When you watch Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup between the two Florida schools on TBS, you will notice Kentucky native and former UK standout John Pelphrey will be working on the sidelines as an assistant coach for the University of Florida.
But what about Florida Gulf Coast University, the newest darling of March Madness? Yes, the Fort Myers-based school, interestingly, also has someone with a strong Kentucky connection on its basketball team.
One of the assistant coaches for FGCU — which becomes the lowest seed (No. 15) to ever reach the Sweet 16 — is from Fulton in southwestern Kentucky (an hour’s drive from Paducah) and is a 2006 graduate of UK.
His name is Michael Fly, who came to FGCU in 2011 from Florida State where he served as the video coordinator under head coach and ex-UK aide Leonard Hamilton. In addition, Fly worked as the assistant director at Hamilton’s basketball camps.
Fly’s current boss and former NBA assistant, Andy Enfield, also served as assistant for Hamilton at FSU and brought Fly with him to the southwest Florida school when Enfield became the head coach of the Eagles two years ago.
The 29-year-old Fly said the unbelievable success at FGCU in the NCAA tournament has been dreamlike with two upset victories over heavily-favored Georgetown last Friday and San Diego State last Sunday as well as national attention. While Enfield and the players are getting significantly more publicity, Fly has already been featured in some newspapers earlier this week.
During the early 2000s, when Fly was a student at UK, he wanted to get involved with the Wildcats in some capacity where he can learn the game. Even though he played hoops in high school, he wasn’t good enough to play big-time college basketball.
Unfortunately, Fly wasn’t able to work as a student manager for the Wildcats. UK legendary equipment manager Bill Keightley had told him there was no spot for him on the squad.
“Mr. Keightley directed me to Coach (Happy) Osborne after meeting with him because he said there was no room to be a manager at Kentucky,” said Fly in an e-mail with this columnist on Monday. “Other than that I was just another fan in Rupp Arena.”
So he worked as a student assistant coach for Osborne at NAIA powerhouse Georgetown College while earning his bachelor’s degree in education at UK.
But he remembers one particular game at Kentucky very well as a regular student. It was when Tubby Smith’s sixth-ranked Wildcats whipped Billy Donovan’s top-rated Florida Gators 70-55.
“My favorite UK memory was probably beating Florida when they were No. 1 in the country at Rupp,” wrote Fly. “It was in 2003 when UK had Keith Bogans and those guys.”
Fly also said he loved “hanging with friends at K-Lair (Grill), at the library when we were supposed to be studying, and playing hoops at the Johnson (Recreation) Center with my friends.”
Growing up in Fulton, Ky., Fly’s favorite players were from UK.
“Jamal Mashburn and Antoine Walker,” said Fly. “(I) loved that they could play multiple positions and could shoot, pass, and dribble at 6-foot-8.”
Before coming to Florida State in 2008, Fly worked as a corporate and broadcast alliances intern with the NCAA. He also has served as a video coordinator intern with the Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA under of the guidance of Harlan County native and coach/GM Bernie Bickerstaff.
FGCU coach Andy Enfield, who once worked with then-Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino in the NBA, said Fly is a passionate and tireless worker.
“Mike is a relentless worker who was a valuable part of our success at Florida State in his role of video coordinator,” Enfield was quoted as saying on FGCU’s athletics Web site. “His intense and thorough film breakdowns have given him a comprehensive knowledge of the X’s and O’s of the game. Mike’s experience with academics, summer camps and community relations will be relied upon heavily.”
Fly, who has worked at several high-profile basketball camps, said many folks have asked him about his career.
“The question I get all the time is why did I get into coaching and I always tell the guys, ‘If you are from Kentucky, that is all you know, think about, and do,’ ” said Fly. “I’m not sure what I would do for a career if I was not in basketball. I was spending all of my spare time on it already so why not get paid to do it.”
FGCU, whose popularity has soared off the charts with its stunning post-season success, plays in the Atlantic Sun Conference, whose 10 members also include Northern Kentucky.
Well, Fly has certainly helped the high-flying Eagles — who by the way surprised Miami (Fla.) in a 63-51 upset back in November — to reach new heights in their short basketball history, and they sure are hoping to fly even higher late Friday night.
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Jamie H. Vaught, a long-time sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.