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19 posts from December 2013

December 30, 2013

Coley gets Conference USA Player of the Week

After popping for a school record 47 points in Sunday's loss to Wake Forest and 21 against Fairleigh-Dickinson on 51.1 percent shooting, senior guard Jerica Coley was named Conference USA Player of the Week.

Coley's 28.5 points per game puts her No. 2 nationally. She's only 38 points from the school career record of 2,515 set by Albena Branzova from 1991-95. Branzova was a remarkable player, 6-4 with range from around the hoop to beyond the three-point line and the ability to pass dazzlingly from the post.

But Branzova also played with a surrounding cast, led by All-America point guard Andrea Nagy, that Coley's never had the luxury of having. Coley accounts for 41.2 percent of FIU's scoring this year.

 

December 22, 2013

Tough Ball Night

 

Too bad about that 9-0 first half ending run by Louisville. The second half felt like a MTV/Fox Sports 1 production, FIU Unplugged. Both the team and the crowd. Louisville traveled pretty well, too, which helped fill The Branch in somewhat.

On FIU's first possession, Rakeem Buckles rushed a shot, Louisville got the board and drew a foul in transition. That's exactly what FIU coach Anthony Evans didn't want, and it was a pattern repeated by FIU throughout. Buckles, a stand-up guy, admitted afterwards he forced too many shots (four for 17 from the field, four turnovers). He wasn't alone. As a team, FIU seemed to take Louisville's invitation to take the lane via the dribble, then found the Cardinals help turning the lane into the maw of a Venus Flytrap (and not the cool WKRP kind). What the Panthers got away with against Florida Gulf Coast they didn't in this game. Six assists after 48 minutes says you didn't move the ball well enough to beat another FIU, never mind a Louisville.

The officiating seemed effete for the styles. When you've got pressuring, trapping Louisville and FIU's defense department store, Blocks, you can't call the game like you're chaparoning a first date at Bob Jones University. Or, you can and it winds up playing to the deeper team's advantage. Bench points: Louisville 30, FIU 5. That was 22-0 in the first half.  

I'm not one to complain about concession stands at FIU. Usually, it's student-athletes manning the stands when you know they'd rather be doing, oh, anything else, and they do a good job. Also, speaking as a 46-year-old with the sleep habits of a 22-year-old, I've noted that no matter which team has the stand at a venue, somebody always knows how to make cafe cubano. 

Saturday, fail and it's not on whatever volunteers/student-atheltes were there. Whoever manages the concessions didn't order enough hamburgers. Customers were told the stand was out of cheeseburgers at 5:45, 20 minutes before scheduled tipoff. I knew this because I was standing in line to order a colada, an act that wound up holding up my line for several minutes because nobody back in production knew how to make cuban coffee so the woman handling the line I was in had to go back to do it herself. Several fans worried that they'd miss tipoff. The guy next at the register when the woman left just wound up leaving.

To me, that's two basics of managing -- you're expecting a serious crowd, make sure there's enough food. And at a heavily Latin college in Miami, somebody in the back has to know how to make cuban coffee. This is akin to the football game stuff I pointed out before the Bethune game. Little things, but they go into each individual's image of your school. There were people in that line whose only experience at FIU was that game.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Similar to the men, the women got socked in the first half and couldn't get up, trailing 53-34 to Florida at halftime on the way to a 90-74 loss in the Gator Holiday Classic final. Jerica Coley got 35 points and was named to the all-tournament team.

FIU's women host the annual Sun & Fun Classic next weekend, playing Fairleigh Dickinson next Saturday at 6 p.m. 

December 21, 2013

Gameday, Basketball Version

They're going for a White Out today at The Branch. So put on your best Man from Glad suits and you can head straight to the club after FIU upsets No. 6 Louisville.

Kidding, of course -- nobody's letting you into the club dressed like the Man from Glad these days.

I''d love to see The Branch packed, blasting with South Florida beat and energy. FIU won't play a bigger home game this year or, probably, for a few years to come. What, some regular season closer against Rice to decide the Conference USA regular season title brings the blood to your get-up-and-move-something parts? Please.

And in all that noise, I want to see how FIU responds. When they say the crowd helped them against Florida Gulf Coast, I believe them. Goosed by the energy, the Panthers moved a half-step quicker on offense, which allowed them to get away with what normally would be too much individual play, especially in the second half. They drew fouls, hit their free throws and won going away.

That won't work today. Louisville's too quick and too well-coached. FIU averages only 11.75 assists per game, 12th in Conference USA. I wasn't shocked that FIU coach Anthony Evans mentioned "sharing the ball" as one of the things worked on during the two weeks since the Gulf Coast game.

“Just the fact that we’re moving the basketball creates easier shots for our team," Evans said. "Obviously, Ray (Taylor) not being there, he created shots for others. Now we have to manufacture that through ball movement.”

And it better be smart ball movement. Louisville ranks No. 1 nationally in turnover margin, No. 7 in the nation in steals and does it by committee. There's a lot on the shoulders of freshman point guard Jason Boswell and redshirt junior guard Dennis Mavin today. Cutting down on the turnovers, a problem even in FIU's wins, is a must or embarrassment will visit the Panthers like the relatives in Christmas Vacation

I asked Evans what was the one thing he definitely didn't want to see from FIU today: “Play tight. I want them to come out and play like we have been. Louivsille’s a very good team and they’re going to play their style and we have to play ours. I just want them to play, execute and be confident.”

Expect FIU to play up-tempo defense and low-tempo offense. If the Panthers stay in the game five minutes into the second half, Louisville might start getting annoyed, in a good way for FIU. The Cardinals also have been down here for a few days. Louisville's the south only technically -- weather-wise, it's the Midwest so you know how those young men have felt in South Florida this week. Still, it's hard to overcome that much experience, coaching and athleticism.

The line is Louisville by 20. I'll say 10, 70-60.

But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

FIU faces Florida tonight in the Gator Holiday Classic final after extending their win streak to three Friday night, spanking LaSalle 84-58. Jerica Coley had her usual high-scoring night with 33, including 12 of 13 from the line. (Young players, free throws aren't cool to do well...until you see how much they boost your point total individually, how much you'll get the ball late in close games and how much they can alter your team's win/loss ratio).

Support for Coley dictates how well FIU plays overall, though. Sophomore Taylor Shade and junior Tynia McKinzie each had efficient 15-point games. McKinzie grabbed seven rebounds. All of Kamika Idom's 11 points came from the line.

FIU lost to Florida at The Branch last year in the postseason Women's NIT.

December 20, 2013

Aquawomen drown Georgia Tech like bugs

The FIU water women's performance in the Mizzou Invite indicated, despite a couple of significant losses, they might be markedly better than last year's team. Certainly, nobody the likes of Georgia Tech, an ACC footrest in swimming, should look down their schnozzes at FIU.

We know this is so because FIU dumped the Yellow Jackets 130-94 Thursday at the Biscayne Bay Campus, the program's first win against an ACC opponent.

FIU's known quantities -- junior Johanna Gustafsdottir, senior Sonia Perez Arau, senior diver Sabrina Beaupre -- did their usual thing, each winning two individual events. Beaupre took the 1-meter and 3-meter events. Gustafsdottir took the 100 breaststroke and 200 freestyle. Perez, last week's Conference USA Swimmer of the Week, won the 200 Individual Medley and the 500 freestyle.

Freshman Jennifer Alfani won an individual event plus contributed to relay wins in the 200 free relay and 200 medley relay.

December 19, 2013

Grades & eligibility; Stewart honored

Wednesday was a furlough day for me. No pay, no play. Grades posted at FIU. For student-athletes and athlete-students, that meant "play or no play."

OK, let's be real. Nobody's worrying about the volleyball team, the track team, the swim team, etc. because nobody needs to worry about those teams when it comes to grades. The football team, on the other hand, looked at those grades like it was National Re-Signing Day.

"Grades was better than I thought" tweeted wide receiver Glenn Coleman, ineligible last season. This morning, he tweeted, "It feel good looking at them grades."

From 2013 ineligible wide receiver Willis Wright: "Got My Grades Back, All I Want To Say Is, DEAR GOD--THANK YOU!!!"

I'll bet Ron Turner's saying the same thing. That's two playmakers back for FIU next season if they can keep it up. Not saying either is out of the academic woods yet.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

As I Tweeted yesterday (I can't blog, but my Twitter is mine), redshirt sophomore midfielder Sara Stewart got honored as one of the  Conference USA Fall Spirit of Service Honorees. The award gives notice to those who combine exemplary community service wtih academic achievement and on-the-field performance. 

 

 

December 17, 2013

Who is Raheem Harvey?

Aside from a wide receiver verbal commit from Largo High, that is.

Harvey's rated at three starts by 247sports.com, both the site and its composite rating; two stars by Rivals.com; two stars by Scout.com; and three stars by ESPN.com.

Harvey's not track fast -- his best 100 was a pedestrian 11.4, his best 200 was 23.01 -- but not being "track fast" doesn't mean you can't be "football fast" (best example ever: Jerry Rice). It also doesn't have anything to do with whether or not you can catch the ball. Harvey made 34 catches for 434 yards (12.8 per catch) and eight touchdowns in 2013, almost identical to 34 for 490 (14.4) and seven touchdowns from 2012. Those high school numbers and Harvey's 6-1 frame, which will fill out to over 200, say "possession receiver" in a college West Coast offense. 

 

2 QB goodbyes

"I will be here next year" isn't quite "I am not going to be the Alabama head coach," although I was present for both. And wrote later that each statement might not be entirely true.

According to FIU Student Media, starting quarterback Jake Medlock's private Instagram account says he'll transfer to FCS program Valdosta State. As far as experienced quarterbacks on the roster, that would leave sophomore E.J. Hilliard.

Also, former FIU quarterback Paul McCall will receive his PhD in Electrical Engineering today. It's believed McCall is the first FIU player to get a doctorate. McCall threw for 5,189 yards, 34 touchdowns and 19 interceptions from 2006-09.

 

December 13, 2013

Kenny Arena out as men's soccer coach

FIU's in search of a men's soccer head coach again after Kenny Arena accepted a job with the LA Galaxy, according to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia. The Galaxy is coached by Arena's father, Bruce Arena.

Kenny Arena went 8-8-2 (0-7-1 in Conference USA) his first season, 2012, which was also FIU's first season with the full scholarship complement after years of NCAA reductions. This year, they were 6-10-1, 2-6-1 in conference.

A few more things to consider...

1. By the time Ron Turner came in, not only had the former coaching staff been off the job for a month, but team leaders Johnathan Cyprien and Tourek Williams were preparing for the NFL Draft. (Also, Cyprien graduated in December 2012). Both took time to straighten out younger teammates.

2. Anybody who thinks Mario Cristobal or his staff cared only for themselves simply doesn't know them. I'm a pretty sleepless guy. I can remember ending a text message conversation with Cristobal or a staff member in the wee hours before I went to bed and picking up the conversation in the predawn while being the Morning Mussolini to my daughter. They worked themselves to a visible weariness. Sometimes, I wondered when they went home or at least got away from FIU football. 

As I said in the Comments section of the last post, I didn't agree with their approach on everything. But I never doubted their feelings for their players.

3. Let's look at some more numbers.

2010 operating budget for football: $6,394,057.

2010 total football salaries: $1,546,116

2010 non-salary operating budget: $4,847,941

 

2011 operating budget for football: $6,257,380 

2011 total football salaries: $1,689,621

2011 non-salary operating budget: $4,567,753

 

2012 operating budget for football: $6,333,309

2012 total football salaries: $1,825,131

2012 non-salary operating budget: $4,508,178

 

2013 operating budget for football: $6,604,215

2013 total football salaries: $1,862,600

2013 non-salary operating budget: 4,741,615

 

 

 

December 12, 2013

What Did The Turner Say?

Ron Turner didn’t know what he got himself into when he came to FIU. Now that he’s into it, however, he’s not planning on marching out any time soon. And Turner seems to think he accomplished the first step in a turnaround during this 1-11 2013 season.

That won’t please some of the parents who posted on this blog, e-mailed me or took to Twitter to rip Turner as stodgy. It won’t please the parents and fans who see Turner as yet another near senior citizen coming down to South Florida on a semi-retirement plan (see “Ted Aceto,” “too many Florida Panthers and Dolphins free agents”).

My doubts about Turner; suspicions about his hiring and criticisms of his strategy/personnel deployment have been well-documented on this blog. That said, I do wonder how much FIU fan/parent criticism of him comes from South Florida parochialism.

Don Strock connected Dolphins eras like the Venetian Causeway connects islands. He backed up each of the three Super Bowl starters in Dolphins history (Bob Griese, David Woodley, Dan Marino) over his 15-season Dolphins career. A well-tanned lover of football and golf, the Pennsylvania native out of Virginia Tech might as well have been 100 percent South Floridian when hired as FIU’s first coach.

Mario Cristobal? A 305 guy to the bone. You know the personal history.

Turner? From California and uses a more run-heavy version of the West Coast offense, but seems purely Midwestern. He’s known for being Illinois’ head coach and the Chicago Bears offensive coordinator. Besides, even that so-called West Coast Offense is Midwestern, developed in Cincinnati.

(Digression: Bill Walsh created it while with a Bengals assistant after a shoulder injury to big-armed Greg Cook, whom Walsh called in the late 1990s “perhaps the best quarterback talent we’ve seen,” left the Bengals with noodle-armed Virgil Carter. The Bengals ran the offense through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. Ken Anderson won a few passing titles. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they shared a division with the 1970s Steelers. So, it wasn’t until the Walsh-coached 49ers started winning Super Bowls in the 1980s with a refined version of the offense that it got nicknamed “The West Coast Offense.” Coincidentally, San Francisco beat Cincinnati for its first Super Bowl win. Digression over…)

Turner’s got his way of doing things. His way could be rocketing toward a head-on with the FIU way of doing things and the South Florida way of doing things.

He clearly had some things to get off his chest about his first 11 months on the job. He went into a 24-minute soliloquy that bounced around quite a bit. Even at that, there were a couple of things I think he wanted to touch on but didn’t.

Turner started with, “I believe and I think everyone in this program believes our program is ascending and we are heading in the right direction. Now, people on the outside can look at the record and look at the scores and say, ‘That’s ridiculous.’”

The reason Turner says that from his chair is what he saw upon arrival. And that's a more detailed version of what you’ve read some of here since last January.

“When I first got here, I was in shock,” he said. “I was, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ We didn’t have a day go by, not one day went by, when somebody didn’t do something wrong. Somebody didn’t get into trouble. Sometimes, more than one. It could be from getting arrested, to the off the field problems…I got calls constantly. “So-and-so’s not going to class” “So-and-so didn’t get his study hours.” “He missed a workout.” I’m like, ‘This is like dealing with second graders.’

“I was shocked. I’ve never been in a program where it was like that. I was at Illinois and we were 0-11 my first year. We had a lot of problems. And we had some of that. I never had it to the degree it was here, where guys just blatantly were not doing what they were supposed to do. Coaches would call guys, “Can you come in and meet me at 2 o’clock?” “Yeah, Coach, I’ll be there at 2 o’clock” and not show up. I’ve never seen that in my life.”

“We had 12 players ineligible, which is unbelievable. I’ve never been around that many in my life who were ineligible when I got here or right on the border and didn’t get it done.”

Of course, that group included, “Our top five or six receivers. I don’t know anybody in the country who can lose their top five or six receivers and go out to play. And, arguably, top two running backs, for sure our top running back. That’s not to mention defensive linemen – one transferred (Fadol Brown) and three were ineligible.”

And, Turner said the player attitude was that “It’s OK, I’ll just redshirt.” Turner paused. “It’s not OK to be ineligible.”

(One of the inelgible players, redshirt freshman wide receiver-turned-safety Adrian Jenkins got jettisoned from the program during the season. At this moment, Jenkins sits in the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center after being arrested and booked in the wee hours on a charge of burglary of an occupied dwelling. His bond is $12,500.) 

Some believe last year’s Cristobal firing and the remaining staff being put on paid leave until they were fired led to players academically crashing the last week of the fall semester and finals week. That, in turn, resulted in the academic ineligibility of several players. Others believe players requiring that level of extremities-holding shouldn’t be in college.

“I don’t want to babysit them,” Turner said. “I’m not going to babysit them. I’m not going to hand walk them to class. They’ know what they’ve got to do.”

(To be clear on where I tend to land on this: My 8-year-old daughter already has seen me hold up a piece of her homework with “I’m not telling you the answer or whether you’re right or wrong. I’ll help you learn how to figure it out. But there’s one name at the top of this sheet. That’s the person who’s responsible for this work.” You might think I’m a curmudgeonly salt-and-pepper no-hair who doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a kid. Ask my mother, who often heard me say during my middle school, high school and college years, “There’s one name on that report card and it isn’t yours.”)

The Cristobal staff knew these young men, especially the South Floridians. They knew the baggage some athletes brought from their neighborhoods. They knew about the rivalries that sometimes seeped onto campus. They worked overtime to keep their players out of trouble. They went for fast, quiet resolution when their players got into trouble.

The Turner staff knew not the lay of this new land.

“And (players) weren’t doing the right things in any areas,” Turner said. “I was getting calls from the dorms once a week, twice a week. Guys being disruptive in the dorm playing their music too loud, too late.”

(Why did I just think of the November 2012 tweet from FIU butterfly queen Marina Ribi slamming the football team for disruptive nightly partying after the season was over?)

“And all these calls were consistent in every area – dorms, class, guys being disruptive in class, if they showed up to class. If they did show up, they were late. And being disruptive in class. I’m not talking about the entire team. I’m talking about a group. But that group was too many.”

Turner said he told the team they would be winners, but they wouldn’t win on the field until they were accountable to one another on and off the field. Also, lateness and no-shows get you fired or buried on the bottom in the real world, which is where the vast majority will earn the rent in a few years.

Finally, he said he told the 70 to 80 percent of the players who acted like they had some sense and were “taking care of their business” as the popular euphemism goes, “either you’re going to bring the other guys up or they’re going to bring you down.

“Obviously, this year, especially early, they brought the other guys down.”

And it didn’t surprise him.

“This may not come out really well,” he said. “Obviously we were all disappointed, but I wasn’t totally surprised. In January and February when we were going through all these problems that we had and they continued, they got better a little bit, but they continued…it was not unexpected what happened on the field this year, in my mind. Part of it is talent. In some areas, we’ve got to get better players. Some areas, we had good enough players. As a football team, we have to get more talent, better players as a group. But it’s not surprising because of the off the field issues.”

I’d say you could throw a few more things into the mix – new systems, young team, tough early schedule including three bowl teams, two of which went 11-1. Anyway…

Turner said a sense of possible doom crashed home in the summer, when he punished some players by taking their football privileges away.

“I can’t tell you the number of guys I had tell me, ‘Coach, we felt we’d always be able to play on Saturday no matter what we did. We might get punished. We might get disciplined, things might happen. When the season came, we’d play on Saturdays,’” Turner said. “That’s kind of a product of them growing up in football. A guy’s a young player, Pop Warner, he’s a great player, the coach looks the other way when he doesn’t show up for practice or does something wrong. High school, the same thing happens. A guy’s not going to class, not taking care of grades, they maybe help him out -- talk to the teachers ‘hey give him a break, he’s my best player…” this and that. And it continues on to college. And those guys expect that to happen. ‘Hey, they’ve always taken care of me.’

 “Once some of these guys were ineligible that they all thought would be eligible – something would happen and they’d be eligible – I think it was starting to sink in.”

It should be said here that the ineligibles included a couple of academic phoenixes. They’d flamed out at FIU before and mysteriously risen from the ashes -- twice.

More than one player has claimed to his parents or confidants that Turner doesn’t care about winning. I’m not sure about that. Maybe Turner felt this year needed to be about a culture change before FIU really could move forward. Any reasonable person saw a roster that would need voodoo just for an outside shot at five wins. Better to sacrifice a win or two to get things in order for a smoother future.

Cristobal took a similar line of thinking in 2012 with a freshman he thought could’ve been better than any of the upperclassmen starters at his position. But, Cristobal reasoned, if he played the freshman after some of the young man’s serious transgressions off the field, the guy was so good that he’d be on his way to being a nightmare: fantastic player, zero character plus a sense of entitlement. Nope, Cristobal thought, better for the young man and the program to let him suffer the consequences of sitting out.

Turner repeated that he felt the team got better on the field as the year wore on but they got worn down, especially defensively. In his office on this day, however, he spoke more of the off-the-field improvements.

“We do (random) class checks. Early, we’d go check a class, we’ve got eight guys in a class, five would be missing,” he said. “In the last month, when I get the reports back, I don’t think we’ve had one guy miss. Does that mean, we have 100 percent attendance? I’m not naïve enough to think that was the case. They’re college kids.”

He says he hasn’t heard from the dorms for a while. After seeing one group of players wallowing in an FIU pig sty, Turner instituted pop-in room checks.

“It’s not military school. But we’re looking for it to not be disgusting.”

As is the custom in the NFL with Tuesdays, Turner started sending players to speak at elementary schools, hospitals, volunteer at nursing home and retirement communities on Mondays. He claimed a doubling of the community service time done previously. All FIU student-athletes are required to do community service.

“Our guys are doing a tremendous job in the community.”

This week, as the semester closes, players file in and out for something of exit meetings on the season. Turner said he didn’t expect large turnover, although I keep hearing there could be a bloc of transfers.

“I’m not going to sit there and guarantee a number of wins (for 2014). If they continue to do what they’re supposed to do and develop, there will be…” Turner hesitated. Then finished, “It’ll start to show up on the field. I believe that strongly.”

Again last week, I heard about FIU’s lack of attendance at some of the major South Florida high school clashes, where the stands teem with coaches from other colleges. I asked Turner about that and about trying to develop relationships with the stronger programs in town.

He said they were. In fact, two coaches were at Northwestern High that day.

“Are we at games on Friday night during the season, this year? No, we are not.”

His reasoning: “Our team was so young, we did not feel comfortable going to the hotel and having our night meetings and not having coaches there. It sends the wrong message, No. 1, about the importance of the game. And, No. 2, our guys weren’t mature enough to handle it and do what they’re supposed to do and get us focused as we needed to be.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re not getting out into the field, we’re not talking to coaches, we’re not going to schools. When we had our byes, we went to schools. We have four coaches that only recruit South Florida, and they are establishing good relationships with those coaches. We’ve had (those coaches) on our campus. I’ve talked to a bunch of them. We are establishing those relationships.”

“What we’ve to be careful of is when you’re 1-11, coaches coming in and saying ‘Take this guy, he’ll help you.’ We’ve got to make sure we’re doing our evaluations to make sure that they’re guys that we can win with at this level. They’ve got guys Miami, Florida, Florida State are recruiting. Our chances of getting those guys is very slim. But there are other guys that for whatever reason they aren’t recruiting that we can find and get. But we’re not going to take guys just to take them.”

Another player waited to enter for his postseason talk. I’m not sure he’ll be here next year. Turner will be. He’s not going anywhere. We’ll see if FIU is.

December 11, 2013

Football assistant paper

USA Today just came out with its annual listing of college football assistant coach salaries. My numbers differ a little from the national newspaper.

Offensive line/run game coordinator coach Steve Shankweiler $136,000 (Shankweiler going for the head coaching job at Elon is no surprise. He's a state of North Carolina guy -- graduated from Davidson, coached at East Carolina three times for a total of 15 years. Especially at his age, better to be the head coach of an FCS school in a region where you feel comfortable than an assistant in an area that takes some acclimation time). 

Special teams coach Kevin Wolthausen $115,000

Assistant head coach defensive line Andre Patterson $110,000

Wide receivers coach Cam Turner $105,000

Defensive coordinator Josh Conklin $100,000

Linebackers coach Tom Williams $100,000

Running backs Andrew Hayes-Stoker $99,000

Secondary Jason Brooks $92,000

Tight ends/offensive tackles Kort Shankweiler $92,000

Just for comparison sake, here's the base salaries of the 2012 FIU staff

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks Tim Cramsey $150,00

Defensive coordinator/linebackers Todd Orlando $137,100

Assistant head coach offensive line Alex Mirabal $100,000

Secondary coach Jeff Popovich $100,000

Wide receivers coach Frank Ponce $100,000

Running backs coach Apollo Wright $86,149

Linebackers coach Juan Navarro $82,000

Defensive line coach Cedric Calhoun $82,000

Tight ends coach Dennis Smith $80,600

 

 

 

December 10, 2013

Hickman All-Conference football; Smith, Budwig All-Freshman

Conference USA football coaches voted senior defensive tackle Greg Hickman, who played most of the year on a mangled ankle, Second Team All-Conference. Hickman had 44 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and three forced fumbles.

Senior defensive tackle Isame Faciane and redshirt junior safety Justin Halley were Honorable Mention All-Conference.

FIU put two players, tight end Jonnu Smith and guard Jordan Budwig, on the All-Freshman team. Smith led the Panthers in catches (39) and receiving yards (388). Budwig started all 12 games at left guard as a true freshman.

 

December 08, 2013

Putting the Eagles on the Last Train to the Gulf Coast

Do we need more evidence that FIU needs to schedule Saturday afternoon basketball games much more regularly and not just when ordered to do so by television?

The Branch bounced Saturday afternoon throughout the fiesty 72-61 FIU win against Florida Gulf Coast. Right from the start, noise and fair insults blared from the student section, often so sullen during Saturday night games. They even got into the silly, fun Fathead race. Only seven percent of FIU students live in campus housing. I never understood why FIU expected a bunch of 18-to-22-year-olds to schlep out to Camp Mitch for a 7 p.m. game. Even leaving for home at 9, home by 9:30 or 10, that's too much activity too close to prep time for The Club or That Party. Get them to come in the afternoon and they can kill a couple of hours, be back home for a half-stepped dinner in the early evening and still have enough chill time before getting social.

There seemed to be more kids, also, which makes sense. I know to way too many Miami parents Saturday night means "bring the kids and the strollers because there's no bedtime for our little Bonzos!" But the rest of us want our younger kids in bed before 9 or 9:30. Or, we would like our Saturday nights to involve fewer kids and more caipirinhas. Grown Folks Time. We do stuff with the kids -- like take them to a basketball game -- in the morning or afternoon.

Anyway, there actually were a few times an adjacent person trying to talk to me couldn't do so for all the noise. Nice, that.

Early on, FIU barely could contain themselves in attacking Gulf Coast through the one-on-one matchups at the offensive end. There weren't many openings created by movement of player or ball. Unless, that is, it was the player with the ball darting, spinning, trying to go over his defender. I asked Rakeem Buckles, who had two what looked like overanxious travels early, if this was a matter of FIU just feeling they had such an advantage in those matchups. Buckles said, "The last couple of games, we were going against a lot of zone, so we were just excited to see a team run (man-to-man). We just knew we had the opportunity to take our man."

Buckles helped take Gulf Coast 6-9 starter Filip Cvjeticanin out of the game. Cvjeticanin came in hitting three-pointers at 50 percent and leading the Atlantic Sun Conference in number of threes. That range opens the driving lanes. His height creates matchup problems.

On an early Gulf Coast possession, one of Buckles' waving hands caught Filip in the face just before Filip misfired on a pass. Filip touched his face, then looked in disbelief at the nearby referee who somehow missed the call (maybe the zebra was thinking it must be a hassle sitting in the lifeguard chair unless you've got a brahma-sized bladder). When the same thing happened five minutes later, with 13:02 left in the first half, Buckles got called for the foul. Filip pump-faked a close-range two-handed pass at Buckles' head. That drew a technical foul. Buckles turned to walk away as teammates grabbed Filip.

No. 1, Filip gets scored as "Stoopid" because they were calling the foul. I could understand if Buckles got away with it both times, but Filip got the call. No. 2, I understand life in Croatia during Filip's childhood likely wasn't cereal and cartoons on Saturday morning. But Buckles is out of Liberty City by way of Opa-Locka. If you're going to try to intimidate or back off somebody with by faking some Mike Rice stuff, pick somebody with a more sedate background than Liberty City and Opa-Locka.

FIU's Jason Boswell hit both free throws. Filip had a seat. Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley should've left him there. His mind wasn't right. In the second half, Filip committed a turnover, then fouled Tymell Murphy in transition (two made free throws); missed three of four shots; after one miss, fouled Murphy on a layup (old fashioned three-point play); then later committed a turnover that Dennis Mavin turned into a layup and 68-58 lead. Filip wound up playing only 19 minutes, 7.7 minutes below his average; going one for five from the field with four turnovers and four fouls. Considering how close the game was until it turned into an FIU Free Throw Challenge, that ineptitude could've cost Gulf Coast the game.

Murphy kept being Mr. Positive throughout the six minutes Gulf Coast, which has three starters back from last year's Sweet Sixteen team, dominated in the second half.

"They just made some runs," Murphy said. "I didn't want anybody to lay their heads down. There was still a lot of time left. I tried to tell them, it's OK. We've just  got to clamp down on defense. I tried to keep clapping, keep showing that even though they were winning by 7 or however they were up by, it was all right. We were going to make our run, too."

FIU coach Anthony Evans said, "He said in the huddle, 'Coach, I'm going to step up to the challenge.' And he did that at both ends of the floor. He's not the guy who we put on one of their best players. We normally put Dennis on him. But they had multiple people who can penetrate, attack the basket."

One of those people, Brett Comer, saw his layup attempt rejected so strongly by Murphy, it got a ticket on the Turnpike. That came in the middle of the 9-0 run that turned the game to FIU. You could actually feel the crowd at an FIU game.

Good feeling. It's a shame they're off for two weeks before playing Louisville.

December 07, 2013

Retiring Jerica

 

I'll have a postgame blog on the men's team's win later tonight. Got a party to attend after I file my game story.

December 05, 2013

Retiring No. 22 Saturday; an addendum to today's story on FIU football

Among the fuss surrounding Saturday afternoon's home men's basketball game against Florida Gulf Coast will be the retiring of jersey No. 22.

No, not Elvis Lopez nor Keith Greer. Senior guard Jerica Coley, the shining light of the women's basketball program and, right now, the athletic department, will get the honor at halftime of Saturday's game. Coley's putting up 26.0 points per game this season for team she's had to carry all the more because of the ineligibility of center Marita Davydova.

Be one of the first 300 students into the arena and get a blue basketball tank top. And there will be a Greek Row Tailgate outside the student gate from 1:30-3:30. The first 10 organizations to e-mail Maegan Azpiazu at mazpiazu@fiu.edu get to pound their food there.

FOOTBALL STORY

Not everything we write makes it to print or online. An editing decision made on today's FIU football story cut an important part.

I tried to talk to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia Wednesday. My opinion was he was the one who pulled the trigger on Mario Cristobal's firing, he should be the one to give his point of view on where things stand with the football prgram a year later. Whether you agree with the firing of not, this wasn't a normal sacking with an easy, by-every-number explanation, but one that still has some people around the country shaking their heads. This is one that's going to be revisited.

I requested to speak with Garcia at 12:16 p.m. At 5:55 p.m., an FIU athletic department spokesman got back to me that Garcia preferred not to comment for this story. I wrote that at the close of the story. That line was removed in the editing.

December 04, 2013

Williams out; Davydova, too (for now); Trifunovic Player of the Month

Greetings from Camp Mitch, where December 5 must be on the calendar as Firing Day.

A year less a day after a much larger sacking in the football program, FIU has fired linebackers coach Tom Williams. 

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Don't expect to see 6-3 center Marita Davydova on the court this season. Word out of Camp Mitch is last year's Third Team All-Sun Belt center is ineligible this year after a Compliance screw up, but should be able to come back next season. If she was also ineligible last year, FIU could face school fines or forfeits.

TENNIS

Sophomore Aleksandra Trifunovic shares November's Conference USA Player of the Month Award with Tulsa senior Samantha Vickers.

Trifunovic went 3-0 in November without losing a set.

 

December 03, 2013

Not so fast...

Call it Lime Court if you want. Getting drubbed 77-59 at The Branch seems more like a lemon of a performance by the men's basketball team.

Especially getting drubbed by Division II Nova Southeastern. The Sharks didn't even have a win against a Division I team in their history! They've had radio in their recent past (something certain Division I teams in South Florida can't say), but not a win against a Division I team.

That can't help the crowd for Saturday's game against Florida Gulf Coast. 

Moving right along...

Jake Medlock's response to my direct questions about him transferring is on the blog posted after FIU's loss to FAU in the season finale. He says he's not transferring and has never considered it.

Based on what different sources have told me, IF Medlock were to transfer for his senior year, THEN Valdosta State would be a likely destination.

 

December 02, 2013

A few things for you readers

1. I do check IP addresses and e-mail accounts. One poster who recently claimed "This is my first post" under a name "Roberto" had the same e-mail and IP address as a previous post "Bob." I deleted the "Roberto" post. I don't like to block people, but I will do it. Pick a screen name and stick with it or get your posts deleted.

2. There's only so many posts you can make referring to a particular athlete without admitting that athlete is your son or daughter. I'll put up with it once, twice, maybe three times, but after that, you're getting called out as XY's or XX's parent, just so everybody knows where you're coming from.

3. This blog finished 13th among Herald blogs in November with 16,660 page views. Next highest was the Florida Panthers blog, 20,602. Top college sports blog: Eye on The U, 253,406. Top blog: Dolphins in Depth, 833,199.

That's about where it normally finishes as far as page views. Except for January, 2013. Signing Day excitement? Nah. Strip club Tweeting.

4. As for the football players a reader requested status updates on: After eligibility questions early in the season, DeAndre Jasper played several games. Yousif Khoury was injured half the season, then played at least the final game. Dieugot Joseph and Deonte Wilson both played in the last game. Imarjaye Albury was sitting out under NCAA transfer rules. Of the rest, some I knew were in academic trouble, some I strongly suspect were discipline issues and a couple just weren't well-liked by the staff.

 

 

December 01, 2013

Saturday Night Digitized & FIU's Boswell

 

FIU head coach Anthony Evans said the team hadn't heard anything about fifth-year senior point guard Raymond Taylor's eligibility. The last few games, they've forged ahead with freshman Jason Boswell at point guard.

Boswell, 6-6, stands a foot taller than Taylor, which can help defensively, although Taylor's quicker.  Once he gains Taylor's vision, it'll add to his play quickness, which Taylor uses to get into the paint and to the line.

"I didn't come in with any expectations," Boswell said. "I came in ready to work hard. Right now, I've got to work extra hard because I'm the starting point guard."

Evans said, "I think he had a tremendous amount of respect for Ray. Coming into this, he was trying to learn how to become a Division I point guard. Now, he has to grow up a little quicker than he wanted to. But I think he's doing a good job."

In Boswell's three games starting in place of Taylor, he's gone nine of 13 from the field, including five of six Saturday night against Georgia State; three of four from three-point range; six of six from the line, all against Bethune-Cookman; six assists, eight turnovers, a 3/4 assist to turnover ratio; and averaged 9.0 points per game. By comparison, Taylor's last three games saw him go 11 of 29 from the field; two of eight from three; nine of 14 from the line; 22 assists, six turnovers, an 11/3 assist-to-turnover ratio; and averaged 11.0 points per game.

 


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