FORT MYERS, Fla. – What a difference a year makes. Returning eight players, including all five starters, from last year’s team that advanced to the Atlantic Sun Championship game, second-year head coach Andy Enfield and the FGCU men’s basketball team officially opened the 2012-13 season on Friday evening with the squad’s first practice.
Due to NCAA rules that don’t allow teams to officially start the first day of practice until 5 p.m., the Eagles took the Alico Arena floor just after the restricted time for just over two hours. FGCU is four weeks away from its season opener against one of the Atlantic 10’s newest members VCU on Nov. 9, in Richmond, Va.
Just a year ago, Enfield took over a program that was in its 10th year of existence, including fifth in Division I, and was embarking on its first postseason eligible campaign with five new players and six returners who had a combined 14 years of collegiate experience.
Now, the Green and Blue’s eligible 12-man roster that doesn’t include Marquette transfer Jamail Jones (Atlanta, Ga./Montverde Academy-FL/Marquette) and Georgia Tech transfer Nate Hicks (Panama City Beach, Fla./J.R. Arnold HS/Georgia Tech), who have to sit out the 2012-13 season due to NCAA four-year transfer rules, returns 85 percent of its scoring, 84 percent of its rebounding and 92 percent of its assists from the 2011-12 squad that won a program Division I record 15 games and became just the sixth team in the 33-year history of the A-Sun Tournament to advance to the title game in its first try.
Both Lindy’s Sports and Athlon Sports predicted FGCU to finish third in the A-Sun in their preseason magazines that were released in September. In the same two magazines a year ago, FGCU was picked seventh and ninth in the 10-team legue. YAHOO! Sports’ A-Sun preview had the Eagles finishing second.
FGCU was able to build off its strong first season under Enfield with some extra practice time in late July and early August when it took a foreign tour to the Bahamas. Participating in the Bahamas Summer of Thunder Tour, the Eagles went 3-0 against three professional Bahamian teams, averaging 111 points per game with 34 three-pointers. The Eagles’ three games in three-day schedule featured a 110-95 win over the Commonwealth Bank Giants, a 102-69 triumph over the Mailboat Cybots and 121-78 victory over the Grand Bahamas All-Stars.
A mixture of six of upperclassmen and eight underclassmen, FGCU’s roster features seven players that are 6-foot-7 or taller, including a quartet at 6-foot-9 or better. Senior Eddie Murray (North Fort Myers, Fla./Bishop Verot) headlines that group, as the ultra-athletic forward is coming off the best year of his career in which he averaged 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds. Iowa State transfer Eric McKnight (Raleigh, N.C./Princeton Day Academy/Iowa State) adds a 6-foot-9 frame to the frontline and will begin his eligibility with the Green and Blue this season after sitting out the entire 2011-12 campaign.
Another senior Sherwood Brown (Orlando, Fla./Olympia HS) highlights a deep and talented backcourt that produced the team’s top four scorers a year ago. Brown was one of just two players in the A-Sun to rank in the top 10 in scoring (12.8) and rebounding (5.9), earning All-Conference second team honors and All-Tournament recognition during the team’s postseason run. Brown was tabbed a preseason All-Conference first team member by Lindy’s Sports.
Also included in the backcourt are sophomore point guard Brett Comer (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park HS) and classmate Bernard Thompson (Conyers, Ga./Rockdale County HS), who were both named to the A-Sun All-Freshmen team. Comer led the A-Sun in assists and ranked second among all freshmen nationally at 5.6 helpers per game. Thompson was also named a CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Freshmen All-American after posting 11.5 points and 5.2 boards per game to go along with 57 steals.
Out of the team’s 13-game non-conference slate, Duke (ACC), VCU (A-10), Loyola-Maryland (MAAC) and Toledo (MAC/West Division) were picked to win their respective conference regular season in at least one of the two aforementioned preview magazines (Athlon Sports or Lindy’s Sports). Along with Duke, VCU and Loyola-Maryland, ACC member Miami, who visits FGCU on Nov. 13, was predicted as an NCAA team by both magazines.
Fans can get a look at the team in the upcoming weeks when it holds a preseason Green/Blue game at the Community School in Naples on Oct. 24 and at the Annual “Hoops and Halloween” fan fest at Alico Arena on Oct. 28. More information on both events will be available on www.FGCUATHLETICS.com in the upcoming week.