Thursday, April 24, 2014 3:24 AM
Published on: Wednesday, March 27, 2013
By Brandy L. Simms
The Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team has emerged as the darlings of this year’s NCAA tournament.
The Division I school, located in Fort Myers, registered wins over Georgetown and San Diego State to become the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
The Eagles, who compete in the Atlantic Sun Conference, boast two former student-athletes who were teammates at Princeton Day Academy during the 2009-2010 campaign in 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Eric McKnight and 6-foot-10 freshman Leonard Livingston Jr.
McKnight, a Raleigh, N.C. native, moved to Maryland to hone his skills on the hardwood and joined the program for his senior campaign while Livingston, an Upper Marlboro resident, spent his sophomore season at the Prince George’s County private school that was — at that time — based in Lanham.
Princeton Day Academy head coach Van Whitfield had fond recollections of Livingston during his brief stint at the school.
“He was a developing post player,” said Whitfield, who noted that Livingston was an accomplished shot blocker. “We knew he was a Division I basketball player.”
Livingston left Princeton Day after that season and spent the following campaign at Saint James in Hagerstown before playing on Baltimore Patterson High’s 2012 3A state championship team.
Meanwhile, McKnight did not hold a single scholarship offer when he arrived at Princeton Day Academy, according to Whitfield.
However, the North Carolina product worked out with a trainer to help improve his recruiting stock and began to see results shortly thereafter.
“Whenever he had the opportunity to improve, he took advantage of it,” said Whitfield.
By the end of his senior campaign, major Division I college programs began to show interest. VCU and Indiana offered, said Whitfield.
“There were a great many schools that were interested in Eric,” said Whitfield. “He had a level of explosion that 6-9 big men didn’t have.”
McKnight, who also received offers from Maryland and Georgetown, eventually signed with Iowa State.
McKnight spent his freshman campaign at Iowa State before transferring to FGCU in 2011.
Whitfield, who pledged his allegiance to the Hoyas, said he watched FGCU upset both Georgetown and San Diego State, but he was not surprised by the results.
“I’m a big Georgetown fan and a fan of Coach Thompson,” he said.
What about FGCU advancing to the Sweet Sixteen and perhaps beyond?
“They’re (still) in my bracket,” Whitfield said about the Atlantic Sun Conference champions who are this year’s biggest Cinderella story. “You always root for the local guys and want them to win, but I had a personal stake.”