ESTERO — Before the doors of the charter bus carrying the
Florida Gulf Coast University men's basketball team even had a chance to swing open, a throng of weary-eyed fans converged to show their support for the hottest team in the nation.
A trio of police officers tried to hold the crowd at bay, but they soon learned the same lesson that both Georgetown and San Diego State found out in the NCAA Tournament: You can't hold back destiny.
"We're so proud of our Eagles and how far they've come and how united this school has become because of it," said Nikki McTernan, who was one of the 300 exhausted – yet ecstatic — fans on hand.
One of the first to offer up a heartfelt bear hug to those stepping off the bus was redshirt guard Jamail Jones, who has practiced with the team all season but didn't make the trip to Philadelphia with his teammates.
"Like any teammate should be, I can't even put into words how happy I am," Jones said.
The Eagles returned to
Alico Arena, the capitol of the newly dubbed "Dunk City," shortly before 4 a.m. Monday, having made history. With its 81-71 victory over the Aztecs, FGCU became the first team ever to advance to the "Sweet 16" as a No. 15 seed.
"I feel like we accomplished what we needed to accomplish so it feels pretty good," said forward Eric McKnight, who helped cement the term "Dunk City" with some aerial acrobatics on his way to a nine-point, four-block night.
"Slowly it's setting in. It's still pretty unreal," center Eddie Murray said. "It seemed like just a dream and now we've made it a reality."
"Unbelievable," said guard Chase Fieler, who had 11 points against the Aztecs. "You can't put words to this. We're making history."
"We see it right here, man. This is a great moment right now. You can start to feel it. It is really setting in," McKnight said.
The university will hold a pep rally to honor the team today at 6:30 p.m. at Alico Arena, and then it will be back to work for the Eagles, who will face the University of Florida in the next round of the tournament on Friday in Dallas' Cowboys Stadium.
"Obviously, we'll enjoy what we've done so far but at the same time we have to prepare for Florida," Murray said. "We leave in like two days, so we've got to stay focused but still enjoy it all."