University of Kentucky graduate Michael Fly finds himself near ground zero of the best story so far in this year's NCAA Tournament. He's an assistant coach with Florida Gulf Coast, which anybody even casually paying attention knows became the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16 round.
"It's surreal," he said Monday of FGCU shocking Georgetown and then beating San Diego State last weekend.
Fly noted that he'd experienced the NCAA Tournament as a basketball office staffer at Florida State from 2008 through 2011.
"It's different now that I'm an assistant coach," he said, "and it's at a school nobody's ever heard of."
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Even Fly, who graduated from UK in 2006, did not know Florida Gulf Coast existed two years ago when Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton told him that was where he'd get to start his coaching career.
"My first thought was, 'Oh man, I spent a year working in the NBA and three at Florida State as video coordinator,'" Fly said. "'Now, I'm going to take a juco job.'
"I'm in the state and I didn't know what it was. I'd never heard of it in my life."
For the record, Florida Gulf Coast is a Division I school in Fort Myers. It opened for classes in 1997, which National Public Radio blogger Marak Memmott noted meant the players were older than the school.
Fly, 29, is a native of Fulton, Ky. To put that in context, he mentioned Paducah. "Another 45 minutes west of that," he said.
Fly grew up obsessed with basketball. He played for his high school team, but wasn't good enough to play for a Division I school.
"I decided to go to school and be a normal kid," he said.
But his love of basketball made that all but impossible. His friends teased him about always having to record NBA games before going out for college fun. When he returned, he'd watch the games.
"It finally got to the point I thought, I'd spent all my time doing this, it's stupid I'm not going to get into it as a career," he said. "I started trying to figure out how does a kid who didn't play college basketball get involved."
After his sophomore year, Fly went to see UK equipment manager Bill Keightley. He told Mr. Wildcat of his dream of becoming a coach. Keightley said he had a long line of UK students wishing to be a manager. He said he'd call then Georgetown Coach Happy Osborne and see if there was something Fly could do there.
Osborne welcomed Fly as a volunteer assistant coach in the 2004-05 season. It was an entry into the coaching world while continuing to be a UK student.
Fly, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in secondary education (focus on history with a minor in psychology), returned to UK as a full-time student as a senior in 2005-06.
While wondering about how realistic it was to try to be a coach, Fly applied on-line for an internship with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Good fortune smiled on him twice. Not only did he get the job, the team's assistant video coordinator left for a position with the Temple Owls' basketball program. Fly got that job.
When Michael Jordan arrived a year later and cleaned out, Fly took another internship, this time with the NCAA. A year later, he found himself back in Fulton again wondering about the difficulty of breaking into coaching.
One day his NCAA boss called to say that Hamilton was looking for a video guy with NBA experience. Fly was off to Florida State. He saluted Hamilton, the former UK assistant, for teaching him about recruiting. "You can't get a better education," he said.
Three years later, Hamilton told Fly about the move to Florida Gulf Coast, which had just hired former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield as its head coach.
Fly noted how Florida Gulf Coast is no fluke. The Eagles played competitively at VCU and Duke earlier this season. FGCU also beat Miami, which is a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Two Miami starters did not play in the game.
"You're not going to believe me, but we 'out-athleted' them," Fly said. "We were more athletic at every position except Shane Larkin."
Florida Gulf Coast next plays Florida.
"They won't be scared going into the game," Fly said of the FGCU players. "I know that."