knew something was amiss.

“In one of the games late that season, his mom pulled my mom aside and told her that Troy was in the late stages of lung cancer,” Burgarinovic said.

The family moved back to Florida, near Orlando, to be closer to family friends and for treatment. Comer became backcourt mates at Winter Park High with Austin Rivers, the future Duke standout and now NBA guard whose father, Doc, coaches the Boston Celtics.

The Comers and Rivers had known each other since their sons were teammates on an AAU team as 10-year-olds. After the Eagles beat Georgetown, Doc Rivers told reporters: “It’s really nice, just a huge place in my heart,” for the family.

But Comer had trouble coping, suffering bouts of depression and anxiety. He sought counseling and has said the tattoo and its message have helped him remain close to his greatest influence.

Comer never became a fan of the area Division I colleges while living in Kansas. He remembered attending a KU game at Allen Fieldhouse, a Jayhawks victory over Colorado. His most vivid memory?

“Julian Wright missed a 360 dunk,” Comer said.

Comer was a Florida guy and pulled for Florida teams. When it came time to select a college, he signed a basketball scholarship with Florida Atlantic University. But he changed his mind after Enfield, who had previously served as an assistant at Florida State, became Florida Gulf Coast’s coach.

“He called me the day after he got the job and told me he wanted me to be his point guard for four years,” Comer said.

Comer loves playing the point, but he had been a shooting guard until his second year at BV Northwest.

“Nobody else could play the point on our team,” Comer said. “Ever since then, that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Those years in Kansas “shaped me a lot,” Comer said, and now college basketball is enjoying the results, a fresh-faced newcomer rubbing shoulders with the game’s elite and enjoying every moment of it.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

Deal Saver Subscribe today!

Comments

The Kansas City Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Kansas City Star uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here