While March Madness shifts into a higher gear with Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection show, an unexpected celebrity from last year’s event will take to the basketball court at the Portland Expo.

Sherwood Brown, 22, led his Cinderella team – Florida Gulf Coast – to a pair of victories.

Now he’s contending for playing time in the D-League with the Maine Red Claws, who play at 1 p.m. Sunday against Erie.

Florida Gulf Coast is a relatively new and little-known Division I team out of Fort Myers, Fla. The Eagles play in the little-known Atlantic Sun Conference.

Teams like Florida Gulf Coast show up at the NCAAs every year, usually first-round sacrificial lambs.

In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast, a 15th seed out of 16 teams in its region, had to face No. 2 Georgetown.

Brown, a 6-foot-4 guard, played 38 of 40 minutes against the Hoyas, leading his team with 24 points and nine rebounds in a 78-68 upset.

Two days later the Eagles knocked off seventh-seeded San Diego State 81-71 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

It was the first time a No. 15 seed had advanced that far.

The Eagles were not only beating the big boys, they looked to have fun doing it. They nicknamed their upbeat style of play Dunk City because of the way several of their fast breaks ended.

After a game, Brown was seen dancing with cheerleaders and shaking hands with celebrities on press row

“It only happens once in a lifetime,” Brown said recently.

Brown’s role on Florida Gulf Coast was as unexpected as his team’s advancement in the NCAAs.

A high school player in Orlando, Fla., Brown received early interest from a couple of Division I teams, but that faded away.

Florida Gulf Coast liked Brown but didn’t have a scholarship to offer.

Brown appeared ready to play for Division II Tampa, when he changed his mind and decided to walk on without a scholarship with the Eagles.

He earned the scholarship his sophomore year.

And as a senior he was leading the darlings of the NCAA tournament.

While the national media gushed over the surprising kids from southwest Florida, Brown said his team was always confident.

“We knew we had talent,” Brown said. “We played a pretty tough schedule. We played Duke (88-67 loss) and beat Miami (63-51).

“We weren’t intimidated by anyone.”

The run ended in the Round of 16 when No. 3 Florida knocked off the Eagles, 62-50. Brown led his team again (14 points/six rebounds/38 minutes).

After the season, Coach Andy Enfield used the experience as a stepping stone to a new job as head of the University of Southern California program.

For Brown, it was also time to consider his future. He had workouts with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies, but went undrafted and unsigned by NBA teams.

He signed to play in Israel last summer. After five months, he returned to the U.S. Brown signed with the Red Claws in January.

In 20 games (one start), Brown is averaging 6.7 points and 4.6 rebounds a game. He is usually one of the first subs off the bench, averaging 19 minutes a game. It’s not the same as Florida Gulf Coast but Brown knows he’s a rookie.

“Just got to wait for my opportunity,” Brown said.

Brown, by the way, won’t be able to watch his Eagles in the NCAAs this year. Florida Gulf Coast lost to Mercer in the Atlantic Sun final and is expected to play in the National Invitation Tournament.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH