New life is everywhere in the second season of the Michael Fly era with the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team. And we don’t just mean the roster.
In taking yet another page from the playbook of former Dunk City boss Andy Enfield, Fly anticipates his infant son becoming a regular at Eagles activities.
Enfield, now in his seventh season at Southern California after engineering FGCU’s famed NCAA tournament debut in 2013, also liked having his wife and three young children around the team in part for the bubbly joy and family atmosphere it lent to the program.
“I hope it feels similar in a lot of ways,” said Fly, 36, whose wife, Heather, gave birth to their first child, Jack Archer Fly, on June 19. “It just changes your life, your perspective, your priorities. It changes everything.”
After a sometimes disappointing, sometimes thrilling campaign in Fly’s rookie season, season two will be defined by great change – and great opportunity – as well.
Gone are eight scholarship players from last year’s team that started dreadfully, surged late, but ultimately had the program’s worst record and ASUN Conference result in seven seasons. That was due, in part, to what Fly called the greatest adversity he’s ever seen a team face.
“Our biggest expectation is, let’s get better every day,” the Kentucky native said of this season. “I don’t want to talk about March, championships, any of that. I want to talk about, are we getting better? Are we better than last year? And are we building a foundation?”
Expectations, of course, are a big thing at FGCU. March Madness big. Even Sweet 16 big.
So Fly, now in his ninth year at FGCU after spending his first seven as an assistant to Enfield and Joe Dooley, is careful to make it clear that winning will always be high among program expectations while still explaining that, frankly, they might have been a bit unrealistic last year.
“Fans want to always see that there’s never a break in the program, that things keep rolling,” Fly said. “Whenever a coach takes over at any level at any place, there’s always a transition. It’s really hard to win. I think people don’t always understand that.”
Indeed, no fewer than eight players were unavailable for all or parts of the season due to injuries, the transfer of Zach Johnson to Miami and a program dismissal.
Despite a strong finish, FGCU went just 14-18 and tied for third in the ASUN. It was the team’s first result outside the top two since Enfield’s debut year in 2011-12.
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Gone from that team are four seniors, including leading scorers Schadrac Casimir and Dinero Mercurius. Three more interior players also transferred: Troy Baxter to Morgan State, Brady Ernst to Drake and RaySean Scott to D-II Humboldt State in his native California.
The upside to the adversity last year was the unexpected head start its young players got.
Junior forward Brian Thomas and sophomore guards Zach Scott and Caleb Catto of Southwest Florida Christian Academy form the nucleus of a revamped roster adding eight players to the mix: three freshmen, three junior college transfers, one D-I transfer and one D-II transfer.
“We’ve got a really good group from a depth standpoint, but we don’t have a lot of guys who are proven at the D-I level,” Fly said.
FGCU’s schedule won’t make the adjustment to so many newcomers any easier. The Eagles opened the season Nov. 5 at reigning Atlantic 10 conference champion Saint Louis, one of at least seven teams FGCU faces this year that advanced to postseason tournaments a year ago.
A strong non-conference slate includes the return of fierce former ASUN rival Mercer to the schedule, visits to Alico Arena from 20-win teams Campbell and Georgia Southern in the Hilton Garden Inn FGCU Classic, and the first game in a three-year series against Enfield’s USC squad.
A year ago, injuries and roster limitations kept FGCU from playing the open-ended, high-flying style Enfield ushered in years ago and Fly sought to recapture.
But targeted recruiting and extensive time this offseason studying other programs has Fly confident the Eagles will be able to spark exciting new life into the team for the long haul.
“There’s stuff we can do that realistically last year we couldn’t,” Fly said. “A little more freedom in running a little motion offense is something we haven’t done since Andy was here. If we’re healthy, we’ve got depth, we’ve got pieces that fit.”
There’s no guarantee on the latter, of course.
Senior wing Christian Carlyle, who started 24 games last year, will miss all of his final season after needing surgery for a shoulder injury suffered playing summer pickup basketball.
And the 6-foot, 9-inch, 255-pound Thomas – who shot a team-best 67.2 percent last year, led FGCU with 44 blocked shots and was second with 4.7 rebounds a game – was held out of most summer activities as a precaution following surgery last year for a stress fracture in his leg.
Still, with plenty of new arrivals – and one vacant scholarship FGCU might keep open or use on a midseason transfer if the right player surfaces – the Eagles like their options.
“I’m excited,” Catto said. “We have a lot of new pieces. I just look forward to the challenge of competing each day, worrying about ourselves and letting the rest take care of itself.”