In August of 2011, two teenagers arrived at the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University to begin their freshman years as Eagles. Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson were unknowns to the entire Fort Myers area, coming in as part of Andy Enfield’s first recruiting class. Enfield secured letters of intent from the duo four days apart from each other, with the thought in mind of having a formidable backcourt for four years in the Atlantic Sun Conference. I made my way to FGCU that same August, following my older brother Gavin and my younger brother Harrison who was beginning his sophomore year on the baseball team. Being familiar with FGCU Athletics, I had heard about the optimism surrounding Comer and Thompson once they had signed, and I obviously was anxious to see the team under Enfield’s uptempo system of play. Fast forward almost four years later, Comer and Thompson have had a remarkable impact for Florida Gulf Coast University.
In their first season together, it was evident that they had a connection with each other. Both played with little fear and no conscience, just going out and trying to make things happen knowing they were going to make mistakes. I can still remember listening to their first regular season game at TCU where each sparked rallies from big deficits to give the team a shot at a true road victory. The effort fell short in a one point defeat, but even then I had a real belief that this team led by these two guys had the potential to do great things down the road. The perfect storm came to fruition in the conference tournament when FGCU, led by Comer and Thompson, came one victory away from an NCAA Tournament appearance. Holding a halftime lead against the then A-Sun powerhouse Belmont, FGCU would fall to the Bruins, but the run fueled hope around the program that good times were soon to come.
The 2012-2013 season started with promise - a home victory against Miami, who would eventually materialize into a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a strong showing at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke, and gaining experience in hostile environments at Iowa State and VCU. The battlte-tested Eagles would go 13-5 in A-Sun play, with Comer and Thompson playing at all-conference levels. Along with Sherwood Brown and Chase Fieler, the quartet spearheaded the charge to a conference tournament title against Mercer in Macon, punching the Eagles ticket to their first ever NCAA Tournament. The nation would see the high-flying, uptempo style of play, led by Comer and Thompson, shock Georgetown in the first round, outlast San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed, and hang with the Florida Gators before falling in Dallas. Southwest Florida and FGCU were put on the map thanks to the boys of Dunk City, and Andy Enfield became a hot commodity in the coaching ranks. He would take a higher paying position as the head coach at USC shortly after the run ended, leaving FGCU in a tough spot.
It would have been easy for FGCU’s top returners to leave school to pursue their playing careers elsewhere. Players were stunned by Enfield’s bolt to the West Coast, but understood the pay increase was worth moving on for. Joe Dooley was brought in to take the helm, a long-time assistant to Bill Self at Kansas, and came in with high expectations. With Fieler, Comer, and Thompson returning, and transfers Jamail Jones and Nate Hicks eligible, an NCAA run was expected. A solid regular season with a 14-4 conference record led up to another meeting in the A-Sun title game with Mercer, this time at Alico Arena. An experienced Bears squad was determined to avenge the defeat the previous season and in a highly-contested battle, they withstood repeated runs from the Eagles to come out on top to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Mercer went on to pull another shocker from the A-Sun, taking down Duke as a 14 seed, but fell to Tennessee in the second round. A tough pill to swallow, but another 20+ win season was achieved, and the following year was promising with Comer, Thompson, Jones, and Hicks returning for their senior seasons, and having four transfers eligible as well.
Through this point in the current season, the Eagles are flying high on a ten game winning streak, an 11-1 ASun mark, and a 21-7 record with two regular season games remaining. Comer and Thompson have led the charge, leading the team in scoring at 13.9 and 12.7 points a game respectively. Jones, who has been suspended twice during the year, has averaged over 12 points a game on the year, and transfer Julian DeBose is averaging 11.1 points on the year. Fellow transfers Marc-Eddy Noreila and Demetrius Morant along with Hicks have performed well in the frontcourt over the course of the season. With Senior Night looming Wednesday against North Florida with the No. 1 seed and a regular conference championship on the line, and Dick Vitale in attendance, Alico Arena will be a madhouse as Comer, Thompson, Jones, Hicks, and Marcus Blake will be honored in a pregame ceremony.
As the two seniors go out on senior night in the friendly confines of Alico Arena, the impact they've had on the university are being felt in many ways. After the Sweet 16 run in 2013, university admissions applications rose through the roof. The pool of applicants to select students to admit became highly competitive, and has brought the level of educated individuals on campus up as a result. With projected increases in enrollment anticipated as FGCU continues to grow, expansions will be necessary for buildings, classrooms, and housing. Projects are in the works to expand on off-campus housing with University Village expected to be ready for the fall semester of 2016, adding to the options students will have to live. The athletic program is undergoing upgrades to facilities and aiming towards having the means to provide more scholarships and for recruiting budgets to get better players for respective teams. A student-athlete weight room, video room, and trainer’s room are coming to Alico Arena as expansions, as well as video boards in the facility.
The additions to FGCU’s athletic program were needed in order to compete at the highest level possible in college athletics. There is no question with the efforts that Comer and Thompson made on that magical ride in 2013, the process has been accelerated. Serious financial commitments have been made from members of the FGCU community, and the benefits are going to be widespread in time. Regardless of how their FGCU careers end, Brett and Bernard are responsible for helping change the course of an entire athletic program by being part of something special. Since I became affiliated with FGCU, the athletic program as a whole has been on the rise in many sports, but some have not turned the corner to find success at the NCAA Tournament level. The coaching and talent has been there at FGCU for years and this may be the extra push to get them over the top. With improvements to the foundation of FGCU Athletics, the future is as bright as it ever has been at Florida Gulf Coast University.
So thank you Brett Comer. And thank you Bernard Thompson. There is one more opportunity to make more memories and make more history for the two of you. One more run to a NCAA Tournament bid awaits in March. Wednesday night is your night; a night to reflect upon where you have come from to where you are now. One more night to fly up and down the floor of Alico Arena and make fans gasp. Throwing passes that have no prayer of connecting with a streaking teammate towards the basket. Tossing up jumpers that hit nothing but the bottom of the net. It is also the last night in the regular season that Jamail Jones, Nate Hicks, and Marcus Blake have to play on their home court. Each of these three players will be factors for how far FGCU can go this season. Jones has been the most dangerous scoring threat that can get 20+ points a night in the stretch run of the season. Hicks has anchored down the paint being a presence on the boards, and Blake can be called upon if bigs get into foul trouble to bang in the paint. The fate of FGCU lies in the hands of Comer and Thompson, proven performers in crunch time, and the two who are aiming to take the Eagles back to where they belong.
A part of March Madness.
Back to the Big Dance.