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Fennelly: Dear USF, aim higher than Flunk City

USF guard Michael Bibby (10) passes the ball.
USF guard Michael Bibby (10) passes the ball.
Published Mar. 20, 2017

TAMPA — There's a Country Bear Basketball Jamboree in Orlando today — the NCAA Tournament, with Florida present, with Florida State present. And with the little school from Fort Myers everyone loves and nobody slams — Florida Gulf Coast University.

They've got Dunk City.

We've got Gunk City.

Brian Gregory, the new men's basketball hire at USF, is charged with changing that. I hope he does. I wish him luck.

USF has a very nice facility on Fowler Avenue. The only thing missing are players and fans.

It's so bad that people will buy into anything at this point.

Like: The personal-finance website WalletHub recently released a report on 2017's best and worst cities for college basketball fans, and Tampa Bay came in a little behind frontrunners Chapel Hill and Durham and Lexington. Tampa Bay came in as second worst — in America.

No. 290, two spots behind Daytona Beach, just ahead of last-place New Britain, Conn., home of Central Connecticut State.

Yes, I seriously question the report's metrics.

The rankings are out of whack.

But so is USF. You can't even see whack anymore.

Area resident Dick Vitale of Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County is outraged. He's beside himself, which means they're both talking at once.

"I don't believe in those rankings. They're absurd," Dickie V said of USF's second-worst rating. "This can be a great area for college basketball."

How did we become Gunk City?

I mean, this area has produced loads of college stars. A small sampling: Andy Owens, Ricky Gallon, Horace Broadnax, Toney Mack, Jeff Turner, Charlie Bradley, Joey Graham, Dwayne Schintzius, Marreese Speights, Michael Frazier, Andrew DeClercq, Dametri Hill. And so many more. And there's Kevin Knox from Tampa Catholic, a bona fide diaper dandy, headed to a college powerhouse this fall.

And I'd love to see how many NCAA Tournament games New Britain, Conn., has handled.

Tampa Bay has hosted the 1999 men's Final Four. We've hosted two women's Final Fours and will host another in 2019. We've hosted men's regionals. We've hosted men's first and second and third rounds. We hosted the men's ACC tournament (boy, did those Tobacco Road snobs hate that!). We hosted the men's SEC tournament and will do it again in 2022.

We fall out of bed and land on NCAA basketball.

Second worst in America.

That's how meaningless USF has been.

Gregory has his job, and we have ours.

We are a basketball hotbed. Keep thinking that.

Now, I want everyone in Tampa Bay to fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket.

I don't mean some of you. I mean all of you.

I don't care if your dog helps. One ruff for Purdue, two for Vermont.

"You need to sell your program," Vitale said. "You've got a kid right now in Tampa. Kevin Knox. If I was coaching South Florida — I'm not saying I'm going to get him — but I'd make headlines. When I was coaching at (University of) Detroit, there was a big-time player, Tommy LaGarde, who went to North Carolina, but I got headlines galore. I started a petition around the city to keep him in Detroit. It got people talking."

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Over in Orlando, Dunk City is back, with more dunks than it had in 2013, when it created fans across America with a high-flying run to the Sweet 16. It faces Florida State tonight. FGCU even has a copyright on "Dunk City."

Maybe one day USF can have a copyright. Or that much fun. If FGCU can do it, USF can. USF should be able to put together a coach, some players and make an occasional NCAA Tournament.

There's a basketball party in Orlando.

Dunk City is there.

Gunk City isn't.

When the Kevin Knox petition comes to your door, just sign it.

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