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Lunch With Isiah

FIU basketball media day was Wednesday afternoon and new basketball coach Isiah Thomas sat down toIt talk about his Panthers and other interesting tidbits on his way to taking over the FIU basketball program.

Before we get the player-by-player breakdown of your Panthers by IT on here, this is some of what was talked about at today's lunch.

IT talked about when he first saw PG earlier this year at the national championship game between Florida and Oklahoma at Joe Robbie Stadium.

IT was going to meet UF hoops coach Billy Donovan at halftime, but Donovan got hung up in Patriots coach Bill Belichick's suite so IT went downstairs to meet PG.

About 1 month after the game, PG called IT and said "Think about this, but don't answer me just yet. How would you feel about coaching college basketball?"

IT thought about it. He says he researched FIU and before going on the internet the only thing he knew about FIU was involving the brawl with UM. However, he kept digging and saw that it had 38,000 students and was one of the 25 largest universities in the nation, and has the more than 140,000 alumni.

Ravens PG called 2 or 3 weeks later and told IT: "How about taking a trip down to Miami to check out FIU?"

On his first trip to Miami, IT and PG wanted to keep the meeting low key so they went to what they thought would be a somewhat secluded restaurant on Fisher Island. Only problem with that was that when they got there, a Baltimore Raven was getting married and several Ravens at the wedding immediately recognized IT. The wedding stopped and the Ravens asked to take photos with IT and get his autograph. IT obliged.

Ravens defensive back Samari Rolle went over to PG and said: "Isiah Thomas and FIU athletic director Pete Garcia, I wonder what this is all about?" The low key went out the window.

IT liked what he saw when he first visited FIU and later came back for a second visit.Triath

At the time, IT was training for the Westchester (N.Y.) Triathlon -- not the Wes-ches-ta of Miami --. He liked the sport and was intrigued by the mentality and tenacity of tri-athletes. Or like IT said today: "Those people to me, that's the mentality that you need to play with because they don't stop."

IT has brought a little bit of the triathlon mental toughness to practice as senior forward Marlon Bright said: "He has put a lot of emphasis on mental toughness. In the second practice, after two hours of practice, he ran us more than I have ever run before in practice. You can see him trying to develop our mental toughness. Half of the battle is being mentally tough. That’s what set him apart as a player.”

On the second visit to Miami, IT was ready to take the job, but when he told his wife she said: "What?" and his accountant asked him "Are you sure?"

IT said: "You have to see what FIU can be and not what it is and that's why I'm here."

Shell On his first month on the job, IT said he kept getting lost going to U.S. Century Bank Arena, because of all the entrances to FIU. So eventually, he used the Shell gas station on SW 8 Street and SW 107 Ave. as his landmark and then he would locate FIU Stadium and know the arena was down the street from there.

IT wanted to do the triathlon on Sept. 27, but PG told him he should keep recruiting. So he did.

Over the summer, IT played golf with former FIU great and current Heat guard Carlos Arroyo. IT said that "Carlos kept stressing to me that we have to bring back the fans and alumni. I told him if we can galvanizeArroyo that base and get them to support this team it would be great."

For the record, IT said Arroyo beat him pretty good in golf: "He's got game."

Off to the side here....In case you didn't know, IT was asked about his popcorn company, Dale and Thomas. The brand is not available nationwide, but is at the Publix across from FIU. IT got into the popcorn business, because his favorite food growing up was popcorn. His mom used to make a big bowl for his family in Chicago when IT was a kid and they would all sit around the TV and watch "Batman" and the "Green Hornet". Guess what popcorn will be sold at FIU basketball games this season?

Dt IT said that he has called Bobby Knight and Coach K for advice: "This is a game that you never master. You’re always evolving and learning so you always listen to try and get better."

FIU was picked dead last in the Sun Belt preseason poll. IT's reaction: "I've been picked last all my life. Let's see where we end up at the end of the race."

You can read a story on IT's first few months with FIU basketball in Thursday's Herald in both print and on-line.


Aaapaw Your Panthers football team will be wearing all white in Saturday's game against Louisiana, in part, because of the high noon kickoff. It will be the first time in the 8-yearEllingsonwku history of FIU football that the Panthers wear all white for a home game. And, no it is not being advertised as a Whiteout.

FIUFan: Hey Pete, when is the Herald going to start picking up on the outstanding success of the Volleyball team? I'm mean 21-2 'aint to shabby.

PP: FIUFan, I have written about the volleyball team in my local colleges column each week. However, I am working on a front page story that will include photos of the FIU ladies that will run before the Sun Belt Tournament gets underway. You are correct 21-2 ain't too shabby.

Gooch7: Pete any info on Recruits for this year?

PP: Still got a little more than 90 days to go, but the recruits are holding steady to their commits. Quarterback Jake Medlock has been cleared after Rosa his shoulder surgery and started throwing this week. He could be on target to be ready by camp in August. Running back Casey Turner is the latest commit. He could join running back Jeremiah Harden, who has been tearing it up in practice.

UltimateFIUFan: Pete, I haven't heard much from Kambriel Willis this season, is he injured or just not performing? How about Pooh Bear Mars? Is TY 100% for Sat? If yes, can we expect him on kick-off & punt returns? Status of Paul McCall? HE DESERVES A CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF VALOR FOR WHAT HE HAS GONE THROUGH! He is the polar-opposite of Dolphin’s Ted Ginn. PM has a pair, while Ginn lost his pair @ OSU!

PP: KW is not performing. Pooh Bear is getting closer each week to playing D, according to MC. I got a feeling this is the week we see Pooh Bear on D. TY is about 95%, not sure if he will be returning kicks. That is a game day decision. PMC is about 90-95% ready and yes he is the oppo of Ginn. In fact, even without his engineering degree, Paul already has secured a job with Company Jones or as it's known to most Co.Jones.



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Kambriel Willis should have been a LB at the college level. He never should have been put on the D-line to start out his career. I've questioned that decision from day one. Has he ever been tried there in practice the past two years, Pete?

I agree with Southpaw, kambriel willis is too small to be effective on the defensive line. They should put him at linebacker.

did I read that right? fiu was picked to finish dead last in the sunbelt this season with Isiah at the helm?!?! that MUST be a typo!!!

I saw that we were picked to finish third to last, with FAU and one other school behind us. I think we improve by five games, which I believe would see us at 18-15. I would be pleasantly surprised if we do better, and wouldn't be shocked if we had 20 wins. That said this is Isiah's first year here, a lot of these guys are playing together for the first time, and it takes time to develop cohesion.

I agree about KW, he should have been put in as a LB and we should have been running a 3-4 scheme as it suits us better. Hopefully some of our young LB's get in and they change up the D a bit to take advantage of our strengths, which is skill positions, instead of exposing our weakness, which is lines.

FIU was picked to finish last in the East Division, behind FAU. FIU didn't place a single player in any of the pre-season accolades either. Remember we don't have many returning stars...Asprilla, Josue Soto, and Dominguez, are gone....and they pick their teams mostly based on returning players.

We only have what?...8 scholarship players...9 when Martavis Kee is allowed to play in December...in this year's roster, so it will be a tall order to be pretty successful, unless some of these JUCO are really as good or better than advertised. However, I don't see how we could do better than .500 this early. Next year is another thing....

BTW, still laughing Pete....at the Corporation Jones stuff...Very clever and funny...Thanks...

Great read on IT. Thanks. I'm looking forward to his eval' on the team he's got for this year. Found out a lot about IT the man; tri-athlete huh...pretty impressive.

As far as Volleyball, yeah, I see those local round-up type of write-ups but FIU is usually buried behind the likes of Nova, Barry, etc.

Looking forward to the front page coverage. What are the chances of hosting some first round NCAA matches if we do well in the Sun Belt tourney?

Pete, any news on any future upgrades to facilities? What's the next for the football stadium? The basketball arena? etc?

I think we can shoot for 20 wins this season. I cant imagine going over 20 wins but that would be an amzing jump from the last 7 years.. Western is probably yhe team to beat, but maybe and just maybe we might be able to get to the Semi's in Conference play.. By Dec 1st we will know alot more about this team..

White on White is a very smart idea for this game. Lets see if we can:
Run the ball
Protect Paul
Simply play some kind of Defense..


Found out the other day reading notes from the last Board of Trustees meeting in Sept. 2009, that the Student Academic Support Center's PECO funds are delayed now, due to economic woes in the state, by a couple of years. Thus, if plans remain as they were from the beginning (coupling the student academic support center, don't expect the 'enclosing' of the stadium and the North Facade to be built prior to 2014...if we are lucky....

Here's a quote from that document:

"Because of radical reductions in PECO funding, construction may be delayed by 3‐5 years, pushing the original delivery date from December 2011 to well beyond 2013."

Pete, any thoughts by IT of getting C. Arroyo & R. Bell involved with the program, in reference to fundraising both themselves and some of their NBA buds? An infusion of cash would get that updated Arena completed much quicker and possibly end up with more of an upgrade than they expected.


The best player to come out of FIU is Raja Bell. He's been in the league since signing a 10-day contract with the Sixer's, his 10 points in 3 min helped Iverson reach the finals.... and has stayed in the league with his hard work ethic and overall team player attitude. There is no "I" in Raja... He should be the one Alumni FIU Basketball should promote. Carlos spells his name as Carl"I"tos...

Both players are good representatives of FIU. I agree Raja Bell has been more successful overall in the NBA for the last several years. It's not...and should not be...a Raja Vs. Arroyo thing. Arroyo lives and (now) plays in Miami, therefore he would be more accesible this time of the year to be around FIU and Isiah, I would assume.

ChiaPanther,I agree with your point on Raja's longevity in the NBA, however if FIU has TWO NBAers willing to promote FIU hoops,the more the merrier!


I'm expecting big things from our b-ball team this year. No, I am not predicting that we will win the belt or make it to the tournament. But I will be disappointed if we don't have a winning season this year.

20+ wins is what I'm shooting for. I've learned a tough lesson thanks to MC and company, therefore I will not overshoot my expectations. That being said, these JUCO guys are the real deal.

Pete, back to K. Willis, is he too small? Could he be switched to LB, because he is jet-fast? Can you find out from MC if FIU has an "Wild-Cat" package? If yes, is it Wayne Younger as QB or Wayne Times who played QB @ Northwestern? Can you imagine with speed like Times, Mallary, Hilton, etc. in a Wild-Cat formation? We need to get these guys the ball with "space" to run.

On b-ball, is the player that will be available in December the player that transfered last year with Coach Rouco? Thanks.


I think our team will perform better than last year, and maybe even overachieve a little. But I think we might be 1 or 2 games below 500.
It is hard to develop chemestry in so little time, we don't have depth in the front court. no center. We might have some shooters and ball handlers, but you can only go so far with that. I know we might play uptempo ball, but we might get kill inside at every game.

We might have some shooters and ball handlers, but you can only go so far with that.

Posted by: Baltimore Panther | October 29, 2009 at 04:16 PM

Well, you essentially just described the Phoenix Suns of the past few years (before Shaq). Sure, they never won anything in the postseason, but they were consistently big winners in the season.

Lonepanther: the suns are a poor analogy on many levels not the least of which is that amare, while too small to play center, was at least a force inside. Right now I dont know if the team even has a player that would be considered a power forward on the roster.

A good example would be when Villanova went with a 4 guard lineup a few years ago and ended up highly ranked and making a run in the tourney.

Now i dont know how Isiah's coaching style will be but it could be pretty effective in the sun belt, given enough time. For this season i would have to say expectations need to be tempered until at least december or january to see how the team plays

Amare is far from being "a force" inside. He can put up a lot of points from his natural PF position, however, he has the defensive presence of Nate Robinson in the middle. The Suns were a pure run-and-gun team and offered no defensive resistance in the middle. They basically played with 4 guards and a PF or sometimes even a SF.

I was trying to find an analogy in the professional ranks that more people would be able to relate to. Although your Villanova comparison is indeed a better one.

Not having a true big man is not a big deal in the Sun Belt. Look at WKU. They always get scrappy players who fight for the inside stuff. They don't often get big men or dominating PF's. They don't need to. Other than that Marcus kid they had many moons ago, I'm hard-pressed to think of another PF or C who was a "force" for them. Historically, the Toppers have done their damage with SF, SG and PG. That's a formula FIU can copy, and from the looks of it, I think that's what IT's trying to do. Or it might be out of necessity, since FIU's only true post threat in many years is now at Miami-Dade College.

College basketball, especially in recent years, is guard-dominated. There just aren't a lot of big men who take over games, not even in the major conferences. A Blake Griffin or Michael Beasley is rare stuff. Teams in FIU's class often have to rely on the guards and SF's to do the heavy lifting. If you look at the mid-major schools who make the tourney, especially the ones who make it consistently, you'll see that most of them are guard-dominated. By and large, all big men are asked to do in college hoops is own the paint on D and clean up the glass. If FIU can find 2-3 guys who do that consistenly, IT can be left to do what he knows best: find and coach up guards.

Truthfully, I think going with a guard-heavy line-up is not only to FIU's benefit now, especially with Asprilla gone, but for the future, too. It's going to make for some great-looking basketball, the kind which draws crowds once the wins come. Speaking of that, I'll be happy with anything above .500 this year. Maybe IT will surprise, and I can't see us dead last, but I don't think we'll finish higher than 3rd in the East unless these JUCO's are a lot better than I think.

I agree with everyone who says we really need to temper our expectations. Isiah, based on his ability to recruit thus far, the ability he showed in developing talent in the pros, and his coaching record in the pros compared to other great college coaches, should be a really good coach. With all that being said we are a team with only eight or nine scholarship players and they need to develop chemistry in an actual game. That takes more time than developing chemistry in practice. People should not expect us to be SBC champs this year, and IT even said that the team to beat is WKU and that right now we are just aiming to replicate their success. Realistic expectations are key here right now. I do not think we will finish second to last overall, and I do think we will be above .500, but I think it won't be till next season that we really make a good go at the SBC title.

yeahhh, triathlete baby!!!

we are a different breed.

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