Cinderella FGCU hits home for McWilliams

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By John Herndon

Raise your hand if you really, truly knew the first thing, anything, about Florida Gulf Coast University before Friday night.

Be honest now. Did you really know anything about Sherwood Brown, Brett Comer and the millionaire coach with the super-model wife.

I asked for a show of hands on Twitter Sunday night. The answers were predictable. “In NKU's conference,” Travis Davis wrote.

That would be the Atlantic Sun, which Northern Kentucky University joined this year. NKU is just over the hill from Thomas More College, where Davis is a member of the football team.

But really know about Dunk City?

“My wife graduated from there,” said a tweet that seemed about as matter-of-fact as a Comer alley-oop.

It was from Lawrenceburg native Matthew McWilliams, who now lives near Birmingham, Ala.

As just about anyone who has followed Anderson County sports over the last 20 years knows, Matt was a starting guard on the Bearcats' Sweet 16 team in 1997 but his bigger mark came as a left-hand pitcher. Many believe he's the best to ever take the mound at Anderson.

He went on to Cumberland University in Tennessee, and was drafted in the 15th round of the 2001 Major League draft by the Cincinnati Reds. Arm troubles eventually ended a promising career, but with the Reds' training camp then being located in Sarasota, McWilliams spent quite a bit of time in south Florida.

And while there, McWilliams met his wife, Leanne, a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University.

Matt and I talked Monday night via Facebook.

McWilliams had been on the FGCU campus several times as the Reds' farm hands practiced on the Eagles' baseball field if the team was playing the Minnesota Twins or Boston Red Sox, both of which train in Ft. Myers, about an hour from Sarasota.

“The campus is exactly as you would expect it to be, small but very Florida-looking,” McWilliams remembers. “Their dorms are on a lake with a beach that is connected to the Gulf (of Mexico).

“Leanne loved it there.”

Since bursting on the national scene first with the upset of Georgetown on Friday and then with the in-your-face demolition of San Diego State Sunday the nation has fallen in love with FCGU, too.

It is a love directed at a 15-seed that trailed Northern Kentucky with 10 minutes to go when the teams played at the Bank of Kentucky Center last month.

“I haven't been to a basketball game there, but did see a few baseball games,” McWilliams says.

McWilliams says his college basketball blood still runs Kentucky blue, but like nearly every one else, he admits being intrigued by the guys nobody else had heard of as they get ready to take on the guys from Gainesville this week.

He says his wife can't get too worked up about her alma mater. “If she wasn't eight months pregnant she'd probably be more interested,” McWilliams said. The couple is expecting their first child, a son, on April 29.

“Leanne and I watched both games of theirs and honestly I think she is more in shock than excited,” McWilliams said. “I'm not even sure she knew they were in the tournament until I mentioned it to her. I think she is more excited now that they are getting all this publicity.”

Next year, the Eagles will probably be a trendy pick.

But now? McWilliams says, "I'm on board."


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