Favorites, underdogs among White Sox NCAA interests

Players hoping for deep runs from Kentucky, Duke and FGCU

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Kentucky resident Nate Jones will stand behind the Wildcats (No. 4 seed) when the NCAA men's basketball tournament begins this week.

John Danks roots for Texas (No. 6 seed) from his home state. Scott Carroll, the one-time Purdue quarterback, strongly supports the Boilermakers (No. 5 seed), while Carson Fulmer and Zach Putnam hope their teams from Vanderbilt (No. 11 seed) and Michigan (No. 11 seed), respectively, make surprise runs.

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But none of them seem to have the connection that Chris Sale has with Florida Gulf Coast University, the Atlantic Sun tournament champion and winner of the automatic conference bid (No. 16 seed).

Sale played baseball at FGCU, where he had his jersey No. 41 retired. His wife, Brianne, studied public relations and communications, with a minor in philosophy, and graduated from FGCU in December.

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According to the White Sox ace, his wife is as excited, if not more so, than anyone in the family about the Sunday pairings show.

"I was like, 'Hey, Brianne, we find out who they play on Sunday.' She was like, 'I already know. I have it recorded.' It's awesome," Sale said. "It's a smaller school. There's no football team. There hasn't been any national champions or anything like that.

"We've never really understood why people get so hyped up for their teams and their games. Her father went to Penn St. and he is a diehard fan of them to this day. But we never really understood that until a couple of years when all this was going down. Now, we definitely get it because we are hooked."

FGCU became the lead story during the 2013 NCAA tourney, when its "Dunk City" crew reached the Sweet 16 before being eliminated by Florida. That exciting period will live with Sale and his family forever, even if the Eagles somehow top that mark this year.

"It's one of those things where they could win the national championship and I don't know if it would be as important as what happened a couple of years ago," Sale said. "It would be like winning another World Series. It would be awesome, but still, for some reason, it would not be as important as the first time it was done. It had such a big impact.

"I'm still hoping for the best. To be able for them to do that and the publicity it's going to give to the school more so than it already has been, it's great. It's a great place to be and a great place to go to school. I still live down there. That's how much I enjoy it."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.