GREENWICH, Conn. -- Florida Gulf Coast University has captured the imagination of the sports world with its Cinderella run in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and Greenwich native Ken Kavanagh is a big reason why the Eagles will play in the Sweet 16 on Friday.
Florida Gulf Coast University became the first 15-seed in NCAA men's tournament history to advance to the regional semifinals, also known as the Sweet 16. The Eagles stunned heavy favorite Georgetown in their opener and slam-dunked their way to a blowout victory over San Diego State University in the Round of 32.
In just a few weeks, Kavanagh, FGCU's athletic director, has seen his basketball program go from unlikely winners of the Atlantic Sun Conference to the darlings of a national tournament.
"Because of our school's newness, where we're located and the style of play that our players are playing, it's been like rock star success in some ways that the kids have been dealing with," he said. "I saw a map on ESPN saying that 47 of the 50 states in the country want us to win the South Region of the tournament. It's been fun."
Kavanagh, 52, is in his fourth year as athletic director at the 12-year-old university based in Fort Myers, Fla. And in that tenure, he has helped guide the school's athletic department into a fledgling Division I contender in several different sports.
Kavanagh was born and raised in Greenwich, growing up on Milbank Avenue. He and his siblings attended St. Mary's School, which merged with Trinity Catholic in Stamford in 1991. He said many of his family members still live in Greenwich and are cheering on the Eagles from there.
"We try to come back every summer to see our friends," he said. "I've been getting notes from folks I played baseball and other sports with at St. Mary's. It's been really nice to hear from people from the old days."
Upsets aren't exactly new to Kavanagh, who was the athletic director at Bradley University when that school reached the Sweet 16 in 2006. But Florida Gulf Coast's run has been something totally different, according to Kavanagh.
"Our president [Wilson Bradshaw] said it's like building a plane and flying it at the same time," Kavanagh said. "It's been unbelievable the amount of media coverage that we're getting. We're just trying to enjoy it because it could end at any time."
Florida Gulf Coast University will try to upset another heavy favorite when it takes on third-seeded University of Florida on Friday at 9:57 p.m. on TBS.
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