Andy Enfield's Eagles squad has been lauded for its skill and preparedness. (Al Tielemans/SI)
Andy Enfield's old college coach is now, literally, an old college coach. Bill Nelson, who guided Enfield through four seasons at Division III Johns Hopkins in the late 1980s and early 90s, just finished his 27th year with the program. He has a 430-274 record at the school while competing with more than his fair share of biomedical engineering majors at a university best known for producing future doctors.
He's seen a lot in his 33 total seasons as a head coach, so he knows what he's seeing with Enfield's Florida Gulf Coast squad is very, very special. Nelson was able to attend both games in Philadelphia this past weekend, and after witnessing the Round of 32 vanquishing of San Diego State, Nelson is echoing what a lot of national analysts have suddenly been saying about the virtually-out-of-nowhere Eagles.
"They're so prepared. Just watching that team play, it was no fluke," Nelson said Tuesday when reached in his office at Hopkins. "I even watched the second game [Sunday night], Duke-Creighton, I thought they were better than Duke [and] Creighton, to tell you the truth."
Nelson landed Enfield, the player, out of Shippensburg, Pa., outdueling some Ivy League schools that were after him because the Ivies at the time often overrecruited thanks to not having athletic scholarships. According to Nelson, Enfield knew Hopkins needed better players and he "wanted to be a big fish in a small pond." Enfield went on to score over 2,000 points as a four-year starter. He's widely known now as the holder of the Division III career free throw percentage mark (92.5 percent), but per Nelson, Enfield also still holds the school's best mark for field goal percentage by a perimeter player and he's also 10th on the Blue Jays' career list in assists.
Nelson said Enfield stays in touch with him as much or more than any other former player he has. Whenever Enfield was in Baltimore for recruiting, he made it a point to stop by his old campus and see his coach. Similarly, Enfield often reaches out to Nelson ahead of the Final Four each year to see if he can meet Nelson for breakfast or lunch while the two are in town. So Nelson knows Enfield better than most. He's also come across a number of other now-famous sports people in his coaching career, so when asked to describe what Enfield -- the person and the competitor -- is like, he noted several names that will resonate with any sports fan.
Nelson worked at Rochester Institute of Technology when now New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was the football coach there. Nelson also coached former Knicks and Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy at Nazareth College after replacing now Michigan head coach John Beilein at the school. Nelson said that Enfield reminds him of those men not only in his passion for the game, but in how focused they are and how none of them let anything get in the way of what they want to accomplish.
"[Enfield's] resume speaks for itself and then when you meet him one on one, [you think] 'This guy's sharp, you know?'" Nelson said. "He's one of those big-picture guys. There's not a lot of them out there, but he sees a bigger picture than most people. He's figured it out. It's very exciting."
Nelson is as impressed as any fan with the Eagles' high-octane attack, but he also noted how well and differently Enfield used his bench and substitution patterns in the two wins in Philadelphia. Enfield's more liberal use of subs early in the game against San Diego State left his team fresher in the second half, when they were able to drop a game-deciding 17-0 run on the Aztecs. Still, for a team now known simply as "Dunk City," it's the lobs and tomahawk throwdowns that are the biggest part of their identity.
During this run of media coverage, Enfield has said that his team practices lobs a lot, and he prefers throwing passes to his bigs above the rim rather than at their hands, where they have to catch, gather and go up, and aren't fully using their size advantage and positioning. That type of academic approach to basketball strategy then makes you wonder. While you won't see a ton of lob dunks at the Division III level, did Enfield adapt any of his successful coaching tenets from his days at Hopkins and his old college coach?