x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

'American Dream' comes to fruition for basketball coach Andy Enfield

After he became a millionaire and married a super model, Andy Enfield then took the basketball coaching reins at Florida Gulf Coast and now he has the unlikely team in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, writes Mike Tierney.

Florida Gulf Coast players celebrate with coach Andy Enfield, centre, after their surprising upset win over San Diego State. Scott McIntyre / AP Photo
Florida Gulf Coast players celebrate with coach Andy Enfield, centre, after their surprising upset win over San Diego State. Scott McIntyre / AP Photo

The American Dream is an ideal that presumes anyone can attain fulfilment through ingenuity and a diligent work ethic. It is manifested often in sports, but rarely in a fashion that, regarding the case of a gap-toothed chap named Andy Enfield, defies belief.

Fortune and fame did not just fall into his lap. Nor did a super-model spouse sit on it without some effort on his part, though luck gets credited with an assist.

Until a week ago, life already was finger-lickin' good for Enfield, 43, even as an anonymous basketball coach at an equally anonymous college institution.

Rewind the tape.

The son of teachers, he graduated two decades ago with dual distinction from Johns Hopkins, a university that carries Ivy League cachet. He was the first player there smart enough to earn a scholarship from the NCAA, which is college sports' ruling body, for an advanced degree.

He was - and remains - the most accurate foul shooter in NCAA annals.

Though trained for a career in finance – borrrr-ing – Enfield became a shooting instructor, ultimately landing roles with two NBA teams.

All of those hours accruing knowledge about money management did not go to waste. A company he founded produced videos on shooting and sold them worldwide. Venturing outside of sports, he served as vice-president and part-owner of a high-tech firm in health services, launched by a pal, that is now valued at well north of US$100 million (Dh367.3m).

Meantime, a friend introduced Enfield to a green-eyed lass named Amanda Marcum. This was hardly an attempt at matchmaking; Marcum simply needed a ride to a game he was attending.

No typical basketball fan was she, but a gorgeous magazine cover girl (Vogue, Maxim) and runway model (Victoria's Secret) who would become the most prized recruit Enfield hooks no matter how long he coaches.

A week later, their initial date unfolded at another game. (Jealous yet, guys?) Dinner that night was at a fast-food taco joint. Not exactly from the "How To Impress a Super Model Handbook," but something clicked.

A half-year later, they got engaged when Enfield, maintaining the fast-food theme, tucked the engagement ring in a box of chain-store doughnuts.

Still a young man, Enfield sold his share of the health-services outfit, which offered enough financial freedom to follow his muse and coach basketball.

He procured a job as assistant at a university with a prominent team. Marcum swapped out the skimpy outfits in which she posed for maternity clothes, eventually bearing three children.

Another university – this one obscure, a virtual start-up like Enfield's former company – hired him as head coach two years ago with nothing to lose, except lots of games. Salary was no issue at Florida Gulf Coast, and the self-made millionaire was content to take less than many assistants at major schools.

By now, you might have noticed Enfield's bold streak, reflected in the Wayne Gretzky quote that shouts from a sign in his office: "You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take."

So it should come as no surprise that he does not operate from the standard coaching bible.

Whereas others exercise their control-freakiness by holding the reins tight on players, he loosens them almost to the point of dropping them altogether. FGC runs and guns, while having loads of fun, within a hazily defined framework.

The lay-up line during warm-ups is revealing: Every player dunks, or at least tries to.

This carefree attitude spills over into games, with Enfield hardly ever seeing fit to scream at players.

He cares not that premier scorer Sherwood Brown sticks out his tongue at nobody in particular after scoring a basket. Or that bench players strut and flap their arms in apparent mimicry of a bird, if not quite the eagle that is the team mascot.

FGC not only won their opening two games in the NCAA Tournament known as March Madness, the most unlikely entrant ever to pull off the double, but did so with a splash of alley-oop slams and fancy passes that knocked the NBA off of the nightly basketball highlight reels. Afterward, in the locker room, players raised a toast of water and soda to Enfield - then poured it all over him.

No worries; he can afford the dry-cleaning bill.

Amanda – still a knockout blonde, even far removed from her pin-ups days – entered and exchanged a long embrace with Andy, nine years her senior.

For FGC, the idyllic season likely ends in defeat this weekend.

For their coach, who set his own professional and personal course and then tilled it, no alarm clock seems about to awaken him from the American Dream.

sports@thenational.ae

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