In contrast to the bulk-based, muscular football identified with the Midwest, the Indianapolis Colts began believing in scoring points from a distance and with style since drafting Peyton Manning in 1998. Going! Going! Gosh!, Zoom at the Top and Gee Whi-z-z-z describe the Colts offensive style (OK, they're also the titles of RoadRunner/Coyote cartoons, but even more to my point...). Evolution of rules and style pushed the rest of the NFL toward the Colts style and they chose to rebuild starting with quarterback Andrew Luck, you know they're not changing.
That's why it wasn't shocking they took T.Y. Hilton. They resigned aging Reggie Wayne, drafted a couple of tight ends, so they needed some zoom, baby. They need it on the offense and in the kick return game.
Hilton said on his visit to Indianapolis, "The receivers coach and I grew a bond, the offensive coordinator and I grew a bond as well. He saw where I was coming from and I saw where he was coming from."
He also visited with Philadephia, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Jacksonville, worked out for Baltimore and the Dolphins. As the third round plodded along, "I was just being patient," Hilton said. "What really got me was when Jacksonville chose the punter. I was thinking, what is the world coming to?"
The third round was winding down when he saw the phone call from the Colts. "I was holding my breath. I was thinking, their next pick is in the fourth round. They're calling me to tell me they're taking me in the fourth round iwth the first pick tomorrow. They said, "we just traded up for you." It took my breath away."
Freshman swimmer Johanna Gustafsdottir, she of three Sun Belt titles, was selected a Mid-Major All-American by CollegeSwimming.com.
Sonia Perez Arau got an Honorable Mention notation by the site.
JoGus just tore through a 400IM in 4:57.46 at the Iceland National Championships, a national record and the first time for an Iceland woman to break 5:00. She also finished 2nd in the 200 backstroke and 200 IM.
Freshman Gilles Dierickx, the 7-0 Belgian-by-way-of-LA center, got his partial scholarship release and will leave FIU. So will sophomore forward Dominique Ferguson, who never got his scholarship release and will declare for the NBA Draft.
Ferguson said even if he isn't drafted -- the likely result, in my opinion, after what even his supporters on the coaching staff felt was a disappointing season -- he believes he can find a place to play for pay overseas. He insisted he wants to finish school. He told the committee reviewing his scholarship release rejection he wanted to go to a smaller school where he could get more one-on-one tutoring.
Meanwhile, FIU recently was checking out Boca Ciega High guard Dallas Moore and Coral Springs Christian 6-7 forward Nura Zanna recently, both class of 2013.
Trevor Theroulde, an FIU assistant coach for four seasons, has been promoted to head volleyball coach, the school announced Friday. Theroulde was head coach of Trinidad and Tobago's national team from 1995-2002. He's also been an assistant at Central Florida and Marshall.
Saturday's baseball home game will start at 1 p.m. Presumably, Arkansas-Little Rock also has been informed. As fan karaoke -- with prizes -- will be on the non-game entertainment bill, UALR might wish they'd showed up at the originally scheduled time.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock, their scouting ace, spoke kindly of T.Y. Hilton when I brought up the wide receiver on a conference call Thursday:
"He's really an exciting player because he's one of those guys that's not just quick, but fast. He ran in the 4.30s on his pro day and very quick with the ball in hand and added value in the return game.
So, when you add all those things up, I think he's going to be a late two to a mid three. He's going to be a return specialist. He's dangerous with the ball in his hand. Some teams will look at him as a slot receiver because he's so darned quick but I don't think you can lump him in there and say he's just a slot and return specialist, because he also has long speed.
But give him a chance to earn a spot outside, because there's some value there, but ultimately, he's going to be, I think, one of the better inside receivers in the game along with a return specialist."
Over in the Panthers-Devils NHL playoff series, a 3-0 lead has been taken in each game. In Tuesday's Game 3, the Panthers came back with four unanswered goals for a 4-3 win. Friday, FIU's tennis team, getting whipped 3-0 by Troy, stormed back for a 4-3 match win that gets them a 9 a.m. Saturday court time with Middle Tennessee State.
Stormed might be appropraite, as the rains came Friday after Troy took the 3-0 lead. After a rain delay long enough to play What's Goin' On a few times ended, FIU's Sarah McLean routed Lyubov Dorofeeya 6-2, 6-2. Giuletta Boha then beat Rosaura Ramirez-Vega 6-3, 7-6. Christine Serendi tied the match with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Samya El-Hsissen.
Karyn Guttormsen and Candela Munoz decided the whole affair with, fittingly, a three-setter. Munoz took the first set 6-1, but Guttormsen answered by taking the final two sets 6-3, 6-4.
Despite the tepid -- at best -- response I got from new FIU men's basketball coach Richard Pitino Monday when I asked him if he'd be bringing Louisville's director of basketball operations and former Miami Pace High coach Mark Lieberman down with him, got informed this morning that Lieberman's already in the fold and been spotted at potential recruit workouts wearing FIU attire.
With Lieberman back, you have to think FIU has a shot at being the landing spot for Cody Mann, who is transferring out of Colorado State. Mann played for Lieberman at Pace before transferring to play under Shaky Rodriguez at Dr. Krop High as a senior.
(My favorite moment of the 1990 FIU coaching search: a member of the search committee looks at the five finalists selected by the subcommittee, doesn't see Rodriguez and says, "I, for one, would like to speak for Marcos Rodriguez." A member of the subcommittee replies guilelessly, "We felt he didn't have enough experience recruiting." That marinated for a beat, then two. Then, the titters started. Then, some laughs.)
Mann got into only 17 games for guard-loaded 20-12 Colorado State, playing 85 total minutes. He was quoted in reports as not seeing the sneaker ceiling getting much higher above him next year while also having a tough time being away from home.
Also, 6-5 guard/forward Charles Hankerson, Jr., Coral Reef High graduate and son of the former Northwestern principal and Edison High basketball coach, is transferring from Alabama and has been contacted by the FIU staff. Rivals had Hankerson ranked in their Top 150 for 2010. Hankerson started five of 26 games as a freshman, but none of 18 as a sophomore. His minutes per game dropped from 11.2 to 10.5.
Hankerson's younger brother, 6-3 point guard Cedric Hankerson, also is being recruited by several schools now.
Michael Gomez is now on the midseason watch list for the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year award, given to the best Division I relief pitcher.
In 20 appearances, Gomez has 10 saves and a 2.25 ERA with a .194 batting average allowed. He's allowed only two extra base hits in 28 innings.
Two sources said when new FIU coach Richard Pitino went to Boca Raton Grandview Prep Tuesday to convince 6-9 Windale Glinton and 6-4 point guard Ivan Canete to recommit to FIU in 2013, the players told Pitino he'd have to talk to their AAU coach. And their AAU coach feels little warmth for FIU these days.
At least he can console himself that, from what I hear, Glinton and Canete aren't likely to wind up at FAU with Mike Jarvis.
Katie Mundy took a two-shot lead into Wednesday's third and final round of the Sun Belt Championship. Alas, Mundy went Greg Norman with a third round 2-over 74 to finish with a 1-under 215 and fall into a playoff with Denver's Rachael Watton. Watton won the playoff on the first hole.
Watton led Denver to the overall title. FIU finished third, 23 shots back. Shelby Coyle's 5-over 221 came in ninth. Tania Tare was tied for 15th with a 12-over 228. Yolecci Jimenez's 15-over 231 tied for 24th. Monica Miller's 28-over 244 was 44th.
Junior Rita Masiak, FIU's No. 1 singles player, was named to the All-Sun Belt team Wednesday. The Sun Belt tournament is this week. FIU plays the Troy-Arkansas-Little Rock winner at 9 a.m. Friday.
And we close with this...for me, these scenes meant early Saturday afternoon, post-cartoons and before sports. RIP Dick Clark.
A few things from today's introduction of Richard Pitino as FIU men's basketball coach:
It was an eclectic group attending the media session: the usual athletic department folks; a few players stopped their informal shootaround on the court below to check out the new guy; former director of basketball operations Hashim Ali Alauddeen was there.
Afterwards, Lekan Ajayi was brought in to meet Pitino and they were exchanging smiles and polite chatter as I left. Ajayi, a transfer from Wyoming, will be eligible after the 2012 fall semester. The 6-11 center got an 89 rating out of 100 by ESPN Scouts and was considered a coup for Wyoming. Smart move by Pitino. He said he hadn't spoken to any 2012 recruits yet, but might want to get on the phone with 6-4 Milton Doyle out of Chicago Marshall. You never know how recruits will flower or wilt in college, but The Chicago Tribune named Doyle third team All-State, a nice honor in a traditionally strong basketball area. If Pitino has to start over, he could do worse than those two guys.
Pitino also vowed to have an up-tempo team that would be fun for fans and players. I don't doubt it. He's only four years older than the three-point shot in college ball. It's no accident his dad's first Final Four team, 1987 Providence, came in the first year of the three. Rick Pitino resurrected Kentucky in the 1990s by being one of the first coaches to make the three-pointer part of his team's offensive nucleus. But have you ever noticed no coach comes in saying, "We're going to be a walk-it-up, half-court team that takes four passes on each half-court possession before we shoot?"
I got a solid "maybe" that sounded like a probably not when I asked Pitino former longtime Miami Pace High coach Mark Lieberman, Louisville's Director of Basketball Operations, would be joining his staff.
I asked Pitino about the transition from the Kentuckiana area, where the game rules to an extent that it's just called "ball," to building support for the No. 2 or 3 Division I program in area that's the statistically worst large US metro area for college basketball. He replied, "Winning is important. Playing hard and doing things the right way is important. We've got to do a great job of recruiting. We've got to do a great job of developing players. We've got to do a great job of getting out in the community and meeting as many people as possible. The great thing about FIU is with 46,000 students, there's a lot of alumni, a lot of people throughout the community who are dying to support this program."
Sunday night at the Panthers playoff game (that's hockey, folks), a few of us who knew we'd be at the first appearance of Pitino (whenever it happened) hoped Pete Garcia either wouldn't be there or would be available in separate media session or one-on-one discussions. If he's on the podium with Pitino, we sighed, Pitino has to sit there while we ask questions about the Isiah Thomas firing and the scholarship releases.
(And, no, we can't just not ask because that would violate basic journalistic common sense and get us gutted by any editor not too busy to do his job).
Sure enough, after opening statements -- yes, Garcia did mention "national championship" again and I'm thinking, "how about just 10 wins on a regular basis?" -- Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press asked why the firings took so long to happen and why did they happen?
“I appreciate the question. I said in the release (10 days) ago, I want to thank Isiah and his staff for the three yars they put in to help put in to help build this program. I’ll always be grateful to his staff. I appreciate everything they did. However, I’m going to stick with that statement for right now. Today is about Richard Petino and FIU basketball going forward. But I want tos ay this: I'm grateful and thankful to Isiah Thomas and his staff for the work they did here for three years."
Tim followed up by asking if Monday was about going forward, what about the players who've asked to be released from their scholarship...?
"That's an NCAA procedure," Garcia said. "I'll have coach address it in a second. Obviously, our interest is for the players to stay here and get their degrees. There is a process that goes on. But I'll let coach address how he feels about it."
Pitino took the baton and said, "The most important thing for us with these guys signed up to play basketball at FIU is to get their degree. For us, that's the most important thing. They’ve got a week left of school, then they’ve got finals. They need to focus on finishing up strongly in the classroom and studying for their finals. And They’ve got to get to know me. They’re not going to want to play for me without even knowing me. The most important thing for me the first couple of days is to be around these guys as much as possible.
"They’re going to have to be recruited a little bit. I certainly understand that. I’m fully confident I can do that. At the end of the day, the most important thing for these guys is they're provided the opportunity to do well in the classroom and finish up strong.”
Garcia chimed back in, "One of the things that Isiah taught these players was loyalty. I appreciate and respect their loyalty that they're showing. I'm grateful for that, too."
Then, I asked when first contact was made with Pitino, how many applicants did he speak to and was first contact made at the Final Four? Garcia was there. So was Pitino, as a Louisville assistant. Less than a week later, the axes fell. Nine days after that, Pitino had the job.
"I was at the Final Four. I didn't hlod the Final Four results against Coach Petino. I did make contact wtih him on Tuesday of last week. I did not talk to anyone for about four or five days. We gathered information, we went through resumes, we did our due diligence, we narrowed it down to a number of finalists and started bringing them in last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. After that process was done, sat down with the administration here and we made our final decision."
Senior Katie Mundy leads the field at the Sun Belt Conference Championships with a 3-under 69 after the first day. FIU is fourth as a team.
FIU will introduce Richard Pitino -- yes, it's tempting to call him "Little Ricky," no, I won't do it (yet) -- at a 3:30 media session at The Branch. I just ran into Pitino walking with Pete Garcia and a couple other folks toward the SAAC. He won't be the first Division I coach who looks younger than half the kids he'll recruit.
Ashley McClain solidified her place as the greatest hitter in FIU softball history with a pair of home runs against Western Kentucky Sunday, giving her 32 for her career. McClain's now FIU's career leader in homers, doubles, total bases, RBI and batting average. She's 23 hits from tying for the top spot on that career list.
Sources confirm a report from http://www.allkyhoops.com that FIU will bring in Richard Pitino, son of Louisivlle coach Rick Pitino and a Louisville assistant under his father three of the last five seasons, as the next men's basketball coach. Pitino the younger spent 2009-11 as an assistant at the University of Florida under Billy Donovan, who played and coached under Pitino the elder. This is his first Division I head coaching job.
The hire comes just nine days after FIU fired Isiah Thomas after three seasons and a 26-65 record. It remains to be seen how many players will still transfer or how many recruits will keep their commitment to FIU.
Friday night, sophomore forward Dominique Ferguson said his appeal of the athletic department's refusal to release him from his scholarship was denied. He was notified by an e-mail from Dr. Stephen Fain, Professor Emeritus in the College of Education and FIU's faculty athletics representative to the NCAA. CC'd on the e-mail were Dr. Pete E.C. Markowitz of the Physics Department; Thomas Baker, Law Preofessor; senior associate athletic director Julie Berg-McGraw; and complaince director Valerie Sheley.
Ferguson said the e-mail, sent four hours after his appeal meeting Friday, informed him the powers that be felt it would benefit him better to stay at FIU.
Never mind that the coach I personally saw make sure Ferguson went to class and got all the tutoring help needed being thrown out of FIU's house like some husband busted for getting something on the side. Never mind there's no coaching staff there now to follow up in the same manner.
The firings occurred hours before First Seder of Passover, but the school's trying to stem an exodus. It might take someone demanding, "Let my people go" while a sibling throws down a staff that turns into a snake.
FIU can't hold onto what's not there yet. Two players from Boca Raton Grandview Prep, 6-9 power foward Windale Glinton and 6-3 point guard Ivan Canete, both had committed verbally to FIU for 2013. Last Friday's firing of Isiah Thomas changed a few things.
Canete and Glinton's Grandview Prep coach announced their decommittment in a Friday afternoon phone call to me. Canete averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game for Grandview this season. MaxPreps has him as the No. 56 ranked player in the state.
I see one of the comment debates has been about Richaud Pack. I don't know the exact reason he left, but I do know it happened weeks after a Nov. 28 practice altercation. Pack stormed out of practice shouting he'd been punched in the face by Phil Taylor (other witnesses denied any fisticuffs took place). Thomas tried to calm Pack down and physically restrain him, but Pack twisted away and stormed off.
Pack was granted his scholarship release and transferred to Division III Adrian College, where he played his first game Dec. 22. Pack started seven of 18 games and averaged 14.6 points per game on 42.9 percent shooting.
In the wake of the coaching staff's firing Friday, several men's basketball players have asked for release from their scholarships and have been denied by the school -- for the moment. Players have appealed via e-mailed letter to a higher FIU power, FIU President Mark Rosenberg, and some hope to get their release by the end of the week after meetings with FIU staffers.
According to a source close to FIU, a school asking about one of the players was told in an e-mail by FIU that it was against athletic department policy to release players from scholarships during a coaching search.
One player I spoke to today said some players wanted to meet whomever the new coach will be, but desired their release just to keep their options open.
Joey de La Rosa, on the other hand, said he's transferring because, "Coach Thomas was my guy, loyalty is the key" at the start of a passionate defense of the coaching staff that focused mostly on the way the staff influenced kids off the court. Sophomore forward Dominique Ferguson also said this would be his last semester at FIU.
Sources say starting guard Phil Taylor also has asked for his release.
"I'm sure they feel like they had the rug pulled out from under them," Thomas said Wednesday night. "I'm sure whereever they go, they'll be assets to their school. I'm deeply humbled. I love those guys."
Thomas also said, "The unity and commitment they've shown each other in this tough time only strengthens my belief that next year was going to be a great year for us."
Whether or not that's accurate, expect those committed for next year, including Chicago's Milton Doyle, to head elsewhere.The next coach could come in with a stripped down roster and taking the table scraps in recruiting.
This is the full text of a letter sent to FIU Presdent Rosenberg:
Dear President Rosenberg, FIU Administrators, Faculty, Staff and Media:
We are writing this letter in regards to a few concerns we have surrounding the firing of our coach, Isiah Thomas, and his staff. First, we would like to explain that on Monday night at the Sports Banquet, we meant no disrespect to our university or anyone in attendance, but only wished to exercise our human right to protest and support our coach and mentors in a time of grief. Our staff taught us five values -- Honesty, Loyalty, Belief, Sacrifice and Trust -- so I am sure you can see that our “silent protest” stems from these excellent principles.
Our main concerns that we wish someone to address include why Coach Thomas and his staff were fired and why it was done in such an ugly fashion? Nobody in this university has sat down and given a thorough explanation as to why they were dismissed. This is very troubling because even though we are athletes we are still humans and have rights which should be respected. What is confusing is if Coach Thomas was fired for losing games, he is not alone in fault because we were the ones playing the games. He was given five years to fix an existing problem, and then it was cut to three. The team he had coming in next year was young but by far his best class. Neither he nor we got the opportunity to finish what we started and have no explanation as to why our goal was cut short by this university.
We also ask someone to look into why Coach Thomas and his staff had to be humiliated by being told they were fired and to pack their belongings immediately, with no explanation of what was going on in front of our team and other FIU staff members. It was quite embarrassing for us to witness and hurtful. They deserved a better way to leave. It is already embarrassing being fired.
We would like everyone to know that we came to FIU not only to gain an education and play basketball but also to be mentored by Coach Thomas. This is why we are extremely upset about his firing; we lost not a coach but a mentor. Maybe you are not knowledgeable of the many things that Coach Thomas has done in helping develop us as young men. These things don’t show up on the scoreboard at FIU but do show up on the scoreboard of life. There are too many to discuss but we will mention to you one of the most important ones he did and that you can investigate.
Please contact the writers of a book Coach Thomas suggested we read, “Out of Bounds, When Scholarship Athletes become Academic Scholars” by Dr. Jabari Mohair and Dr. Derek Van Rheenen from UC Berkeley. Not only did Coach Thomas tell us about this book but on multiple occasions he brought these authors to FIU to lead academic workshops which stimulated our minds and helped us to understand what it is to be a true scholar athlete. These workshops were also attended by FIU faculty and students who were not athletes. Even NBA All Star Amare Stoudemire sat in the workshops which lasted over a weekend. But, more amazing is that not only did Coach Thomas and his staff participate in the workshops but Coach Thomas has led by example by taking classes in sports and education with the professors via Skype. He also was admitted into the MA program at Berkeley in the School of Education. He was not only telling us to go to class but served as a role model by being a student himself. Please reach out and ask these professors about our team and coach and how education and mentoring was the focal point of his short tenure, not winning on the court but in changing lives. Coach would tell us that “our record may be losing on the court, but that will change in time but our graduation rate is 17-2 which is more important”. This is the Isiah we know and love not the one which the media attempts to destroy. If they brought their cameras and notepads into these workshops they may find it beneficial to report on how sports should be used to build character not destroy it.
Lastly, the AD of FIU told us only that Coach Thomas was fired because “we are going in another direction,” and we respect his decision even though we disagree with it. Every human has a right for “freedom of choice” which is a given not a privilege. We chose to come to FIU for at least 5 years to be mentored, play basketball and enjoy college life. FIU has given us a great opportunity and is a fine university. We have appreciated our time here.
Yet, some of us have asked to be released from the school and have been rejected by the AD. We ask that with our mentor being fired you to give us the freedom of choice to “move in another direction.” Please help us receive our athletic “releases” so that we can find a coach and program which will be a good fit in our growth. America has many fine universities to choose from, and we only wish to have the option of staying here or finding a place which has a coach that will continue in the same tradition as Coach Thomas. Even if FIU was to hire another ex- NBA coach that would not change our feelings about leaving because we did not come here thinking Isiah Thomas was going to take us to the NBA. But the person of Isiah Thomas as a mentor is what was important in our decision.
In one of our meetings with the Professors we learned that “when an athletic department uses players as commodities it loses its moral leadership”. We hope that this school sees us not as “bodies” but “minds” which can grow develop and become productive citizens of the world.
FIU men’s Basketball Team
Athletic director Pete Garcia hasn't responded to calls or text messages the last few days, blowing up the basketball coaching staff then going underground like the athletic director of The Weathermen. Which brings to mind the first rap song...
All of the above overshadowns FIU senior Ashley McClain being named one of the 25 finalists for this year's USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year.
McClain's hitting .419 with a .667 slugging percentage. She leads the team with nine doubles, five home runs, 29 RBI and a .534 on-base percentage that's 12th in the nation. She's one home run from tying the school record for career homers.
FIU dealt No. 6-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette only its second loss of the season Tuesday before being shut out Wednesday.
A day of awards for FIU ended with fired men's basketball coach Isiah Thomas getting an honor from his former FIU players -- they walked out of the FIU Athletic Academic Awards Banquet in protest of Thomas' and the staff's dismissal Friday.
Feelings on this? Was it rude to their fellow athletes, many of whom showed up in packs to support men's basketball, at an event giving laurels to the top jocks of both genders? Or was it a reasonable way to make known they didn't like what went down Friday and, maybe, the way it went down? (already, the word going around coaching circles was the staff got bum-rushed out of their offices). Clearly, they value Thomas beyond his basketball knowledge -- you don't find many eight-win teams even getting out of a chair for fired coaches.
When I heard about this, I couldn't help but think of Otter declaring to the Faber Panhellenic Council, "You can do what you want to us. But we're not going to sit here and listen to you bad mouth, the United States of America! Gentlemen!"
The walkout does call into serious question how many players will transfer, how many 2013 verbal commits go back on the market and how many 2012 freshmen will want to get back on the market.
Earlier, Collegiate Baseball News announced that FIU junior Jabari Henry was the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week, the second time in Henry's career for that recognition. Henry's four home runs in five games last week helped him pile up 13 RBI for the week.
The baseball team won the Community Service Award at Monday's banquet. The Swimming and Diving team got the Addidas Athletic Director's Award for classroom excellence; the Michael Felsberg Spirit Award; and the Champs/Life Stills/Challenge Cup Award. Senior midfielder Victoria Miliucci got the Academic Excellence Award. Sophomore guard Jerica Coley was selected Student-Athlete of the Year .
REUNITED AND IT FEELS LIKE HELLO, GOODBYE...
Georgia State, which once shared the Trans-America Atlhetic Conference (TAAC) with FIU will join the Sun Belt in 2013 as the league appears to be stocking up for the inevitable departure of some schools (most likely ones that start with "F" and have a major airport in the county). The Atlanta-based school started football recently.
What next? A return to the NBA? Recently fired FIU men's basketball coach Isiah Thomas said he needed to "take a couple of days to digest this."
"My plan today was to take a recruit out to dinner," Thomas laughed darkly hours after he and the FIU men's basketball coaching staff had been sacked.
Thomas said he had been interviewing a candidate to replace resigned assistant coach Frank Holloway when he got the call from FIU athletic director Pete Garcia using that euphemism "we're going in a different direction."
(And a hilarious euphemism it is. A pro sports radio play-by-play announcer heard that phrase as he was fired and laughed, "What, going in the direction of not having a play-by-play announcer?")
Thomas felt as if he really had only two years to turn FIU around because he was hired on Signing Day three years ago, essentially eliminating a recruiting season. He didn't go into this, but it's worth saying -- when he was hired, FIU wasn't just a program with a long tradition of losing amidst total apathy on campus and in the metropolitan area toward college basketball. Also, the program had its piece of the probation under which the whole athletic department labored since 2006. It's a program with no regular local radio broadcasts and no television.
The record says that hasn't changed much: 26-65 in three seasons, 14-36 in the Sun Belt and the Sun Belt record breakdown went 4-14, 5-11, 5-11. A 2-9 home record this season and eight wins overall was inexcusable considering FIU pulled off some shocking road wins.
Rarely have I seen a team that so often lapsed into dumb basketball for five to seven-minute blocs as this year's FIU men. Some teams have occasional brain farts and other teams live in a state of terminal brain flatulation. But this was a team that seemed to suffer rolling synapse blackouts. That points to coaching, but, at some point, players have to take some responsibility for that.
"But we're playing with freshmen and sophomores," Thomas pointed out. "At no place in the country do you walk in and win with freshmen and sophomores unless it's Kentucky freshmen and sophomores. The close games we lost, those are the games freshmen and sophomores lose."
A team with no margin for error got kneecapped with an injury that took out its best player, guard DeJuan Wright, for several games midseason. They lost power forward Tola Akamolafe to academic ineligibility sources say stemmed from bad advice given him. While we're on that track, other Camp Mitch sources said during the year FIU delivered academic rejections to point guard K.C. Ross-Miller and North Texas' dazzling Tony Mitchell. Too risky. To be fair, each got academically bumped from LSU and Missouri, respectively. But FIU's got athletes just as academically questionable competing in other sports.
As far as academics, 17 of 19 players graduated in Thomas' three years at FIU. Not surprising -- the man spent six NBA offseasons going back to school until he got his degree and is still taking graduate courses 25 years later. He doesn't pay lip service to academics. He cares about the books far more than the average college basketball or football coach. Would he bring in an academic risk? Yep. Would he also get angry if that kid or any other kid wasn't pushed to attain their academic potential or got lazy about it? Yep.
I asked him if he thought FIU was ready as a program and athletic department overall to be a consistent 18-20-win team that could contend for the NCAAs regularly out of the Sun Belt. He said he thought so with Myers, Chicago's Milton Doyle and Tim Williams coming in next year and four of the state's top 50 recruits verbally committed for 2013.
Next year's team won't have Wright or Jeremy Allen for leadership. As of now, it will have Phil Taylor moving to shooting guard, a more natural position for him, and five players 6-9 and over (if they all stay, post-Thomas): Brandon Moore, Dominique Ferguson, Joey De La Rosa, Gilles Dierickx and transfer Lekan Ajayi.
I interrupt my vacation for this post on the latest FIU news.
Isiah Thomas is out as men's basketball coach. Good or bad for FIU?
For those who harrumphed I didn't provide more spring football coverage, I was assigned to a few other things during that time (Honda, Doral, Heat, Panthers, FIU hoop). By the spring game, I was one day into vacation (insert punch line here). That's likely to be the case as long as spring practice runs through March and any year the spring game runs up against my daughter's spring break.