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Florida Gulf Coast Looks For Glass Slipper in North Texas

Few Texans had heard of Florida Gulf Coast University two weeks ago. Now the entire country is buzzing about the boys in green and blue, sorry, cobalt.

Whether you like the Cinderella allusion or prefer comparing this team to The Little Engine that Could, Florida Gulf Coast is the story of the NCAA tournament. And as KERA’s Courtney Collins reports, their Sweet Sixteen chapter unfolds Friday night at Cowboys Stadium.

You would never guess the 15 seed Eagles were underdogs. Known for dunks and alley-oops, their flashy style of play is anything but meek, and the crowd support they got at Thursday’s practice was anything but mild.

Even though the seats at Cowboys Stadium were filled with sweatshirts from every college under the sun, the entire room seemed to be rooting for the Eagles. Oklahoma State fan Jennifer Heck is willing to have her bracket completely busted.

“I had Louisville to go all the way,” Heck said. “But I’d really like to see these guys go pretty far.”

Hailing from Keller, Heck and her children played hooky Thursday to check out Florida Gulf Coast. She’s seriously impressed by the team’s meteoric rise from obscurity.

“I think it’s pretty awesome, especially since they haven’t had a basketball team for very long,” Heck said. “We want to check them out, see them do well.”

Eagle fans like Joan McDonald who made the trek from Fort Myers, Florida are nothing short of ecstatic.

“I feel like Forest Gump. Remember how he was always going along and then got caught up in national events? It was just like we were going along, having a good time with these guys, loving them and like the ocean came, the tsunami and brought us up on this wave,” she said.

McDonald acknowledges this trip to the Sweet Sixteen is the stuff of fairytale, but will the clock strike midnight on Florida Gulf Coast?

“I’m sorry to say but I don’t think we’re turning into a pumpkin anytime soon,” laughed McDonald.

At practice, she watched her beloved Eagles run drills at Cowboys Stadium which will host the Final Four next year. She also took in the school’s logo beaming from that infamous jumbotron.

“We figure we’re the new America’s team,” said McDonald. “You know, Dallas is the established America’s team, we’re the rookie.”

Russell Priddy, who’s on the school’s Board of Trustees, says things are going crazy back home.

“It’s been March Madness for sure in Dunk City,” Priddy said.

That’s what Fort Myers has renamed itself for the Eagles’ run through the tournament.

“We’ve got people stopping outside the University just taking pictures of the sign,” said Priddy. “Our bookstore has had 4 and 500 people in line buying everything that’s there; websites are crashing with people checking us out. It’s just been tremendous.”

Even if Florida Gulf Coast falls to in-state rival Florida Friday, the team’s storybook season has won the hearts of basketball fans everywhere. And the players’ good-natured swagger is more than a match for the glitz and glamour of Jerry World.

Check out this sweet compilation of Florida Gulf Coast dunks and a demonstration of the team doing the “Eagle Dance.”

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.