Mel Thomas Is Really Loving Life At Florida Gulf Coast Now

by Categorized: 2013 NCAA Tournament, Florida Gulf Coast, Mel Thomas, UConn women's basketball Date:

Sometimes you just get lucky in life. Mel Thomas, the former UConn point guard, the noted author and three-point shooter, is in the midst of building her administrative career in women’s basketball at this tiny, little start up school in Ft. Myers, Fla.

You may have heard of it? Florida Gulf Coast? Great men’s basketball team, now in the Sweet 16. Bye-bye Georgetown and San Diego State?

Yes, that one.

I saw Melanie at the Paradise Jam Tournament in November. She was doing what the director of basketball operations for the Florida Gulf Coast women’s team does – administering to the small details than pave the path for the players and coaches.

And on Sunday, after the Eagles beat the Aztecs in the second-round, I asked her if she would be willing to write the Courant a little story about what it’s like to work in the men’s basketball capital of the nation.

Melanie said yes.

Read on…

“I woke up yesterday morning, unsure if it was all a dream.  A team from a no-name university makes history, becoming the first 15-seed to ever reach the Sweet 16.  Then I started to see the fury of headlines: “Cinderella With Serious Swagger”, “The Darlings of March Madness”, “Is FGCU America’s Team?”

   I realized I was no longer in Ft. Myers. I woke up in a high-flying, fairytale world known as Dunk City.    It just seems too good to be true.  Eleven years ago, the athletic department consisted of trailers. Basketball practices were held outside.  Now after just two years of NCAA eligibility, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, men’s golf, swimming, and diving have already made appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

  It’s an athletic department filled with coaches, sports information directors, and athletic trainers who are all best friends.  A basketball program led by a [former] NBA coach with a supermodel wife.  Players with dorms overlooking the beach. Guys with unexpected athleticism not only dunk, they fly.  I’m talking Sports-Center-Top-Ten-Kind-of-Dunks.

 A walk-on becomes a household name, shaking his dreads on every possible media outlet.  A music video of an eagle being dunked into a nerf hoop.  A sequel filmed at a pep rally.  Why are Eagles doing the chicken dance? No one really knows, but it all seems to fit perfectly into this unthinkable dream. They click their heels like leprechauns each time they make a 3. Goggles up, tongues out.  Is this for real? Things like this don’t really happen, do they?

 These guys are wild.  They’re crazy, and they’re enjoying every second. This is what college basketball is all about. A team full of guys playing the game they love with the people they love.  And everyone can feel it—the passion, the emotion, the excitement.  They have captured America’s hearts because they follow the simplest philosophy imaginable—they have fun.  Too often people get caught up in the politics and the pressure, and they forget the true meaning of the sport. It’s a game. Games are meant to be fun.  Stick out your tongue. Yell.  Shake your dreads.  Click your heels. Dance like a chicken. Who cares? Have fun. Believe in yourself.  Believe in each other.

Yesterday wasn’t a typical day at work.  I pulled up to a parking lot full of media frenzy.  I gave a campus tour to a recruit, but it was no ordinary tour.  I had to weave the golf cart between wires and media trucks.  We visited a bookstore packed wall-to-wall with crazed fans chanting FG-CU.  Sales up 1000%.  As I answered questions about our academic programs, kids sprinted by blowing vuvuzelas.  Then we saw campus police escorting players out of a crazed mob.
This has been one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. Before my eyes, my little, no-name school has transformed into a national phenomenon.  A group of guys with a little bit of swagger have become celebrities overnight.

 I went from playing at one of the most renowned programs in the country to working for one of the least.  Well, that is, until now.  I no longer think I will have to answer the frequent questions: “Oh, where is that?” “Is that a community college?” or “Did you say ‘Golf’—like the sport?” After playing for a powerhouse like UConn, I was accustomed to crushing Cinderella’s dreams.  But now I’m living them.

 They have shocked the world, and our school will never be the same.

It’s a dream at FGCU…and no one’s ready to wake up yet.





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22 thoughts on “Mel Thomas Is Really Loving Life At Florida Gulf Coast Now

  1. fishpaw31

    Nice piece Mel, thanks. I wish your guys all the best. Keep on Winning AND HAVING FUN!

    1. Melody Banks

      Mel thomas is truly a writer. Great piece written by her. I read it aloud and the emphasis she puts in the right places makes it sound even better.
      Have fun–shake your dred’, do the dance, enjoy, enjoy every wonderful second.

      Uconn isn’t the only game in town. Little schools have fun and play basketball.

      When I saw that chicken dancing and I said –That’s where Mel Thomas is AD or something like that. Congrats to Mel and the entire school.

  2. Roberta Santos

    well said Mel! I think many students, athletes, employees, faculty and alumni feel the same way you do/did about FGCU. No-name school getting the recognition we deserve. It is only the beginning, FGCU has the potential to become a power-house in every sport. Keep it up Eagles. I couldn’t be more proud!!!! Roberta Santos-Former Volleyball Player

  3. I Got A Brand New Pair Of Roller Skates

    It should be about the players having fun and enjoying 4 short years. Not the coaches screaming and throwing players under the bus. FGCU has it right. UConn is a$$backwards.

      1. Webster


        blah*, bland, bromidic, clichéd, common, conventional, cornball, cornfed, corny, dull as dishwater, dumb, everyday, flat, hackneyed, ho hum, hokey, humdrum*, insipid, mundane, noplace, nothing, nowhere, old hat, ordinary, pabulum, pedestrian, platitudinous, square, stale, stereotyped, stock, stupid, tired, tripe, trite, unimaginative, unoriginal, vapid, watery, wishy-washy, zero*

    1. Joobie

      I was thinking the exact same thing, Jay. After the Clemson game, Tate George came into the UCONN bookstore & was immediately mobbed. GOOD TIMES! Enjoy every minute FSGU…hope the slipper continues to fit. Thanks Mel…enjoy the ride!

  4. TomG

    Jay you nailed it. If Geno is as smart a coach as he thinks he is he could learn a valuable lesson from one of his former players. I think he has lost site of why it was so special with that first championship team. Back then the players were the story. There is to much pressure put on these kids. It looks like FGCU is the place to be.

    1. Mel Thomas

      I absolutely loved my experienced at UConn. I had fun every single day at practice and I loved my teammates. Before every game Coach wrote on the board, “Play Hard. Play Smart. Have Fun.” And we did just that. We may not have been doing the chicken dance, but trust me, it was FUN! ;)

      1. Melody Banks

        Mel–It’s something us fans should hear often–it is/was fun.
        Christine has always said if it’s not fun stop playing. And fans forget hard work and winning is fun too.

        Love ya Mel!!!!

      2. Steve Gee

        I hope you don’t mind that some ( Ok, it’s likely just me) call you “Hanni-Mel” as an ode to your determined play with that “Lecter” mask when you broke your nose.

        Thanks for the article. And thanks for the fantastic memories!

  5. mike mcmanus

    Isn’t it amazing that former UCONN players always have good things to say about their Coach and their experience at UCONN while the malcontents such as TomG always find fault with Geno no matter what he does. I think most of us trust what the players have to say.

  6. joanne b.

    Thanks, Mel, for a fun piece of writing allowing us to know what if feels like right now at FGCU.I actually will be moving in less than a month to Miromar Lakes located adjacent to FGCU & can’t wait become a new fan(while always keeping UConn in my heart). Hey, maybe we should invite FGCU into our new “un-named” conference–that would be the best of both worlds for me!

  7. big blue

    Mel…Shooting the threes…OUTSTANDING!

    Toughness on the court….GREAT!

    Those ACL injuries……..OUCH!

    You were the best,Mel…

    1. Hardasse

      I think you all have the wrong impression of Mel Thomas. I remember her as always pushing her way into the photo; missed threes; poor defense and sloppy ball handling.

      1. Steve Gee

        The impression you’re leaving is that of a troll posting needlessly mean and nasty comments towards a beloved UConn player.

        I’m not saying that your ARE a troll, but you’re definitely presenting as one.

        1. Hardasse

          Everything I said is true…very over-rated.

          How good could she have been, nobody drafted her, she never played pro anywhere —– well, except if you call what they play in Waterford, Ireland professional standard.

  8. Kenny

    Hey HardA$$ if you can’t say anything nice don’say anything at all.
    Mel, thanks for the article and thanks for all you did for uconn.

    PS Your book was great,thanks.

  9. wholetthedogsout

    Mel you were always one of my favorites. So happy you are having success and enjoying your job. Watching FGCU in the tournament is the most fun I’ve had watching sports in a long time. Wishing the team much success!

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