The Florida Gulf Coast University basketball season started off with a bang Friday night as the men’s and women’s teams came together for Dunk City After Dark, part of ESPN’s Midnight Madness coverage.
The event was a fantastic way of building suspense for the upcoming season, which many are expecting to be the school’s most successful ever in both men’s and women’s basketball. The night included a scrimmage by both teams, a “battle of the sexes” three-point contest (which the women won), capped off by a dunk contest.
FGCU was one of only five teams nationally that appeared on ESPN’s coverage for the second straight year, an incredible accomplishment for a mid-major program from the Atlantic Sun conference. Joe Dooley, coach of the men’s team, reminded everyone in attendance of the elite company that puts the Eagles in.
“UConn, Syracuse, Kansas and Kentucky are all teams that have won national titles,” Dooley boomed out over the PA system. “And ESPN has come back here to see us.”
On the floor, there were many positives that stood out for both teams.
During the women’s scrimmage, freshman Taylor Goodall stole the show and looks to be a perfect fit in the Eagles shot-happy offense. Jenna Cobb looked to be even better than she was down the stretch last season, which is very bad news for the rest of the A-Sun.
During their scrimmage, the men wasted no time in living up to the Dunk City moniker with Brett Comer throwing up one of his trademark alley-oop passes to high-flying University of Nevada-Las Vegas transfer Demetris Morant for a beautiful finish. That dynamic duo looks like they are going to be downright scary for other teams to try and defend this season.
Marc-Eddy Norelia, who sat out last season after transferring from Tulane, had 10 points of his own and looked like the dangerous athletic forward that the Eagles offense has been missing. Morant and Norelia will be welcome additions to an Eagles’ offense that struggled at times last season.
“It’s different now,” Norelia said. “You know, my energy has to be invested elsewhere so it’s just a little bit different, but it’s still fun, the crowd is still there and they’re pretty excited.”
Also of note, the Eagles moved the ball well on offense, unofficially registering 10 assists in the 10-minute scrimmage and looking far more comfortable with Dooley’s system.
“That’s what coach stresses in practice,” Norelia said. “He doesn’t want guys holding the ball. Pass it, keep moving it.”
In the three-point contest, Cobb and Anthi Chatzigiakoumi shot the ball well and were able to edge out the guys’ team of Bernard Thompson and freshman Christian Terrell. To be fair, Thompson and Terrell didn’t appear to understand the rules of the contest, but it certainly looked as if the women would have rolled regardless.
In the final event of the night, four of the guys squared off in a dunk contest. Julian Debose and Brian Greene Jr., transfers from Rice and Auburn respectively, joined Terrell and Morant in the competition. DeBose and Morant made it to the finals in a first round that was relatively unimpressive and included a multitude of failed attempts.
In the finals, however, things heated up and the crowd got the show they came to see. DeBose went first, and was able to complete a solid dunk after a couple of attempts. But Morant stole the show when he lined up three of his teammates in the paint and jumped over them for the winning dunk.
The crowd went crazy, and Alico Arena began to feel like home again, the place where you can barely find a seat anymore. Morant was ecstatic with the way he felt right at home after his dunk contest win.
“I thought I was gonna lose to be honest,” he said.
Morant also said that he had been working on his winning dunk since high school and found the perfect time to put it to use, as a way of introducing himself.
“First night, crowd loving me,” Morant said. “I’m loving it.”
If Dunk City after Dark was any indication of what lies ahead for the Eagles, FGCU fans everywhere are going to love it, too.