... Here's how I see today's FIU Baseball Media Day unfolding.
At the start of the press conference, FIU will read a statement from AD Pete Garcia, announcing that the school and athletic department conducted a thorough investigation of the allegations surrounding Garrett Wittels, and decided that there was not enough evidence to warrant a suspension.
Then there will be the obligatory legal-ese, saying this is not an affirmation of Wittels' innocence, and if additional information or events arise, the decision is subject to change.
Then Wittels will talk. He'll be asked indirectly about the situation he finds himself in, if he feels fortunate to be allowed to play ... and he'll answer a few of those questions, before all the talk will turn to the streak.
Then the sporting media will do what it does best: Eat.
Let's see afterwards how right I am ...
... Here's how I see today's FIU Baseball Media Day unfolding.
Check back Wednesday for complete coverage of FIU Baseball's Media Day, in which Garrett Wittels will speak about his record-chasing hitting streak, but not about the rape charges hanging over his head.
We'll have video and transcripts during the day, with a complete wrap-up in Thursday's Miami Herald.
Reminder: The baseball season begins this weekend against Southeastern Louisiana. First pitch Friday is 7 p.m., while Saturday's game begins at 1. Gametime for Sunday, the day he would break the record, is 7:30 p.m. (good catch, @Top 25).
Still awaiting word on the 2011 football schedule, but we now know when the Golden Panthers will play Duke.
The Blue Devils announced their schedule Monday, and list their trip to FIU as Oct. 1.
Thanks to Paul Borden for the heads up.
Chatted with FIU prez Mark Rosenberg last week, and although he declined to discuss the touchy Garrett Wittels situation, which Clark Spencer and I explore in today’s Herald, he did talk more broadly about the direction of the university, and its impact on athletics.
With all the attention you all received with the football season, have you seen a spike in applications?
“Not yet, is the best way to answer that. It probably would be premature to identify a spike, because there are all types so things pushing applications. I’d say in another two three months, we’d be in a better position to know, but not right now.”
You’re anticipating growing the size of enrollment in the next few years, right?
“We’ll go 10,000 in the next five, and in the 10, it will be another 10. Twenty thousand in total. We’ll go from 42,000 to 62,000.”
“I think the impact on athletics is three-fold. First, that growth will expand the fan base. Clearly, the students are critical for a fan base, particular with a high-quality stadium and a basketball arena, and softball field and a soccer field on our campus. We will have a lot more opportunities to have students attend a range of games.
“The second thing is, obviously, as the student population increases, the pool of available funds will increase. The most important thing about the growth in the student enrollment is that we’ll be able to hire, over the next 10 years, at least 800 new faculty. That’s over and above what we would have hired. And we’ll be able to able hundreds of new advisors and counselors. That’s critical if we’re to improve our graduation rate, and then we’ll be able to offer a lot more courses. To our students.
“And the third point, as we enroll more students, we will graduate more students, building a much stronger alumni base within this community. Within the next 10 years, we will graduate 100,000 students. That’s 100,000 alums, alums who have great jobs in the community, and who will be presumably supportive of their alma mater.”
The school had some cuts a few years back. Will this money go to restoring some of those jobs?
“You can’t put toothpaste back into the tube. We will have created new jobs, but they will not necessarily be the same jobs in the same positions, because the cuts decisions were based upon a very disciplined approach to assessing what was good and could get better, and where we could built excellence. There was a disciplined cut agenda. I don’t think we’ll replace with the same programs necessarily. We’re trying to be responsive in the marketplace. We’ll be hiring faculty in programs that are much more sensitive to demand and market demand jobs. We’ll be offering more courses. And with that, of course, there will be additional student fee money that will go to a range of different areas – our health clinics, our athletics, our student activities. That will obviously help us in providing a fuller range of opportunities for our students. I’m essentially giving you a long, complicated answer to what was a very focused question. Truthfully, I look at this holistically, and I know your focus is on athletics, but enrollment growth is about hiring new faculty, maintaining student-faculty ratios, offering more courses, and providing much better advise and guidance for our students.”
It seems to me, the missing piece to building a successful athletic program is to grow the fan base – to pack the football stadium, to travel to bowl games. That’s the sign of a healthy program, when you have people in the seats, correct?
“No question. No doubt that we must do a better job of consistently of getting our fans back to follow our teams. Whether or it’s football or basketball or baseball. Clearly, as the number of students grow, the number of alumni grow, and as the number of alumni will grow, the amount of support that they will bring back to FIU – emotional, financial – will grow. But ultimately, I want to reinforce that notion, in terms of our admissions, we know there are academically qualified students. There’s a demand for access for FIU. It’s not that we’re going to be open admissions. Not at all. This is for academically qualified students around which we will build our institution.”
Are there plans in the near future to start renovating the stadium again?
“Obviously, there’s a context for everything, and the economic downturn has forced us to re-evaluate our timetables. I can’t give you a specific timetable. I can tell you our planners are thinking about when we could initiate that process. We’re looking at other ways to improve stadium. We finally start to improve the press boxes. That’s very important. We’re doing gradual improvements to Landon Fieldhouse. It’s spectacular. We put a wrap around the stadium to advertise more the university. We’re making constant improvements, but we still don’t have a specific timetable for the north end. There are a lot of options we are looking at, but right now, we don’t have a specific timetable.”
The men's basketball team lost at Middle Tennessee Saturday afternoon. Freshman Phil Taylor led the Panthers with a season-high 21 points on 5 of 10 shooting from the field. Taylor was 8 of 10 from the foul line.
"I thought Middle played a good game," FIU coach Isiah Thomas said after the game. "They kicked out tail on the boards. That is the story of the game the rebounding effort."
The Blue Raiders out rebounded FIU 37 to 20, including 15 to 6 on offensive rebounds.
"I've been telling my team this whole years it's about rebounding and foul shots," Thomas said. "If you can't make free throws you got no shot."
FIU was 22 of 33 from the foul line.
FIU fell early in the game, with Middle Tennessee taking a 12-point lead into halftime. The loss marks the third straight for FIU, who is 2 of 10 on the road this season. With three games left before the conference tournament, FIU is trying to recover from a late-season slide that has moved the Panthers to the bottom of the east division standings.
FIU has a week to prepare for its next game against rival FAU on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Owls squeaked out a 73-72 win at home against FIU on Feb. 5.
I start a week-long furlough on Monday and will not be around till the following Monday. Not fun. Talk to you guys in a week.
Just got word from the good people at FIU's Sports Information Department that Garrett Wittels, Turtle Thomas and selected other players will be made available to the media Wednesday.
However, they will "talk about the upcoming season as defending Sun Belt Champions and Garrett Wittels chase for history ONLY," the release states, and if there are any questions about his open rape case in the Bahamas, the press conference will end immediately.
Furthermore, should a question about the charges be asked, FIU has threatened to revoke credentials for the 2011 baseball season.
Should be an interesting afternoon.
Recruiting notebook, odds and ends from a busy day chasing basketball players.
I had a chance to do a quick interview with rivals.com national basketball analyst Eric Bossi about FIU and the work Isiah Thomas has done since coming to the school.
"Clearly [Thomas] is making a stir at Florida International. There are a lot of mixed opinions with Isiah Thomas. People probably wouldn’t notice Florida International if it was not for Thomas. They would have never gotten [Dominique] Ferguson if it wasn’t for him," Bossi said.
"I tell you this, I worked in this business since 2000 and since Isiah got there, there has been way more talk about FIU in the last two years than there was in the last 10 years," he added.
I also asked him about freshman Phillip Taylor
"Phil isn’t the biggest guy around but he’s a kid that has played against some of the top players in the country and has held his own. He’s not afraid to shoot it. He adds an element of confidence at the point guard position," Bossi said.
Scouting report for Darnell Harris
I also spoke with rivals.com national basketball analyst Jerry Meyer. Meyer gave me a scoting report on Harris.
"[Harris] is a tall shooter. He has length and he has pretty deep range out to 25 feet. That’s the strength of his game. Not really a slasher/ball handler type, more of a shoot over you type," Meyer said.
I also asked about the level Harris' commitment to FIU
"As far as I know, I haven’t heard anything different," Meyer said. "I don’t know if he has signed yet. From what I know his commitment is solid."
Scouting report for Chris Coleman
"Real big guy, space eater, barely skilled but more than that, he’s just a huge physical precense," Meyer said. "He's a big guy. Both these guys got looks from high majors. Good gets for a Sun Belt school."
I also asked Meyer if some of that buzz around FIU and Isiah has died down some since Thomas first came to FIU?
"Maybe a little bit of that allure is gone. Isiah Thomas is still Isiah Thomas and that is going to get the attention of the recruits," Meyer said. "There was a buzz. Now it's fair to say that some of that buzz has gone away. FIU has to win. That’s only going to help recruiting. It’s a lot easier to recruit when you win. Isiah has recruited at a higher level and has gotten some nice players."
Chasing down basketball recruits this afternoon.
I had a chance to talk with Yvan Ngirabakunzi's coach at the Piney Woods school in Mississippi. Coach Lemuel Jones said he has not had a chance to talk with FIU coach Isiah Thomas since the season began and that he is not sure where Ngirabakunzi stands in the recruiting process. Jones basically said he is waiting for the season to be over to sit with Ngirabakunzi to talk about where he could possibly end up at.
Jones described Ngirabakunzi has a four who has the "chance to be pretty good."
From what I gather, Piney Woods has a chance at a state championship this season and Jones is not trying to distract his players. Jones stopped short of saying if Ngirabakunzi has been offered a scholarship by FIU or any other school for that matter.
Still waiting to hear back from Christian Life Academy in Texas.
FIUScout.com added three more potential players to the mix
SG Austin Keel, Winter Springs, FL, interest medium
PF Jonathan Holton, Coral Gables, signed with Rhode Island
SG Curtis Davis, Woodrow Wilson, TX, interest medium
According to his former coach at LaSalle Tony Reguiera, Holton is not considering FIU and has already committed to Rhode Island.
When/Where: Wednesday at 6 p.m., U.S. Century Bank Arena
Of note: The resurgent Golden Panthers (11-14, 6-5 Sun Belt) put their four-game winning streak on the line against the struggling Rajin' Cajuns (11-12, 3-7). ... FIU last played Sunday, converting all 11 of its free throws to beat Florida Atlantic 60-53. The Panthers' 74.8 percent shooting from the stripe this year ranks 27th nationally. ... ULL's offense ranks third in the Sun Belt with an average of 65.7 ppg. ... FIU leads the all-time series 13-6.
I was looking over the different recruiting sites to see what is being reported about FIU. All three sites (ESPN, Scout and Rivals) are in disagreement on who has and has not verbally committed to coach Isiah Thomas. Recruiting is going to start heating up as it gets closer to signing day in early April. Just like with football, much of what is being talked about in the media is more speculation than truth.
From what I can tell you from football signing day last week, the services really do not pay as much attention to the Sun Belt as the other conferences and some of the information can be inaccurate.
ESPN lists four verbal commitments for FIU:
PF, Darnell Harris, Christian Life, 6-8, 210, TX, grade 91.
C, Chris Coleman, Christian Life, 6-10, 270, TX, grade 88
C, Joe de la Rosa, Montverde Aca., 6-10, 200, FL, grade 88
C, Yvan Ngirabakunzi, The Piney Woods, 6-9, 205, MS, grade 82
Plus one possible commitment
PF, Vince Van Nes, Northfield-Mt. Hermon, 6-11, 235, MA, grade 82
Lists only Coleman and Harris has the only two verbal commitments.
Lists only Harris.
FIU is definitely lacking size this season and could only benefit from having PF Harris and a legitimate center come in. FIU has 14 guards on the roster, with half graduating this year. That includes starting point guard Phil Gary, Alex Legion and Marvin Roberts. At the moment, the Panthers have needed Eric Frederick to carry the load inside. In 23 games played, Frederick has a team-high 6.6 rebounds and 13.3 points a game.
Both Phil Taylor and Dominique Ferguson are freshmen. FIU will need to build around them, along with Frederick, who is returning to play his senior season. FIU will also have the benefit of having leading scorer DeJuan Wright for another year. Put that together with another strong recruiting class and FIU should be a contender in the SBC next season.
This year might not be totally wasted just yet. I have a feeling FIU could make a run in the conference tournament but with how erratic they have played late in games, I am not sure how far they could go.
Still a little sluggish this afternoon after an incredible Super Bowl party last night. I had no rooting interest in the game (well, other than not wanting the Steelers to win again, I guess.) The game had everything you would ever want in a championship contest, from drama and excitement to a halftime show I did not watch, but I digress.
The Panthers have continued to improve from last year's seven win season. From what I see, this team has the potential to be really good one day. Like I've said before, fans need to be patient.
Granted, the Panthers have only won a game out of their last eight but the team has been competitive over that stretch. The Panthers have faced some of the best team in the Sun Belt over that period, including Denver and FAU. FIU had late leads in almost all those games, including sending division leading Denver to overtime.
"We play good for 38 minutes. Part of teaching a team how to win is making a team understand that we don't lose a game in the last two minutes. You can lose the game in the first seven minutes on one or two plays," FIU coach Isiah Thomas said. "When your playing three or four point basketball games like we are playing every mistake costs."
Adding to the Panthers' growing pains is missing several key recruits to start the season. You have to take into count that freshman Dominique Ferguson and Phil Taylor have only played in 13 and 5 games, respectively.
The coach widely credited for helping FIU baseball survive the exhausting run through the Sun Belt tournament -- strength coach Dave Feeley -- has accepted a job as Ball State's football strength coach.
When the Golden Panthers needed to play at the crack of dawn most every morning last year in Murfreesboro, they prevailed in large part because of their conditioning. And for that, Feeley deserved much credit.
Now he's off to the Mid-American Conference.
"David Feeley comes highly recommended from a number of people I trust," said Ball State coach Pete Lembo. "I enjoyed getting to know him through the hiring process. He learned from Jay Butler at Rutgers, who in my opinion, is one of the best strength coaches in the business. David made an impact at FIU and helped the Golden Panthers to their first bowl appearance in school history. His energy, work ethic, organizational skills and creativity will enable him to also make an impact with our student-athletes."
Mick Smith has taken over primary baseball duties at FIU.
FIU stadium manager Anthony Mozzicato, who oversaw many of the upgrades made to The Cage, has accepted a job with the Sporting Kansas City, and will run the team's new facility, set to open in June 2011. His exact title will be manager of operations for Sporting KC Stadium.
"I would like to thank FIU Athletic Director Pete Garcia and Senior Associate AD Julie Berg for giving me the opportunity to manage FIU Stadium over the last several years as Stadium Manager." Mozzicato said in a statement. "I am also very appreciative of the working relationship and friendship that I have gained with FIU Football Head Coach Mario Cristobal and I look forward to watching him continue to build FIU Football into a nationally recognized program. I will always be an FIU Golden Panther."
FIU has not yet named a successor, but it is believed the school will consider external candidates.
You know it's almost baseball -- not to mention softball -- season when FIU's annual Diamond Dinner rolls around.
Former Marlins skipper Jack McKeon is the special guest for this year's banquet -- held this Saturday night at the Graham Center Ballroom on FIU's main campus.
Cocktail hour begins at 6 p.m. and the night features both a live and silent auction.
For ticket information, visit FIUSports.com.
Shortly after FIU's first-ever bowl win, we had this story on Mario Cristobal's contract, which expires after the 2011 season.
The Golden Panthers clearly want to keep Cristobal around, and athletic director Pete Garcia said inking the coach to an extension was one of the department's top offseason priorities.
But a month has passed, and yet no deal, so many of you have been curious about if this has changed. The answer, in short, is no.
A deal getting done is still as likely as it was then. With the crazy recruiting weeks heading into Signing Day now behind them, contract negotiations are going to be a major focus in the coming weeks, The Miami Herald has learned.
While FIU will now turn its focus to 2012 recruiting and strength (and schematic) preparation for the coming season, this is as close to down time as there in the sport, so it's the logical time for such negotiations to occur.
My guess: It will be done by the start of Spring Practice on March 3. But of course, I've been wrong before.
When/where: Saturday at 8 p.m.; FAU Arena
TV/Radio: CSS (Sun Belt Network)
Of note: The Golden Panthers (9-13, 4-6 Sun Belt) snapped a six-game losing streak with a 81-80 victory over Troy on Thursday. ... DeJuan Wright hit the game-winning shot with seven seconds left in OT to hand FIU just its second road win of the season. ... Wright's 14.5 points per game lead the team, despite starting just only eight games this year. ... The Owls (17-7, 9-1) sit atop the Sun Belt's East Division. They last played Thursday, a 72-55 victory over North Texas that was Mike Jarvis' 400th career win.
Made my first appearance of the winter at baseball camp, and had a chance to chat with new pitcher D.J. Swatscheno for a story that should appear in the Herald in the next few days.
Meanwhile, got enough news tidbits to fill a notebook.
- Freshman shortstop Jesse Pintado will be shelved for some time after breaking his arm while making a throw in the first week of practice. Should Garrett Wittels be not allowed/unable to play, the Golden Panthers will be awfully thin at short.
- T.J. Shantz, who will be FIU's everyday second baseman, switched his number from 39 to 5.
- Jabari Henry has put on some serious weight since his freshman season -- and in a good way. Much stronger.
- FIU's weekend rotation is still being ironed out, but it appears R.J. Fondon and Phil Haig will take two of the spots. Aaron Arboleya, Michael Ellis, Kyle Fitzpatrick and Daniel DeSimone will compete for the Sunday job.
Anthony Gaitor, FIU’s all-conference cornerback, will participate in Saturday night’s Texas vs. the Nation as he continues to prepare for April’s NFL Draft. He took time out of practice Thursday to talk with us.
Q: So how’s it going out in San Antonio?
“It’s great. I'm learning how to interact with other scouts, the whole process, and being around other players, I’m learning from them. It's very competitive. All of these guys from a lot of big schools. Going up against the best.”
Q: Who have you covered in practice?
“I've covered guys from everywhere, like Kris Durham from Georgia, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos from Iowa. Everything's a rotation right now, we're just rotating in, getting the same amount of reps. We run the 4-3, so I’m playing a lot of Cover-1 and Cover-3. We're getting the one-on-ones, competing, trying to show the scouts what we can do.”
Q: Are you still enrolled at FIU, or are you focused completely on draft preparation?
“I'm doing my last class online, and I will walk in the spring with a degree in sports management. I'm very proud. It's a dream come true. I’m so blessed. It's one of my dreams. My dreams are coming true, every day.
“I'm just happy right now that I'm blessed. I got the opportunity to play in an all-star game. I just need to enjoy the process. Most people don't have this opportunity. Most people don't have the opportunity to get drafted. I know a lot more work needs to be put in. I’m grateful.”
Q: You’re not the only Golden Panther to get selected to an all-star game. Have you talked with Brad Serini at all?
“I talk to him, and see how things are going for him. He told me that every day you're out there, show what you're capable of, what your ability is. He just wished me good luck. I’ll see him on March 3. That's FIU’s pro day.”
Q: What did you think of FIU’s latest recruiting class? They have more and more Northwestern High kids signing with the team each year.
“I heard it went nice. I’m happy that FIU is a team that's not overlooked anymore. That was my whole reason for attending FIU, to build something from the ground up. No matter how bad a team is, that's not the end of it. That’s what I tell my high school teammates, who looked up to me, questioned why I chose FIU over Georgia. I’m thankful and grateful that I went there.
“I never once a regret that I chose a Sun Belt school over an SEC school. Your talent is going to always show. That's one of the things that I show guys. I appreciate everything they've done for me. I’m thankful that they gave me an opportunity to play at FIU. They never once gave up on me. It's not all about the big schools. But when you see a team like that, you want to be part of something big. Now, look at us now. We're getting there. We won the SBC and conference. That’s step one of the process.”
Of the dozens and dozens of prospective draftees hoping to make a splash invite to the NFL Combine, somehow there wasn't room for some of the Sun Belt's best, namely FIU's Anthony Gaitor and Brad Serini.
Gaitor, Serini, Greg Ellingson and Cedric Mack are believed to be on the radar of several NFL scouts, but none have been invited to Indianapolis for the annual beauty contest, which begins in three weeks.
Sun Belt players that were invited: Troy WR Jerrel Jernigan, FAU QB Jeff Van Camp, TE Robert Housler and Lester Jean and Arkansas State OL Derek Newton.
Strange to see three Owls get picked, considering they went 4-8 overall, and 3-5 in the conference. Underachieve much?
Anyway, just had a chance to chat with Gaitor as he prepares for Saturday's Texas Vs. The Nation game, and will have that Q&A up later today.
In addition to speaking on the 25 players to affix their names to an FIU letter of intent, Mario Cristobal made a little news Wednesday.
He set the date for the Spring Game for April 1, the final day of spring practice, which begins March 3.
Cristobal confirmed Todd Orlando is in line to become the next defensive coordinator, but for some reason has not able to make the hire official.
He also said that freshman defensive tackle Jordan White, who battled weight issues this fall, could possibly see action on the offensive line going forward.
On recruiting class' focus: "Getting bigger, rangier and longer [on defense]. We wanted to make sure we have guys that have enough range to be effective. We're always looking for explosive and athletic athletes. Third down and the red zone, we're going to be much better team."
On the immediate impact of the class: "We have a lot of game-changers, guys that will make an immediate impact. We expect everyone to be a member of the two-deep at some point during the fall."
What he's most proud of from this class: "It’s just explosive all the way around. A different caliber of player. Naturally they can accelerate to the football. Guys with tremendous football sense, who can change the game. It’s the easiest time we’ve ever had to make a highlight tape."
On the importance of recruiting: "We recruit like men possessed. It’s our lifeline. We have some real nice plays run up on paper. They are pretty detailed. But you have to have the players to make those plays work. Recruiting has to be a part of our every single day."
If there is enough footballs for all the skill position players: "FIU has been the place where a lot of kids want to come. We had a great influx, as of late, of guys who wanted to commit. It makes you say, you know what, we could be a little bit more patient. We can continue to assess certain positions that are stocked pretty well, and focus on other positions going forward."