PHILADELPHIA — It is the one certainty of the NCAA men's basketball tournament: The early rounds will produce a team of unheralded upstarts that topples a perennial power and captivates the nation with its pluck humble background and joyful style of play.
This year's upstart hails from a university that, compared with the sport's longtime powerhouses, was born yesterday: Florida Gulf Coast, which on Friday became an overnight sensation by routing Georgetown, then Sunday beat San Diego State to improbably reach the Sweet 16. One of the sport's bluebloods, and one that has legitimate designs on reaching the Final Four.
The plot twist in this year's college basketball fairy tale? Cinderella is coached by Prince Charming.
Make that a charmed prince of a guy, by all accounts, who could have retired in his 30s after amassing sufficient riches as co-founder of a health care-related technology company. Instead, Andy Enfield, a Johns Hopkins graduate who earned an MBA in finance at the University of Maryland, abandoned Wall Street and, accompanied by his lingerie-model bride who put her own high-wattage career on hold, headed south to chase a dream of coaching basketball.
Now, in just his second year as a head coach, Enfield's Eagles have made history. On Friday, they became only the seventh No. 15 seed to upset a No. 2 seed since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, beating Georgetown of the mighty Big East. The Hoyas featured the league's coach of the year in John Thompson III and player of the year in Otto Porter Jr., and stormed to the regular season conference title. Instead, Georgetown was sent packing by a little-known but high-flying opponent.
"When you watch them on tape, they're athletic. They're big and athletic. It's not a small little team. And they played very well today," Thompson said after the game.
Then, with a victory over seventh-seeded San Diego State on Sunday, Florida Gulf Coast became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. It's not a bad accomplishment for a school of about 13,000 students on the edge of the Florida Everglades in Fort Myers, one that was established only in 1991, didn't hold its first class until 1997 and is often mistaken for a community college. The school did not begin competing on the NCAA's highest level until 2007. It plays in the unheralded Atlantic Sun conference, which is filled with little-known programs such as Kennesaw State, Lipscomb and South Carolina Upstate.
"I aim for the stars," says Enfield, 43, who seemingly leads a life that legions of basketball-crazed office-workers can only fantasize about.
But asked Saturday if he truly was "The Most Interesting Man in the World," a reference to the character in television commercials for Dos Equis beer, the gap-toothed Enfield, who holds the NCAA record for free throw shooting percentage (92.5) from his playing days at Johns Hopkins in the late 1980s and early '90s, demurred.
"I'm a pretty simple person," said Enfield, who was reared in Shippensburg, Pa., the son of two schoolteachers. "It is a little chaotic around my household at times, with three small children. Being a basketball coach is not an easy profession, from the weird hours and weekends and holidays. But as far as interesting, I'd say I'm way down on the list."
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Enfield's narrative may be the stuff of dreams, but it's rooted in hard work and unflagging belief.
"I've never been one to not try to do things and look for opportunities; I take those shots," Enfield said, before adding, "I've failed numerous times."
The wooing of his wife, Amanda, whose modeling career was at its peak when they met a decade ago in New York, was an exception.
It was March 2003, and a mutual friend suggested Enfield drive Amanda, an Oklahoma native, to an NCAA tournament game in Boston, where her beloved Oklahoma State was playing. She already had tickets; he offered to spare her the $500 flight.
"I pulled up to the Starbucks in Manhattan," Enfield recalled Saturday. "As soon as I saw Amanda get in my car, I knew it would be a good trip."
Their first official date was the following week: a National Invitation Tournament game between St. John's and Virginia in Queens, N.Y. The only place Enfield could find for dinner beforehand was an on-campus Taco Bell, and a romance bloomed over basketball and burritos.
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A decade later, sports fans across the country are smitten with college basketball's man of the moment and his high-flying Eagles.
Johns Hopkins Coach Bill Nelson, who was among the throng at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center on Friday cheering on Florida Gulf Coast against Georgetown, couldn't be more proud.
"He is different than a lot of people," said Nelson, who out-recruited the Ivy League to land Enfield, sorely in need of a dead-eye shooter. "He sees the big picture in everything. Those are the kind of people who are pretty much successful at anything. He was a huge success in the business world but has a passion for basketball. He wanted to get into coaching."
Enfield, whose father coached junior high school basketball and built a full-size court in the family's back yard, had his shooting technique down upon arrival at Johns Hopkins, Nelson said, and he led the team in scoring all four years. To improve his defense, Nelson said, Enfield played in Washington's fiercely competitive Kenner League the summer after his junior year.
The first Johns Hopkins basketball player to earn an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, Enfield used the proceeds to pay for business school at Maryland. To make ends meet, he started a lacrosse camp on Maryland's Eastern Shore with Johns Hopkins classmate Dave Pietramala, now the school's lacrosse coach. He also started a basketball shooting camp. After business school, he set up shop as a shooting consultant for NBA players, with former University of Maryland star Walt Williams among the early clients of All Net Basketball.
That led to a job as a shooting coach for the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and, later, the Boston Celtics.
After relocating to New York, Enfield diversified his client list and branched out into instructional videos, teaching himself to shoot left-handed as a way of vetting his methods. He sold the video worldwide through his company, OnNetShooting.com. At roughly the same time, he joined a partnership that launched a health-services start-up based on a technology called Tracked Manager. Though health care wasn't his field, finance was. The company soon was worth $100 million.
Among those taking note of Enfield's work with NBA players was Leonard Hamilton, at the time the coach at the University of Miami. Hamilton became coach at Florida State in 2002, and offered Enfield a job on his staff in 2006.
"He had a confident way about him," Hamilton said in a telephone interview Saturday. "It was easy for the players to respect him because he had worked with a number of high-profile NBA players. He could relate to the kids, and it was easy for them to believe and trust him."
That quality is what enabled Enfield to coax a cadre of gifted athletes who'd been overlooked by Division I powers like Duke, Kentucky and Georgetown to Florida Gulf Coast, which plays its home games in a gymnasium that seats only 4,500.
But in his second season as the Eagles' head coach, Enfield has the Eagles playing with freewheeling abandon, believing they can beat anyone in the NCAA tournament as long as they stick to their own, up-tempo brand of basketball that was such a hit with fans Friday against Georgetown.
After the Eagles ground out a 24-22 lead at the half, Enfield told his players not to get lulled into the deliberate, methodical game Georgetown favors. He told them to run. He told them to shoot whenever they had an opening, because they needed to score in the 60s, 70s or 80s to beat Georgetown. And the Eagles went out and scored another 54 points in the second half, sealing the 78-68 victory with a jaw-dropping array of dunks and three-pointers that the Hoyas could only admire.
Said Georgetown junior guard Markel Starks afterward: "A lot of time the public doesn't understand that it's a lot of pressure to succeed. . . . They just flat-out out-played us."
In other words, Enfield's Eagles aimed for the stars.