Christian Terrell has a message for any current or prospective East Carolina basketball player who might be tempted to play fast and loose with team or university rules or bolt to another program when things get difficult: A program run by Joe Dooley might not be the right fit for you.
Terrell, who averaged 12 points and 4.9 rebounds for Florida Gulf Coast this season and had the chance to play in two NCAA tournaments and one NIT during his college career, has heard that the ECU basketball program has been weakened by a combination of player discipline problems and transfers. He fully expects that his former coach, the man who made the Eagles program a tribute to preparation and the correct attitude, will create the type of culture that will stem that tide.
“He doesn’t mess around with that kind of stuff,” said Terrell, a senior who will graduate from FGCU in May and hopes to play basketball overseas, of Dooley. “He’s completely changed the dynamic of holidng people accountable and making sure that things don’t go unnoticed, good or bad.”
The year before Dooley took over the FGCU program in 2013, Terrell said, players on the team missed a total of 20 games because of rules violations or behavioral infractions. In the five years since Dooley took over, the total number of missed games for those types of offenses was three. The key to instilling that level of accountability and discipline at FGCU stemmed from Dooley’s emphasis on preparation, professionalism and excellence.
The values that Dooley is bringing from Florida to the Pirate Nation are easy to talk about at a press conference, but Terrell was an eyewitness of their translation into the daily reality of practice, meetings and competition. Through astute recruiting, consistent communication of his vision for the team and a hierarchical structure that expected seniors to step up and push younger players to buy into the mission, Dooley managed to win at a rate disproportionate to the expected potential of a regional university that has only been in Division I for seven years.
Dooley’s FGCU squads went 114-58 during his tenure, capturing three Atlantic Sun regular-season championships and trips to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and 2017.
Another hallmark of Dooley’s FGCU program was meticulous attention to big and small details in practice and game preparation, Terrell said. “He was really just prepared every single day with every thing we could do better,” he said. “Being prepared for every single game is someting he preached on.”
Despite a flurry of rumors linking Dooley to job openings for weeks prior to last week’s announcement, Terrell wasn’t sure that his coach would be leaving FGCU until he called the players together for a meeting on Tuesday. The players understood that Dooley had made a personal decision with his own and his family’s best interests in mind, Terrell said, and the blow was softened by the news that Dooley’s longtime assistant Michael Fly, who subscribes to the same tenets of discipline and preparation, would succeed him as the Eagles head coach.
Terrell isn’t much worried about the Eagles hitting a valley as a result of the coaching transition, because the team and its fan base have adopted an expectation of success borne out of an extraordinary past five years. At FGCU’s basketball banquet this week Fly characterized that atmosphere of winning when he recalled his answer to a friend who opined that the Eagles had a “great season” this year, finishing 23-12 and losing in the Atlantic Sun tournament final.
“Well, the perception nationally is if you win 23 games and you win a regular-season title and you have a 13-game winning streak and you win a league by two games, go undefeated on the (ASUN) road, that’s a heck of a year,” Fly said. “In Fort Myers, the expectation is the NCAA tournament.”
In the same way that Keith LeClair came to Greenville in 1997 and talked so constantly of Omaha that it soon became a rallying cry for a program that hadn’t previously aimed that high, Dooley is talking to his new Pirates about ring sizes and preparing for the day when ECU fans won’t be satisfied with 20-plus wins if it doesn’t come with a trip to the Big Dance.