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2 posts from January 19, 2014

January 19, 2014

Stand Your Ground

Why this week's FAU recruiting bonanza, which included several players from Dade and Broward Counties including a couple of former FIU commits, could hurt FIU beyond 2014:

Before John Madden became a broadcaster, a video game and a cartoon, he was the youngest coach to win 100 NFL games and did so in 10 seasons of coaching Oakland. Whenever he was asked the key to being a great coach, Madden would usually start his response with, "First, have great players."

Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson had a merchandising company that wanted to do work with the pro sports leagues. That's a tough market to crack, double tough for minority-owned businesses in the 1980s. Through some opportunism, the company eventually got a deal with the NFL -- the low-end hat market. Pearson's company developed that perceived small market, developed that as the ground they owned and became members of an exclusive club of rightsholders that made $1 milllion in royalties for NFL Properties three consecutive years.

Being good starts with your players, even more so in college than the NFL. And when you're trying to build your company amidst larger, more established competitors, you have to grab some patch of space and declare it as yours on which you'll contruct your foundation of success.

Howard Schnellenberger's "State of Miami" philosophy that stocked those legendary University of Miami teams of the 1980s is well-stated. When SMU rose from ashes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ron Meyer decided they would own Dallas, Houston, the rest of East Texas and Western Louisiana. They were the smaller brands trying to break into a tight club, like Drew Pearson Enterprises.

If FIU's ever going to be more than what it is now in football, if it's ever going to be, say, where Central Florida is now (three 10-win seasons in the last four), the ground needs to be grabbed and held. It doesn't need to be Dade or Broward County's upper crust recruits nor is it realistic think it would be in the next few years. But, they need to establish themselves as a first line possibility for the next rung down and the rung after that.

Last fall, I talked to UCF's George O'Leary about the turnaround there.

“When I first got here, we needed players,” O’Leary said. “Our goal was to get hold of kids who were thinking of leaving the state. Once we accomplished that, we’re able to go after the same kids as (the Big Three). More so than not, we don’t get them. But we get some.”

That's what stalled some at FIU with the last coaching change. Some ground had been claimed in South Florida --T.Y. Hilton, Wesley Carroll, Johnathan Cyprien, Winston Fraser, etc. -- and in Louisiana, where Mario Cristobal developed a thin pipeline of defensive linemen. Just using that as an example, not wanting to rehash the firing or anything. It's done. Moving on, time for FIU to reestablish its ground under the current staff.

Except it's FAU doing the establishing in Dade and Broward while going after the same echelon of players as FIU. The Owls are doing it with a campus just far enough away to be not home yet close enough for quick visits, emergencies, family to make games; a debt-ridden but beautiful stadium; a campus that's nice and ever-growing, just like FIU's. They've got relationships locally. FIU's got some relationships and several acquaintances.

Meanwhile, what's FIU's ground? California quarterbacks?

Watching this recruiting week play out, somebody said to me it reminded him of Fillmore Slim's story in the documentary American Pimp. Other pimps took Fillmore's women from him hours after he set up in Los Angeles the first time. Fillmore went to the phone and called out seven more women, his first string. The LA pimps realized when they only got from Fillmore what he let them have. They gave him his respect and his space. The difference, the guy said to me, is that FIU's getting its first string taken.

I'm not saying FIU won't get any good players out of Dade or Broward in years to come if they don't get their act together now. Just out of talent overload, they'll get some. By the way, their top recruit this year, Orlando Timber Creek wide receiver Javonte Seabury, isn't going anywhere. I'm convinced the issue with his visit being cancelled this weekend was grades, not getting poached.

What I am saying is big changes often start with small, decisive moves. FAU is making them. FIU needs to make some that lets folks know that, on some small level, this is FIU's area.

Commits, Coley & Shankweiler Shootout

Junior college running back Donavan Williams announced his commitment to FIU via Twitter. Williams brings 225 pounds at 6-1, an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than sophomore Lamarq Caldwell. the biggest back on FIU's roster, with much more giddyup. 

http://www.hudl.com/athlete/565932/highlights/78710375

Williams, an 2013 National Junior Colllege Athletic Association Honorable Mention All-America for ASA College, ran for 1,024 yards and 12 touchdowns on 145 carries, 7.1 yards per carry. Perhaps even more impressive: one fumble. Williams came out of Belton (Tx.) High School after running for over 1,300 yards as a senior, but came out without a test score. He went to Blinn Junior College, where he played three games and ran for 117 yards, 3.7 yards per carry.

 

I hear FIU coach Ron Turner wants to pull a quarterback from the junior college pool. That's not terribly surprising. Turner's got junior E.J. Hilliard plus two early-enrolled freshmen quarterbacks and, according to one source, is telling potential quarterback recruits that all the above doesn't equal one starter.

Add a Williams, subtract a Bussey. FAU's been on Hialeah running back Henry Bussey, a roadrunner who averaged over 10 yards per carry in the regular season this year. Bussey Tweeted in the wee hours while on his FAU visit, "I know where I will be going to college for the next 3-4 years" and confirmed Sunday morning he's now heaeded for FAU. The Owls also got Coral Gables running back Gregory Howell.

Tonight, visiting FIU recruits were taken to Texas de Brazil on South Beach. Thank goodness Club Madonna is on a forced hiatus. It seems that place has trouble carding anyone. Of course, this year, it seems the hosts did the smart thing: took the visiting young men to an FIU party.

If you're going to be a college student, you better learn to be a bargain shopper.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Tulsa's Donald W. Reynolds Center opened in December 1998. In the 15 years plus one month since, nobody of either gender has scored more points in game there than the 43 FIU senior guard Jerica Coley put up Saturday afternoon in FIU's 78-73 loss to Tulsa.

The efficiency of Coley's performance sets it apart from many of her high scoring efforts: 17 of 31 (54.8 percent) from the field, seven of seven from the line with 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals and only one turnover. She averaged 6.25 rebounds per game and 2.8 turnovers per game before Saturday. She came into the game shooting 42.8 percent from the field and shot 50.0 from the field in only three previous games -- Wednesday's win against Florida Atlantic, the 47-point game against Wake Forest and on Nov. 29 against Valparaiso.

As the only consistent scorer, Coley's often double teamed and often winds up with the ball late in the shot clock. Then, she's got to force up a shot the same way she does on too many possessions during those games the rest of the Panthers can't hit the broad side of a Klump.

If you want to know whether or not FIU won, don't look at Coley's shooting or scoring. Look at guard Taylor Shade, forward Brianna Wright and center Tynia McKenzie. Saturday, they went a combined three for 20 from the field for 10 points. McKenzie pulled down seven offensive rebounds and scored only two points.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

What a weird, exciting game Saturday at The Branch, the Shankweiler Shootout by FIU 66-62 against East Carolina.

Whereas Thursday's officials acted like calling a guy for traveling sentenced him to 10 years at hard labor, Saturday's officials called that and anything that looked like it might involve contact, like a pair of Bob Jones University chaperones. Both teams got in the double bonus in the first half, which would've had those playing the Over buying drinks by halftime if either team could shoot free throws as well as New Castle High.

Both East Carolina point guards got into early foul trouble. Soon after, FIU began trapping just after half court, forced some turnovers and got the kind of easy baskets they didn't get Thursday against Old Dominion. But FIU coach Anthony Evans said it wasn't the Pirates personnel situation that brought the pressure from the Panthers. Evans said FIU's lack of depth doesn't allow for game-long pressuring so they do it in spurts. It was just time for a spurt.

Also, FIU's lack of depth seemed to come up in the second half when providing help on defense. The Panthers were a step slow on many possessions. Layups and short flips resulted for East Carolina. Fatigue? Maybe. On the other hand, when the Pirates missed, the Panthers crashed the boards with authority (or as much authority as this officiating crew allowed). That's effort they summoned.

FIU's poor free throw shooting almost caught them again. Their defense, lot of determination and a ridiculously panicky final possession for East Carolina got them to the finish line. Good for them.

Next up: FAU. Heh-heh-heh.

 

 


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