By Pedro Velazco
Beau Bauer has been enjoying Florida Gulf Coast University’s wild ride through the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as much as anyone else who has watched the upstart school run and dunk its way into the Sweet 16.
“It’s fun,” said Bauer, a former Lewis Cass standout and Indiana All-Star who led the Kings to the 2003 Class 2A state championship. “It’s high-flying, it’s fast-paced. You can almost get a sense of how much fun they’re having by how they’re acting. It’s almost like you’re right there with them. It makes the games really fun to watch, which is all you can ask for.”
Bauer has a little more claim than most to feeling like he’s right there with them. He suited up for FGCU as a junior and senior after transferring from IPFW, and graduated from the school in 2008.
FGCU beat Georgetown 78-68 on Friday in the tourney’s round of 64, sending a jolt through the tournament. The Eagles are only the seventh No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 seed.
“It was pretty exciting,” Bauer said of the Georgetown game. “I had watched a few games throughout the year, been able to watch them [online] on ESPN3, so I knew they like to get up and down. I always knew they played good defense because of [coach Andy Enfiled’s] ties to Florida State. The thing that shocked me most, I think it was great to see we had a halftime lead, and when we came out in the second half, it was a bucket here, a basket there, a quick stop. Then it was a lob, then a 3-pointer and before you know it, it was a 9-0 run. I was shocked at how fast it turned around.”
The Eagles knocked out the Hoyas with cuts to the hoop, athleticism and confidence. That was crystallized by an audacious alley-oop dunk in the final two minutes, helping keep Georgetown at bay when the Hoyas desperately clawed back in the game down the stretch.
“You heard it mentioned a lot on TV, that they’re not conventional,” Bauer said. “On Friday night, [point guard Brett] Comer throws that lob when they’re up [seven points with under 2 minutes left]. Instead of burning clock, they go for the knockout punch.”
FGCU’s encore was just as good. The Eagles reached the Sweet 16 with an 81-71 victory over No. 7 seed San Diego State. With that, the jolt the Eagles put in the tourney had become a national shock wave.
In both games, the Eagles put together big runs in the second half that took down their opponents.
“The ability to put two games back-to-back like that, especially with one day in between to prepare, it shows tremendous growth in the program,” Bauer said. He marveled that the Eagles “basically put the same sort of run on San Deigo State in the second half that they did to Georgetown. ... All of the sudden they score 10 points on you before you can get a shot off. For them to do that, at that juncture, with everything on the line ... that’s pretty remarkable.”
The FGCU hoops program has come a long way in a short time. The school first enrolled students in 1997. When Bauer played, it was still a Division II school and enjoying a good ride there. His senior season was 2006-07, the school’s last in Division II. The next season the Eagles moved their sports programs to Division I and an NCAA-mandated four-year probationary period before becoming tournament-eligible last season.
“When we went down on our recruiting trip, me and another kid from [Indiana] Adam Liddell, who ultimately went there as well,” Bauer said. “When we went down I believe they had played two or three seasons of Division II, won 20 games. From the first year the program existed, there was no arena, all the administrators had offices in trailers. The commitment displayed for the initial group of guys to get it rolling, you can’t say enough about what they did to get better.
“My two years, from ’05 to ’07, we won 18 games the first year and then 27 or so the second [just missing the D-II tourney]. There was a lot of momentum heading into Division I.”
Bauer’s coach at FGCU was Dave Balza, who guided the squad until two seasons ago when the Eagles became tournament-eligible and the school decided to change skippers and hire Enfiled.
“The administration went with the change to coach Enfield after the four-year probation period and the result we see now is the result of their hard work. You’re seeing it now, how talented those guys are,” Bauer said. The upperclassmen are Balza’s old recruits, the freshmen and sophomores are Enfield’s. “It’s a nice mix and I’m sure they’re ecstatic how it’s turned out for their careers.”
The school has changed a great deal since its inception before Bauer hit campus, through his time, to now. Even then, it was an easy sell to a young recruit.
“It’s hard not to fall in love with it in a recruiting standpoint because of all it has to offer at that end,” Bauer said. “It’s gorgeous. The dorms sit right on a freshwater lake.
“Every time we’ve gone back, something is new, something is growing, something has been updated. The facilities are excellent, I know they’ve added degree programs. The growth has taken on all shapes, from athletics to academics. It’s taken off.”
Bauer now works at Notre Dame where he’s an account executive and operations manager, working in the school’s sports properties division.
He returns to Florida regularly to visit his wife’s family. His wife, Brittany, is a Florida native and they met when they were both FGCU students. That makes the connection to the school even stronger, and now the hoops team has given them a shot of pride.
“We’re very proud to be FGCU Eagles, and I’m particularly thankful to my former coach, coach Balza, for bringing me down there,” Bauer said. “It was the best decision I ever made, not only personally, but professionally to my career to this point. To see where we started to where we are now, and I think where we can go, I’m tremendously proud of the administrators of the school and the guys there now. We were there to get it started but it’s really taken off. I wish them all the luck.”