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The ‘mayor’ of Dunk City bids farewell to Alico Arena

 

Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball senior forward Chase Fieler has been through the growth of going from a Division II to Division I program, the explosion in crowd sizes and three coaches.

“I really liked Coach (Dave) Balza, but the program really needed change,” Fieler said. “It was easy when Coach (Andy) Enfield came in because people wanted a new coach. The hardest part was building relationships with coaches that didn’t recruit me or know much about me. The transition with Coach (Joe) Dooley has been pretty smooth and I made it a point to get to know him early. Because we kept the assistant coaches, it has kept a sense of familiarity in the program.”

The average attendance at the men’s basketball games during Fieler’s freshman year was 1,713 compared to this year’s average of 4,218.

“The difference in crowds is night and day,” Fieler said. “My freshman year, we were excited if there was a thousand people in the crowd. The other night there was a thousand students. It’s crazy how fast it has gotten so big.”

Fieler’s parents, Karl and Jenny, both played sports at the collegiate level at Ohio University. His brother, Jake, recently committed to play football at the University of Virginia, and his sister Ryan plays volleyball at Glenville State University.

“My home was very competitive,” Fieler said. “My dad and I almost think identically. My mom, sister and brother have a slightly different mentality than us, being that we are so analytical. My brother probably had it worst because he had his sister and me playing in college, so the expectations were high for him.”

The 6-foot-8 forward’s growth into a college prospect happened throughout the latter half of his high school career.

“My junior year in high school, I averaged 11 points and was the third-leading scorer on my team, basically just an average player,” Fieler said. “The summer of my senior year, I grew an inch and a half and came into my body, learning to use my size as an advantage. I was able to elevate my game with ball-handling skills and shooting. That was when I realized I could play Division I basketball.”

The sports-management major has taken his game to a new level this year with six double-doubles, leading the team in rebounds (7.4) and third in scoring (13.5). With new coach Dooley and last year’s NCAA run, the Eagles came into the 2013-14 season with new challenges.

“It has been a combination of both, with the new coach coming in and with added expectations after the tourney,” Fieler said. “When we play teams now, it means more to them, and we get everyone’s best game.”

Fieler is the lone senior for the Eagles and has had to step up to the plate.

“It has been really easy when you have guys like Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson underneath you as juniors in the book, but the amount of minutes and how much they play, they are basically seniors as well,” Fieler said. “I haven’t had to do a lot of leading because we are all experienced, so we just go out and play.”

“When you look at experience, here’s a guy who has experienced the highs and the lows,” Dooley said. “He has been through some rough years, and also through the highest of the highest, so I think that he understands and appreciates it. He’s not a very vocal guy. He leads by example.”

In Fieler’s final home opener at Alico Arena, the Parkersburg, W.Va., native scored a career-high 30 points against Hartford University in the 7 a.m. “Breakfast at the Beach” game.

“We just tried to treat it like a normal game,” Fieler said after the win against Hartford. “Once we get out on the court and the crowd gets behind you, it’s just a normal game.”

Last season, Fieler was an Atlantic Sun All-Conference Second Team member. As a junior, Fieler became FGCU’s all-time leader in blocks with 102, scored 12.1 points per game and averaged 5.4 rebounds a game. He led the team with 59 dunks, including the memorable dunk against Georgetown that introduced FGCU as “Dunk City.”

“You can’t even put the moment into words—everything is still about that dunk,” Fieler said. “My teammates and I went to Orlando this past summer and people were recognizing us on the streets and talking about my dunk. The celebrity status is a lot different coming from a small town in Ohio and West Virginia. It’s just something I never expected.”

Junior point guard Comer, who assisted Fieler’s dunk, sees his teammate as a dynamic player for the Eagles.

“He’s a different type of a guy for the four-man position,” Comer said. “He is a guy that can step out and shoot from anywhere. He is also athletic enough to get to the rim and finish over people. Not too many guys in the league can do both. He protects the rim pretty well and can block shots. He is on SportsCenter a lot for his dunks, so he brings a lot of different dynamics to the team.”

In the first year under Enfield, Fieler, then a sophomore, had a much bigger impact. Fieler played in all 32 games, making 30 starts, and averaged 6.8 points and led the team with 38 blocks.

As a freshman, Fieler played in all 30 games, starting 15 times, including his college debut at Indiana University. He averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds and led the team with 16 blocks.

This weekend, Fieler and the Eagles take on Mercer University and Kennesaw State University. The Eagles currently stand 17–10 overall and 11–3 in A-Sun play.

Fieler’s last game at Alico Arena is at 1:33 p.m. Feb. 23 against Kennesaw State, and emotions will be high.

“It’s going to be tough,” Fieler said. “Coach (Dooley) talked a lot about Mariano Rivera when he took the field for the last time and how much it meant to him because he put all the work in. I really took it to heart. Just thinking about having only two regular-season home games, I know it’s going to be difficult.”

Fieler added, “I’m going to miss everything about the University. The basketball is awesome, but the basketball comes with the community and the school. Being a part of building the program and the people who were a part of it is like a family, and I’m going to miss that family aspect.”

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