The Bucs Stop Here!
It was all purple on the outside and all purple on the inside, but when the preliminaries ended and the games began, the Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) basketball Buccaneers left their opponents black-and-blue by christening the Suncoast Credit Union Arena with a pair of victories.
Prior to the Buccaneer Ladies drubbing Hillsborough Community College 80-64 and the undefeated men dispatching Broward College 76-66, hundreds of Purple People Eaters gathered outside the Suncoast Credit Union Arena for the inaugural Bucs Bash Tailgate Party to celebrate the grand opening of the new $28 million sports palace.
Dr. Jeffery Allbritten, FSW president, welcomed the Bucs Bash crowd, then introduced Dr. Kristy Ward, the women’s coach, who brought out her team, followed by Marty Richter and his men’s squad, and finally Blackbeard the new Buccaneers mascot.
“I feel like a proud daddy today,” said Dr. Allbritten following the ceremony. “This is three years in the making, and it is finally here. When we announced athletics and the arena, we brought the community together and that is tough to do. People will really love the Suncoast Credit Union Arena. It is wide open, with award-winning design elements and terrific sight lines. Of course, the President’s skybox is pretty nice, too!”
Leading up to the tip-off time for the Lady Bucs at 6 p.m., the purple-clad crowd listened to music blasting from loud speakers while enjoying chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, barbeque, pizza, beer and soft drinks and assorted munchies. Fans played pop-a-shot basketball, corn hole, and took photographs with Blackbeard. The longest line by far was for a spin-the-wheel game to win FSW gear such as shirts, teddy bears, beads, cups, and all things Buccaneer!
The Wow Factor
Judy Jacobs, a FSW sophomore, gushed that “we have already had a great time, and the doors aren’t even open. This is what the college experience is all about.” Melissa Roberts, whose college days are long behind her, said “this is the chance to get in on the ground floor of a new program. I may not know the players’ names yet, but I am already a fan!”
Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson happily commented that “this is a happy occasion – I wish we could do something like this every day! This is great for the college and the city, and we will only see this partnership continue to grow in a big way into the future. I purposely have not seen the arena yet, because I did not want to ruin the Wow Factor!”
By 5:30, most people left the Bucs Bash to check out the Suncoast, and the Purple Palace does not disappoint. By tip-off for the women at 6, it was only about one-third full – still early on a work night, but an excellent turnout for a ladies game that most schools in the nation would die to have. Students, however, jammed their sections under both baskets.
The game began, and when the Bucs Dajsha Hall scored the first hoop in the building’s history, the crowd erupted. The Hillsborough Hawks briefly took a 6 to 4 lead, but FSW quickly wiped that out; it would be the only time in both games the Bucs would trail. Florida SouthWestern picked up the defensive pressure, blocked at least a half-dozen shots in the opening 10-minute quarter, and the Bucs got every loose ball, jumping out to a commanding 32 to 11 lead.
Things evened out a bit in the 2nd quarter, with Hillsborough going on a 13 to 2 run. The Bucs weathered the storm and held a 47 to 37 lead at the break. The 3rd quarter was status quo, with FSW leading by 11, 63 to 52, but the Bucs opened the 4th quarter with a 7 to 0 spurt, essentially ending the game, with FSW eventually triumphing to a standing ovation, 80 to 64, to break their four-game losing streak and improve to 2 & 4.
Above the Rim
There was then a 20 minute break leading up to the men’s game, then the public address announcer invited all students and children down to court level to make a “High 5” line for the starting lineup introduction. Hugh Thimler, the longtime basketball coach for the former Edison Community College that is now FSW, threw the ceremonial jump ball, and the game began against the Broward College Seahawks.
Two things were immediately different between the men’s and women’s contest: the men play two 20-minute halves while the ladies compete in four 10-minute quarters. Secondly, it took no more than one minute into the game to realize the men play above the rim, while the girls’ game goes on below it.
Like Dajsha Hall before him, Ed Porter scored the first basket but the crowd reaction paled to her initial hoop. A moment later, however, when teammate Anthony Murphy threw down the first monstrous dunk in the arena’s history, the fans went crazy! Two more dunks, by Shanquan Hemphill and Darius Sawyer, followed in rapid order, making the audience wonder if they were watching FSW or Dunk City! The building was now practically full, and the fans got into the spirit, chanting “Let’s Go Bucs” and stomping their feet in unison, leading FSW to a 44 to 29 lead at the break.
Blackbeard Strikes Again
The halftime highlight was when Blackbeard, just playing around, took a basketball, stood at center court, turned his back to the basket, and flipped the ball over his shoulder blindly from half court, catching nothing but net, and eliciting pandemonium from the crowd.
Unlike the red-hot Blackbeard, the Bucs started the 2nd half ice cold. The Seahawks went on an 11 to 0 run, and with 11 minutes left, they sliced the Bucs lead to one at 49 to 48. The crowd picked up their volume, guard Nych Smith hit two 3-pointers and Hemphill another, and when Hemphill took it right down Main Street for a thunderous dunk, the Bucs retook an 11-point lead. The crowd began an ill-fated attempt at The Wave, and even though Broward cut the lead to 6 points on four different occasion with less than four minutes remaining, they drew no closer as the undefeated men improved to 8 & 0 with another standing ovation and a 76 to 66 victory.
In a heartfelt moment, the men’s players and coaches lined the exit hallway, shaking hands and High 5-ing the departing fans, inviting them to return for their upcoming tournament. Coach Richter gave the crowd great credit for the win, saying that “this was everything we hoped it would be. The kids made some mistakes but played hard. What was huge was when Broward cut our lead to one, and the fans really stepped up. It was no coincidence that is when we played our best ball.”
To catch FSW play their best ball, attend an upcoming game at the spectacular Suncoast Credit Union Arena. The men play Santa Fe College on Friday, December 2, at 8 p.m.; Chipola College Saturday, December 3, at 2 p.m.; and as the second half of a doubleheader on Wednesday, December 7 against ASA College of Miami at 8 p.m.; the Lady Bucs tipoff against the College of Central Florida at 6 p.m. Tickets are as low as $8; for information see fswbucs.com, or call 239-481-4849 or 800-440-7469.
Attend a game soon at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena, where the Bucs stop here!
Photos by Gary Mooney