Oct 21, 2014

FGCU 2014-15 Non-Conference Schedule Preview

By: Sterling Thomas

FGCU has always strived to play a competitive non-conference schedule year in and year out. This year however it proved to be more difficult thanks in large part to the Eagle’s recent success. To many schools in bigger conferences, playing a team like FGCU is a scary prospect. Not only because they may lose and hurt their strength of schedule (SOS), but they are also most likely paying for the game and would prefer the easy win so their fans can go home happy. Coach Dooely and Athletic Director Ken Kavanagh worked together to craft the best schedule possible with the limitations of being a top mid-major program this season.

The season begins with three games within the cozy confines of Alico Arena. The first of which will be a tune up game against Nova Southeastern on November 15th. The Sharks (D-II) return their top six scorers from a squad that went 13-17 (8-8) with a 77-59 win over FIU. While they should be an improved team, and will give FGCU all they have, Nova just does not have the horses to run with the Eagles. As a team that only went seven deep last year, the Sharks must capitalize on every opportunity they’re given or they will be overwhelmed by the size and depth of the Eagles.

Next up, the Eagles play the first half of an in-season home and home series with UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos return six players that played at least ten minutes a game as they went 21-9 (12-4) last season. Prior to coming to Alico, UCSB will stop in Kansas to play the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse. Alan Williams is the player to watch in this matchup. The 6-foot-8, 265 pound senior averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds a game last season. He will be one of the best big men the Eagles will see all season and if he can be contained in the post, it bodes well for FGCU.

In the final game of their home stand, FGCU will be hosting Ohio Bobcats. The Bobcats lost a lot of talent off of last season’s 25-12 effort, but they should still be squarely in the thick of things in the MAC this season. The talent on this team begins with the big man Maurice Ndour, who averaged 13.8 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks a game. Ndour is a force on both sides of the ball with his extremely long frame. The biggest question for Ohio is can all the newcomers do enough to help supplement the returnees efforts.

Florida Gulf Coast leaves Alico Arena for it’s first game away from home, but they won’t have to travel far. The Eagles will be playing down the road at Germain Arena for the Gulf Coast Showcase. They're guaranteed three games in the event and are matched up with Marist in the first round. Even though Marist went 12-19 last season, the Red Foxes return some very good players in 6-foot-5 wing Chavaughn Lewis and last season's MAAC rookie of the year Khallid Hart. The duo combined to average over 32 points per game and will prove to be a tough test for the Eagle’s defense. The other six teams in the tournament are Hawaii, San Francisco, Green Bay, ECU, Fresno State, and Evansville. Playing so close to home, FGCU should be the favorite to win the event.

The Eagles play their first true road game of the season when they travel to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to take on the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State University.The Jackrabbits are in a bit of a rebuilding year after losing not one, but three players who scored 1,000 points in their careers. This doesn’t mean it will be an easy win for FGCU. SDSU has some very capable players that will be looking to make their mark on the program. Cody Larson has been an excellent inside presence, averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds a game, ever since he arrived from Florida and figures to be one of the main options going forward. The other player to watch is Deondre Parks, a JUCO All-American.

Next up, FGCU returns home to play Florida Tech. The Panthers have two very dynamic guards in Chris Carter and Jermaine Jackson. Both players are Division-II preseason all-americans and know how to score the ball. Carter makes his presence felt in every aspect of the game, averaging 17.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game. Not to be out-shined by his counterpart Jackson, who averaged 19.5 points and 4.1 rebounds last season.

The Eagles hit the road for Massachusetts where they will face the first of three 2014 NCAA Tournament teams. The game against the Minutemen will be played in Springfield, Massachusetts for the Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase Game. UMass plays a very uptempo game and plans to press teams this season. The question for the Minuteman is who will step up to be the go-to-guy. Four different players averaged between eight and twelve points last season, and if they want to compete for back to back tournament bids then one of the quartet must step up. At 6-foot-10, Cady Lalanne is the biggest returning player from last year’s squad. He averaged 11.3 points and 7.9 rebounds a game and used his length to block 71 shots last season.

FGCU travels back home where they hope to get some revenge against FIU. Last season, the Eagles had a 56-48 with 7:20 left in the game. From that point on the Panthers went on a 24-5 run to close the game and win 72-61. The Panthers lose their top two scores from last season but bring in a few transfers in the hope of making up for their loses. Adrian Diaz from Kansas State is a big man who knows how to finish around the rim. In his final season with K-State he averaged 3.0 points a game in limited minutes. Ray Rodriguez also transferred to FIU, and should provide a weapon from outside. Ray attended UNF his freshman year and played a combined 21 minutes against the Eagles in the 2012-2013 season. The final transfer is JUCO All-American Tashawn Desir, who averaged 13.1 points and 4.5 assists a game last season. He should provide some much needed depth in the backcourt for the Panthers.

Furman comes to Dunk City a season after losing a thrilling game at home to the Eagles. Brett Comer hit two free throws with six seconds left in the game to give FGCU the one point win. Led by Stephen Croone, who averaged 19.1 points per game, the Paladins will be looking to return the favor and beat the Eagles at home. It will be a bit of a homecoming for big man Kendrec Ferrara, a Mariner High School alum. The big man from Cape Coral averaged just under 10 points a game as a sophomore and is primed to step into a bigger role this season. After Furman, the Eagles will hit the road for its longest road trip of the season, and the first stop is New Rochelle, New York to take on Iona. The Gaels were one of the highest scoring offenses in the nation last season, averaging 83.5 points per game. That should be the case again this season with Iona sporting four different double digit scoring returnees.

Next stop on the trip is Xavier in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Musketeers lose their top two scorers from last season and must find someone to fill the void left behind. This year they will be a younger team with a talented group of six freshmen, including two ESPN Top-100 players. Both Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura averaged over 30 points per game as high school seniors. If they can provide a scoring punch as freshman, Xavier could challenge for the Big East title and return to the NCAA tournament.

The final and likely toughest test on the trip is at Pittsburgh. Pitt has made the NCAA Tournament in ten of the last eleven season so the Panthers are no strangers to success. They will rely on its experience with senior guard Cameron Wright and junior guard James Robinson. The pair will give Pitt a little of everything but may make their biggest impact on the defensive side of the ball (119 steals).

The Eagles finally return home just in time for the new year and are greeted by the Gyrenes of Ave Maria. The NAIA club finished 12-19 last season. In last season’s matchup, FGCU won, 79-56, in dominating fashion. Although the Gyrenes return their top two scorers in Matt Chattin and Wendell Powell, expect this season’s game to be much like last year’s with the Eagles winning this one comfortably.

FGCU finishes their out of conference with a familiar foe in UC Santa Barbara. This time however the Eagles will travel out to California for the matchup. This game will be the farthest west the Eagles have traveled since they went to Hawaii in 2005 when they were a D-II school.
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Oct 13, 2014

Canadian PG Elijah Long Commits To Florida Gulf Coast

2015 point guard Elijah Long (John Carroll HS, MD) committed to Florida Gulf Coast after a weekend visit to Dunk City, he announced Monday.

“I just felt it was the best fit for me...the style of play - they play exactly how I play with fast tempo, lot of screens." Long said of his decision. "Coach Dooley connected with me on the visit. He was very open about life, not even about basketball. He's very serious on the court and a funny guy off the court."

The Mississauga, Ontario native is widely considered one of Canada's best players in the 2015 class and averaged 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on the EYBL circuit with CIA Bounce this summer. Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tyler Ennis, are just a few of the storied alums of the Toronto based AAU program.

"When I was nine or ten years old, very few people from Canada made it to the NBA," Long said. "As I grew older, there was Wiggins, Bennett, Ennis. I never thought they would make it to the NBA because I just thought it was a whole other level. I couldn't believe it. "

"When I see a bunch of those guys making it to the pros, not even in the NBA, it really opens my eyes and shows me it's not just a dream. It's a reality and you work hard and do the right things you might end up in the NBA or playing pros overseas," Long continued.

Verbal Commits ranks Long as a two-star prospect. He held an offer from Old Dominion with interest from other schools such as Purdue and George Washington.

"I'm a pass first point guard. I can score the ball when I want, but I tend to get everyone else involved," Long said. "My strength is, believe it or not, to get to the cup. I drive a lot. I never had a jumper when I was younger so I was always driving. Now that I developed a jumper, it opens up the lane for me."

Elijah developed his game playing at a young age with his brother and current Iowa State guard Naz Long. The junior averaged 7.1 ppg in 20 mpg last season as the Cyclones advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

"We were never the best players when we were younger," Long said of he and his brother. "I just saw how hard he worked. It's a blessing for him and an eye opener for me: work hard and you can achieve your goals."

The determined floor general becomes the second commitment of FGCU's 2015 class as small forward Rayjon Tucker gave his pledge to the Eagles in late September. Assistant coach Jamill Jones was the lead recruiter for both prospects.

With a slew of seniors graduating at the conclusion of this season, the Eagles have two remaining scholarship spots for the 2015-16 season. There will be a lot of minutes up for grabs next year as Long, and many other new faces in the program, seek to build on Dunk City's success.

"I'm definitely trying to put Florida Gulf Coast on the map with my teammates, even more so than it is now. Try to make it to the Sweet Sixteen and be the loudest team in the tournament," Long said of his goals in Fort Myers. "Basically, I just want to grow on the court and off the court...with my coaches and educationally."
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Sep 30, 2014

2014/15 FGCU Basketball Positional Preview

On paper, FGCU has more talent than ever before. The Eagles return 58% of their scoring, 57% of their rebounding, and 66% of their assists. Going into the season, Florida Gulf Coast is the prohibitive favorite to win the Atlantic Sun and return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.  In addition to the players that FGCU retains, the Eagles also bring in a ton of new talent in a quintet of transfers from Rice, UNLV, Tulane and Auburn, as well as one of the best recruiting classes in the conference.

Unfortunately there will always departures to go with the additions, most notably, Chase Fieler. Fieler was integral to FGCU’s success last season averaging fourteen points and seven and a half rebounds a game. Other departures include the transfers of Dajuan Graf and Eric McKnight, and walk-on Kevin Boyle, and the season long injuries to both senior forward Filip Cvjeticanin and highly touted freshman guard Zach Johnson.

Point Guard
Starter: Brett Comer
It’s no secret in Dunk City that Brett Comer is back again to command the offense in his final season at the helm of the Eagles, so it should come as no surprise that Comer is closing in on the Atlantic Sun all time assist record at 623. “Agent Zero” is fourteen assists from the record and will spend a majority of the season cushioning his record. Comer is a preseason All-Conference guard and likely one of the best mid-major point guards in the entire country. Without Comer, the Eagle’s offense would likely stall and truly put a damper on the season.

Backup Options:
Although the starter is well established, the backup point guard has yet to be determined. The early candidates are Auburn transfer Brian Greene, who is better described as a combo guard, and freshman Christian Terrell, who is more of a scorer and slasher than a distributer. Fellow freshman Zach Johnson was brought in to be Comer’s heir apparent, but due to an undisclosed injury he will redshirt this season. The early advantage would have to go to Greene due to the fact that he has a year in the program and should know the playbook better. This battle could possibly run over into the season and depending on how they play, we may not have a definitive backup point guard until December rolls around.

Shooting Guard
Starter: Bernard Thompson
Thompson has been an integral part of the offense since the day he stepped on to the sunny campus of FGCU. Combining with Comer to create one of the most experienced backcourts in the country, the all time leading scorer for the program comes into the season with high expectations on both sides of the ball. Not only is Bernard already in the top fifty all time in the conference for scoring, but he is also twelfth all time in the conference for steals.

Backup Options: 
The early consensus is that Rice transfer Julian DeBose will be Thompson’s primary backup this season. The 6’4” guard averaged ten points a game two years ago, so he is already something of a known quantity. Not only did he score well at Rice, but he was also a solid rebounder from the guard position. The other contenders for minutes at the backup shooting guard position are again the versatile Greene and Terrell. Both players are solid scorers and if given the chance they will both finish with authority at the rim despite their relative lack of size.

Small Forward

Starter: Jamail Jones
Jones came to FGCU as a transfer from Marquette and after sitting out the 2012-2013 season, started thirty-two games as a redshirt junior. After a somewhat slow start while he adjusted to his third coach in as many years, Jamail came on strong and scored double digits in ten of his final thirteen games. The senior is the team’s leading returning rebounder and will continue to bring energy every time he is on the court.

Backup Options:
Much like how Greene and Terrell could play both guard positions, DeBose could also be a backup option at the small forward position if the Eagles choose to go small at any point in time. His main competition for those minutes would be the highly touted redshirt freshman Logan Hovey. Hovey was expected to contribute last year, but unfortunately his season ended before it could even begin thanks to a stress fracture in his leg.  The walk-on transfer from Auburn, Nick Peller, could also grab some spot minutes if the situation calls for it.

Power Forward
Starter: Marc-Eddy Norelia
This is where things get a little hairy for the Eagles. Gone is all time leading rebounder Chase Fieler. Tasked with filling the void left by Fieler is a talented group of transfers. The early leader is Norelia who is an athletic jumping jack who could provide the same kind of spark as Fieler in transition and slashing to the hoop.

Backup Options: 
Two other transfers, Demetris Morant from UNLV and Eric Moeller from Missouri and College of Central Florida (JUCO), will battle Norelia for playing time. Morant is very much like Norelia in the fact that he jumps out of the gym and can finish with power around the rim. If he is able to learn the playbook he could be a big time factor throughout the entire season. Moeller is a walking mismatch given his height (6’11”) and his ability to shoot the three. If he can prove effective playing on the perimeter on offense and provide a defensive force on the other side of the ball, he could soften the loss of senior forward Filip Cvjeticanin - the team’s leading three point shooter last season. The final big man in play for minutes at power forward is none other than the Mayor of Dunk City himself, Marcus Blake. He has been in the program for a long time and has tasted success and knows what it takes to get there. Marcus will give you everything he has whenever he is on the court and can always be counted on to rally the troops if things are not going well.

Starter: Nate Hicks
Hicks went down in the final game of the season last year with an ACL tear in his left leg. When Hicks is healthy, he is an imposing player on the defensive side of the ball accounting for over 33% of the team’s blocks by himself. Though his stats don’t suggest Nate had a good year, that has more to do with the fact that he split time at center with Eric McKnight and because FGCU is more of a perimeter oriented team.

Backup Options: 
It might be more center by committee with so many talented post players.  All four of the bigs could see time manning the middle depending on if the game plan calls for it. If the coaches are looking to push the tempo, then both Norelia and Morant would be great options for Comer to throw lobs to in the transition game. The same could be said for Moeller if the coaches are looking to spread the floor on the offensive side of the ball. In all likelihood all four of the bigs could finish between fifteen and twenty-five minutes a game.

Written by Sterling Thomas
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Sep 24, 2014

2015 SF Rayjon Tucker Commits To FGCU

Florida Gulf Coast landed their first commitment of the 2015 class on Wednesday when Rayjon Tucker (Charlotte, NC) gave his verbal pledge to the Eagles.

"They just built a relationship with me and my family from the start," Tucker said. "I like how family oriented they are. I just felt like I was part of the family from day one. That was the main thing that pushed them to number one."

The small forward out of Northside Christian Academy took an official visit in late August and now a month later has announced his decision to continue his basketball career at FGCU in the fall of 2015.

"The campus is great and beautiful. It's not too hot. Most people think being in Florida is really hot," Tucker said. "The people and facilities are great. It's just a family environment."

While FGCU assistant Jamill Jones was on the lead for Tucker's recruitment, Joe Dooley traveled to Charlotte on Wednesday to watch the explosive wing. The Eagles ended up landing quite possibly the highest rated commit in FGCU history.

"The coaching staff likes how I play on both ends of the court...bringing intensity to the game and pushing everybody as hard as I push myself - just my work ethic," Tucker said.

Recruiting outlets evaluated the 6-foot-5 wing as a three/four star prospect and the sky is the limit for high-flying Charlotte product. 247Sports ranked him as the No. 111 player in the class of 2015.

Pretty impressive for someone who just started focusing on the sport two years ago. Tucker gave up football, where he played wide receiver, and started playing solely basketball his sophomore year.

"I just loved basketball more. The desire in my heart was to play basketball more than football," Tucker said.

He exploded onto the recruiting scene this summer and started attracting high major interest. Tucker held offers from Virginia Tech, Boston College, VCU, Clemson, and Auburn, among others. He attributed that to his multifaceted game.

"I'm a slasher, mid-range. I play defense and rebound the well and am great in open space," said Tucker, who also mentioned improving his ball handling and shot.

Remember how internet sensation and current FGCU freshman guard Christian Terrell seemed like a perfect fit at Dunk City for his above the rim antics? I think you can throw Tucker in that same category (just check out his mixtape)

"Without a doubt. That was what led me to my decision as well. The style of play is fast, up tempo - just like my high school and AAU teams. That's what I excel at most," Tucker said.

He plans on signing his NLI to FGCU during the early signing period in November (Nov. 12-19).
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Sep 22, 2014

Interview with FGCU Men's Soccer's Albert Ruiz

(Courtesy of Captive Photons)
Last Friday morning I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down for an interview with FGCU men's soccer's own Albert Ruiz. Ruiz is a freshman forward that stands 6'2", 180 pounds, and has started all seven of the games for the Eagles so far. Albert hails from Barcelona, Spain, putting him about 4,730 miles away from his home.

Admittedly, I am not the world's biggest soccer fan, in fact the only time I watch is every four years when the World Cup rolls around. I'm sure that my definition of "football" is extremely different from what he knows as "fĂștbol." Despite that, getting to talk to Ruiz one on one was extraordinary to me.

I asked him why he came to America, a country that is not rich in soccer tradition, to continue his playing career. He explained to me that the economic situation in Spain is "difficult," and that there "is not much money in the soccer world." He went on to tell me how Bob Butehorn, head coach of the Eagles, came to see him play at his home, and how he visited FGCU in April where he cited the school, the players, and the climate as reasons he decided to attend. 

Like most athletes, Ruiz grew up playing his respective sport. As soon as he was walking, he was playing soccer. He talked about how his grandfather use to be a goalkeeper, and that he learned play forward by trying to score on him as a child. 

Considering that it is rarely easy for any new college student, athlete or not, to adjust immediately to a new setting, I asked Ruiz how he is adapting to life at FGCU. 

"It's not easy because I have always lived in Barcelona with my friends, family, my girlfriend. I have everything there, and suddenly I am here alone with myself. And you know it's not easy to do everything by yourself, you have to cook, you have to wash your clothes, you have to make payments, you have to do everything by yourself. It's not easy, but it's going well. Everyday is better than the other one."

Ruiz said that so far the decision to come to FGCU has been a good one. 

The Eagle soccer team currently has a record of 1-3-3, but was ranked #24 in the country before last weekend. Before Saturday's tie against Brown they had suffered three gut wrenching one goal losses in a row to San Francisco, St. Mary's, and #8 Washington. Despite the tough stretch, Ruiz is still confident in the team's ability to bounce back.
Courtesy of Captive Photons
"I think that the most important period will be November with the big games," said Ruiz, "we have to learn and grow to be there as good as we can. This is a process, we are still working. That is all. Big moments and big games will be in November. We are just learning how to win those games."

Although the past week has not gone as planned for the FGCU men's soccer team, coaches across the country have obviously seen something out of them that prompted them to vote the Eagles in the top 25. This is a very talented team that has yet to find its footing. They have scored a total of only 3 goals in 7 games, yet they average over 14.5 shots per game. Once they start finding the back of the net, wins will follow. When I asked him what his expectations were for the team going forward, Ruiz gave an inspired response. 

"Why not? We can go to the NCAA tournament, and when we get there let's see what happens." 

Funny he should answer like that. It reminds me of the attitude of another FGCU athletic team that made it to the NCAA tournament. 

Use the audio player below to listen to the entire interview. Special thanks to Albert Ruiz for making this possible!

By: Cameron J. Kaiser
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Sep 18, 2014

Joey Cantens Recaps Summer With Dominican Republic National Team

It all started with a simple phone call four years ago. Joey Cantens reached out to then Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua in hopes of watching the Dominican Republic at training camp in Lexington.

"My goal was to watch the practices, and I was just trying to learn," Cantens said. "Being young and new in the business, I was just looking for a learning opportunity watching practices.

The basketball minded Cantens, fluent in both Spanish and English, stuck and "next thing I knew, I was applying for a Visa to go to Brazil that summer."

Since then, Cantens has worked on John Calipari's staff every summer as they made continual progress in FIBA competition. Led by multiple NBA players, including Al Horford, the Dominican Republic captured third place in the FIBA America Championships in 2011, landing them a spot in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

This spring, the Florida Gulf Coast director of basketball operations left his position in Dunk City to continue his work with the national team, as well as with Leones de Ponce (a club team in the Dominican).

During the first portion of this summer, Cantens served as a delegate to the federation under new head coach Orlando Antigua (Calipari stepped down in 2013).

"I was in charge of all team operations," Cantens said. "Including game schedule, practices, travel, etc. [for the Olympic qualifying in Mexico]"

As the team shifted focus towards the World Games in Spain, Cantens took on a role as equipment manager but had a hands-on approach on the floor.

"It's not like the NCAA where they have I am allowed to be on the floor, unlike my operations role at FGCU," Cantens said. "And of course I was a translator."

The Dominican Republic entered the FIBA World Cup ranked 26th in the world and, like many other countries, were heavy underdogs.

"The biggest challenge this summer was managing the players' health because it was a 2.5 month summer. All these players are pros and make money elsewhere so you have to be careful not wearing their bodies out," Cantens said. "So I think our federation had a great idea making two teams for this summer so that our guys did not wear out."

Led by Rockets guard Francisco Garcia (17.6 points per game), they exceeded all expectations by escaping pool play and qualifying for the 2nd round for the first time in Dominican history.

"Everyone was extremely proud. I believe the reason for our success was the lack of egos on our team. From coaches to players, everyone forgot about their ego and had one goal, to win," Cantens said. "We had NBA coaches taking a lesser role, guys who are stars in their league that didn't get off the bench with this team. But no one was worried about that, everyone was worried about the team and not their personal interests."

The Dominican's spectacular results boosted them to 20th in the FIBA rankings, and the young squad isn't slowing down anytime soon. Team standouts Orlando Sanchez (St. John's) and Victor Liz have signed with the Knicks and Mavericks, respectively.

Cantens, meanwhile, will be headed back to the United States as well. The former FGCU DOBO will reunite with former colleague Andy Enfield at USC and serve as the Director of Video and Scouting for the Trojans.

"At FGCU my duties were more administrative, at USC I have more of a role with film, doing game planning and game preparation. It will be tough leaving, but I'm excited about the opportunity to learn and grow as a coach."

Headed to Southern California, Cantens still acknowledges that the possibilities are endless as he continues his budding coaching career. Who knows what opportunities another phone call may present?

"I love teaching basketball and the idea of making a group work together for a common goal. I'm not sure exactly where my path will take me but I'm open for anything," Cantens said. "The past six months have opened my eyes to how much basketball is out there in the world."
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Sep 16, 2014

Derric Jean Talks FGCU Visit & Recruitment

Florida Gulf Coast hosted 2015 guard Derric Jean, of Florida Flash and McArthur High School, on an official visit this past weekend.

"Everything, the campus and scenery, was just beautiful," Jean said of his trip to Dunk City.

The Eagles offered the explosive Hollywood, Fla. guard on July 11, after a phenomenal showing at Best of the South in Suwanee, Ga.

"The coaching staff likes my game penetrating the lane and handling the ball," Jean said. "...I'm at my best in transition and on the defensive end."

The stat stuffing prospect averaged 13.2 points, 3.4 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.8 steals en route to McArthur's 21-7 record last season. ESPN ranks the 6-foot-1 guard as a three star recruit and the 20th best player in Florida's 2015 class.

This was Jean's 2nd official visit of the fall as he already visited FIU and will be headed to Louisiana Tech next weekend, Sept. 20-21. He then plans to make a decision in November, before the high school season resumes.

In the meantime however, Jean wants to improve his "decision making and shooting." He also voiced his focus on communicating better with his teammates on the floor.

You can check out his high school highlights below.
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Aug 28, 2014

FGCU Freshman Guard Zach Johnson To Redshirt 2014-15 Season

Florida Gulf Coast men's basketball freshman Zach Johnson will redshirt the 2014-15 season due to an undisclosed medical reason, the school announced on Thursday.

“This is a challenging time for me as I was really looking forward to starting my playing career at FGCU,” Johnson said in the release. “But I understand this decision is in my best interest, and I’d like to thank everyone who has advised and supported me through the process, in particular coach Dooley, my teammates and my high school coach Lawton Williams. Right now I’m just going to do everything the doctors tell me to do, and hope that I can get back on the court soon.”

After exploding onto the high school scene during his junior season, the 6-foot-2 guard committed to FGCU last fall. Most recruiting outlets ranked him as a three star prospect and his phenomenal play landed him on the All-State 1st Team.

“I’m saddened to learn that Zach won’t be able to play this year. He and his family have been unbelievable during this whole process, and Zach and his mother, Irose, have been, and will continue to be, an extremely important part of our program,” Dooley said. “I wish Zach and his family nothing but the best during this difficult time. Though he’s only been with us for short time, Zach has been a tremendous competitor who has made everyone better, and he’s done it with a smile and terrific personality. We hope that he’s able to get back on the court, but in the meantime he will continue to be a valued member of our program.”

With Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson entering their senior seasons, as well as Julian DeBose and Brian Greene Jr. coming off redshirt years, it was unlikely that Johnson would have seen a heavy load of playing time this year.

Johnson will still be eligible to practice and should have a good handle on the Eagles system come 2015-16. Given his potential, the explosive point guard should be a force in the A-Sun in the coming years.
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Aug 21, 2014

Chris Sale: FGCU's Best is now one of MLB's Best

When I hear "Florida Gulf Coast University athletics" come up in a conversation, two immediate thoughts pop into my head. The first topic is of course Dunk City. If you haven't been living under a rock for the past two years, then you are at least somewhat familiar with the FGCU men's basketball team's miraculous run to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament. The second topic, but definitely not any less noteworthy, is Chris Sale.

I would hope that anyone that reads a sports website on Florida Gulf Coast University is familiar with who Chris Sale is. If you are familiar with Chris Sale, good, he's a spectacular pitcher in Major League Baseball. If you are not familiar with Chris Sale, then strap in, keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times, and prepare to become familiar with the three time MLB All Star. Regardless of whether you know who he is or not, Sale is having a masterful 2014 season, and there are plenty of statistics that verify that.

Sale is from Lakeland, Florida. He attended Lakeland Senior High School where he played baseball. His fastball generally sat between 83 and 86 MPH, while his change up sat high 70s and his curveball high 60s. The skinny southpaw always had goof stuff, but was not heavily recruited out of high school because of his odd "inverted-W" throwing motion. In 2007, after his senior year in high school, Sale was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 21st round of the MLB First Year Player Draft. Instead of signing the contract to play pro ball at the age of 18, Sale opted to go to college to play at FGCU.

Chris Sale pitched for the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles from 2008 to 2010 and was named the college baseball National Player of the Year in 2010. In three seasons at FGCU Sale threw 228.2 innings with a 2.53 ERA, 293 strikeouts, and only allowed 51 walks. What's even more impressive are his peripherals. Sale had an absurd 11.57 K/9 rate (strikeouts per nine innings), a minuscule 2.01 BB/9 rate (walks per nine innings), and a low WHIP (walks + hits per inning) of 1.11. Yeah, that's a pretty darn good three year run.

Many of those great numbers were in part because his 2010 National Player of the Year campaign was off-the-charts good. In 2010 Sale appeared in 17 games, 15 of which he started, and totaled 103 innings. He had an ERA of 2.01, walked only 14 batters, and led the country in strikeouts with 146. Once again his peripherals back up his dominant season. In his final season at FGCU Sale had a 12.76 K/9 rate, a 1.22 BB/9 rate, a 7.25 H/9 rate (hits per nine innings), and a WHIP of 0.94. Yep, those are the kind of statistics that get you labeled as the best pitcher in college baseball.

Chris Sale's success led to him being drafted 13th overall by the Chicago White Sox in the 2010 MLB First Year Player Draft. After logging a mere 10.1 innings in the Minor Leagues in 2010 Sale was called up to the Chicago White Sox on August 4th, and made his Major League debut on August 6th out of the bullpen. In his rookie season Sale logged 23.1 innings of work with an ERA of 1.93, along with 32 strikeouts.
Today, Chris Sale finds himself as the ace of the White Sox pitching staff. He is widely regarded across baseball as one of the top 10 pitchers in Major League Baseball, and one of the top 3 left handed pitchers. Although the South Side Sox find themselves in fourth place of the American League Central Division, Chris Sale has kept on performing at an exceptionally high level. Sale has been nothing short of spectacular since coming to the big leagues, but 2014 is proving to be his best season yet.

Chris Sale has made 20 starts in 2014, and has totaled 136 innings. All of the following statistics that I am about show you are the best of Sale's career since becoming a starter in 2012. Sale has an ERA of 2.12, a K/9 rate of 10.46, a BB/9 rate of 1.72, a H/9 rate of 6.55, and a WHIP of .92. Every single one of those categories is in the top 5 for starters in the MLB except for his BB/9, which is in the top 15.

There is another statistic that I like to use to measure the performance of a pitcher called FIP, or fielding independent pitching. FIP measures what a pitcher's ERA would be if he had a league average defense behind him. Sale's FIP is 2.42, which is good for 4th in Major League Baseball among starting pitchers, and another stat that is the lowest of his career. A few reasons behind Chris Sale's low FIP is that he is striking out 29.9% of the batters he is facing (highest of career), allowing a 18.3% line drive rate (lowest of career), and a 42% ground ball rate (lowest of career), so he's not leaving a whole lot for his defense to potentially mess up.

Put simply, Chris Sale has been taking care of business on the mound his entire life, and he is only getting better. The lanky lefty that use to sit 86 MPH is now sitting 96 MPH, and his slider that use to be a pitch he needed to work on is now widely considered one of the nastiest pitches in all of baseball. If Sale hadn't missed starts between April and May with a strained flexor muscle in his left arm, he'd be right in the thick of the AL Cy Young conversation. Even with his injury Chris Sale has been worth 4.5 WAR (wins above replacement) which is good for 6th in the American League.

Still, an AL Cy Young award is probably in Chris Sale's future. Sale is an established pitching power house in Major League Baseball, and he is only 25 years old. If recent history tells us anything about pitchers, then Sale hasn't even reached the age of his prime yet. It's hard to imagine Chris Sale getting any better, but with the way he is consistently improving his statistics every season, and as he continues to refine his pitches, he very well could keep improving. I would not be the least bit surprised if in a year or two I am writing about how the FGCU product is the best pitcher in Major League Baseball.

Written by Cameron J. Kaiser
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Aug 19, 2014

FGCU Minor League Wrap: Mid-August Edition

(Courtesy of Minda Haas)
With the middle of August upon us, the majority of the minor league seasons are drawing to a close. Across the country, there are currently 13 former Eagles in the minor league baseball system. All of these players are hoping to reach levels of stardom that arguably the most famous alum of Florida Gulf Coast University, Chris Sale, is experiencing. Sale’s last outing resulted in a frustrating no-decision after a sparkling 12 strikeout, two hit performance in eight shutout innings against the Giants. Sale’s 2.01 ERA ranks third in all of the majors, and he's also tallied 150 strikeouts in 130 innings.

Casey Coleman, RHP, Kansas City Royals/Omaha Storm Chasers/Iowa Cubs

Coleman has spent time with the Royals this season, allowing an earned run in 3 2/3 innings, but has played the majority of the year in AAA Omaha. There, he has posted a 2.45 ERA in 58 2/3 innings. His performance in short and long relief, as well as past MLB experience could make him a candidate to move up with Kansas City when the rosters expand on Sept. 1.

Jacob Barnes, RHP, Huntsville Stars/Brevard County Manatees (Milwaukee Brewers) 

Barnes has spent the majority of the year in AA Huntsville, posting a 2-5 record with a 4.61 ERA in 91 2/3 innings, a .249 OBA, and a 67-38 K/BB ratio. I got a chance to see Barnes in action on the CBS Sports Network Game of the Week on August 7th against Birmingham where he threw extremely well in seven innings of work, allowing four hits and an earned run. 

Richard Bleier, RHP, New Hampshire Fisher Cats/Buffalo Bison (Toronto Blue Jays)

Bleier has pitched for AA New Hampshire the majority of the season, posting a 4-5 record and a 4.28 ERA in 77 2/3 innings. He has primarily pitched in long relief while also making five starts this season. 

Stephen Wickens, INF, New Britain Rock Cats/Fort Myers Miracle (Minnesota Twins)

Wickens earned a promotion to AA New Britain after posting a .310 average in 58 ABs in June at A(Adv.) Fort Myers. He has found consistent playing time harder to come by, with a .209 BA in 115 ABs.

Brandon Bednar, INF, San Jose Giants/Augsuta GreenJackets (San Francisco Giants)

Bednar has had the best year of any offensive former Eagle in the minors this season, earning a promotion from A Augusta after posting a .275 BA in 291 ABs. He has adjusted well at A(Adv.) San Jose, recording a .282 BA in 131 ABs, while playing multiple positions on defense. He recently had a 13-game hitting streak, spanning from July 20th to August 3rd. 

Mike Reeves, C, Vancouver Canadians/Lansing Lugnuts/Dunedin Jays (Toronto Blue Jays)

Reeves has had an interesting trek through the Blue Jays system this season, starting out at A(Adv.) Dunedin and posting a .196 BA in limited action. He hit .223 at A Lansing in 92 ABs, and is currently at Short Season A Vancouver, and is 3-13 in three games.

Harrison Cooney, RHP, Burlington Bees (Los Angeles Angels)

Cooney has had an impressive season in his first full year as a starter at A Burlington. The former Eagle was a Midwest League All-Star, aided by a complete game shutout on May 30th against Peoria, striking out eight. Currently sporting a 8-7 record, posting a 2.73 ERA in 112 innings while allowing only a .221 OBA, he has struggled his last two outings allowing 9 earned runs over 9 2/3 innings.

Brandon Bixler, LHP, Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota Twins)

Bixler has posted an impressive season to date: going 6-4, and posting a 2.61 ERA over 65 1/3 innings. With a 70/34 K/BB ratio and a sparkling .191 OBA, Bixler has put up particularly solid numbers against righties. Right-hand hitters are only hitting .200 in 45 2/3 innings, and he only has allowed two home runs all season to Midwest League batters.

Ricky Knapp, RHP, Savannah Sand Gnats (New York Mets)

Knapp has posted solid numbers at A Savannah, going 7-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 112 innings, with a 88/38 K/BB ratio. Has posted a 3-0 record in August, with a 3.00 ERA in 18 innings. Opponents are hitting .278 against Knapp, in a historically hitter-friendly league.

Sean Dwyer, OF/1B, Tri-City Dust Devils/Modesto Nuts (Colorado Rockies)

Dwyer struggled at A(Adv.) Modesto, posting a .204 BA in 274 ABs, but after being sent to Short Season A Tri-City, he has registered a .276 BA in 116 ABs. The ex-FGCU star has heated up his last 10 games, with a .389 BA in 36 ABs, and a .820 OPS at Tri-City.

Tim Roberson, 1B, Greenvile Drive/Salem Red Sox (Boston Red Sox)

Roberson has split time with A(Adv.) Salem and A Greenville this season, posting a .219 BA in 151 ABs at Salem, and a .234 BA in 231 ABs at Greenville. He has a combined 25 doubles and eight home runs in 2014 to date, registering a .656 OPS in 382 ABs.

Michael Suchy, OF/1B Jamestown Jammers (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Suchy started slowly with Short Season A Jamestown, but has picked up his average to .249 in 181 ABs. The 5th round pick in this past year’s draft by the Pirates has posted a .294 BA in his last 10 games, but still is looking for his first professional home run.

Zach Tillery, RHP, Gulf Coast LeagueTwins (Minnesota Twins)

Tillery has posted a strong start to his professional career, with a 1.69 ERA in 26 2/3 innings. The former FGCU stud has only allowed 16 hits for a OBA of .178 with a 21/8 K/BB ratio in nine appearances, making four starts.

Written by Bryan Cooney, a recent addition to our FGCU Eagles Nest staff.

Greetings, Eagle fans! My name is Bryan Cooney, a recent graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University (sociology). I currently live on the east coast of Florida in Vero Beach and have spent the last three years at FGCU - finishing up my courses this past summer. I am the third in my family to have come to FGCU, following my older brother and younger brother, Harrison Cooney, who played on the baseball team from 2011 to 2013. Harrison was drafted in the 6th round by the Angels in 2013, and is currently in his second season in the minor leagues.

For this website, I will look to specialize in covering the former Eagles in the minor league system, tracking their progress during their seasons, and providing in-depth interviews. During my time at FGCU, I conducted a research project covering international student athletes that attended FGCU. I conducted interviews talking about their experiences, and I hope to expand upon this with interviews to get a perspective of these athletes. I am always interested in covering different angles and stories that viewers would find interesting. The presence of international student athletes has been something I noticed when I first came to campus, and I found it very cool to see at a young university such as FGCU. I will look to cover stories surrounding FGCU Athletics as they arise, with basketball being a primary focus as both the men's and women's teams look to reach the NCAA Tournament with strong rosters this upcoming season. 

You can follow me at @Coondog16 on Twitter, as I often share information about FGCU sports and former Eagles when I come across it, and also discuss things you may like to see covered in our articles! I look forward to contributing to the site and am really excited for our seasons to begin starting with the soccer teams and volleyball this month!
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