ARLINGTON, Texas — The playmaking specialist for the biggest story in the NCAA Tournament remembers his father every time he takes the court.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Brett Comer, the starting point guard for Florida Gulf Coast University, pays tribute to his dad, Troy. Comer wrote the verse thats tattooed on his right arm.
Love never hate, forgive but never forget
Live the life youve dreamed to the fullest
Pursuit of Happiness
Inside his right arm, Troys name and the dates of his birth and death are tattooed.
Hes always with me, Comer said.
Its 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 basketballs 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., cant 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 teams 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 dont 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, thats 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 Comers NCAA Tournament-leading 24 assists.
What youre seeing is genuine, Enfield said.
And, from Comer, heartfelt, with a Kansas City area twist.
Comers 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 Stars All-Johnson County team as a freshman, joining the likes of Bishop Mieges Travis Releford, now a Kansas senior, and Shawnee Mission Souths 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 Comers 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 Comers 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: Its 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 Coasts 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, thats what Ive 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 games elite and enjoying every moment of it.