They've finished rebuilding The Beach.
I'll be all over the place here.
FIU Arena's being prepared for its new seats and beach floor.
The athletic department caught a big break when that CrossFit-like (but not CrossFit, CrossFit wants to make sure you know) competition broke the beach floor. Players and past coaches complained about how unforgiving the old floor could be on knees and ankles. Now, FIU gets a new floor and somebody else pays for it.
Looking at head coach Marlin Chinn's contract, the first thing that struck me was the five-year deal gets extended a year each time FIU wins 20 games and makes the NCAA tournament. His base pay is $161,000. He gets a $10,000 bonus for a single season team Academic Progress Rate of at least 970 (the team's been a perfect 1000 each of the last three reported years) and another $10,000 for team GPA over 3.1. He gets an extra $7,500 for each of these achievements: getting into the NCAA tournament, Conference USA Coach of the Year, sole possession of a regular season C-USA title.
I heard the whole women's basketball coaching staff got sacked Monday by new coach Marlin Chinn. That's high on the expectation list when a new coach comes in after the disaster of 3-26, 0-18. I'd be willing to bet longtime assistant coach Inge Nissen winds up somewhere else in the department or university.
I wasn't at Sunday's Athletic Academic Awards Banquet (also known as "Dress Up for Food & Instagram Shots"), which would've been a great time for a sayonara ceremony to Nissen and former head coach Cindy Russo. Considering how long and well they coached at FIU, that would've been nice. I'm not sure Russo was even invited. In her last three full seasons, FIU went to two Women's NITs and got farther than Jerica Coley's superpowers should have taken the Panthers in last year's Conference USA tournament (the program was rewarded with being told the run took the team over its travel budget for the season).
Men's basketball guard Dennis Mavin and multi-titled swimmer Johanna Gustafsdottir won the Athlete of the Year awards of the appropriate genders. The entire golf team made the conference's academic honor roll, so no surprise it won the addidas Athletic Director's Award for best GPA of the year, 3.67. Women's soccer took the Paul Gallagher Community Service Award. The Michael Felsberg Spirit Award went to swimming & diving, which shared the Champs/Life Skills Challenge Cup Award with baseball.
Speaking of baseball, senior shortstop Julius Gaines gave the invocation for the entire event and received the team's Leadership Award. That capped a good Sunday individually for Gaines. Earlier in FIU's 5-4 11-inning loss to FAU, he cracked three singles to break out of an 0-for-18 plunge that also prompted a plunge down the batting order Sunday. Coach Turtle Thomas moved Gaines from leadoff to eighth.
"I definitely don't need to send a message to Julius Gaines. He's been with us for four years. He's a good baseball player," Thomas said. "He made some really good defensive plays today. (Moving down to eighth) gets you down there where you maybe see a few more fastballs, they're not killing you working you over in the top five of the batting order. It's just to give him a different look."
Gaines said at the plate, "I got out of my head. I just went up there and said I was going to put a swing on it and whatever happened, happened." As far as hitting eighth, he admitted, "There's not as much pressure. You worry about your at-bat at that time and whatever situation comes. Leading off, it's your job to get on base. It can weigh on you a little bit."
While Gaines shrugged off his defensive day as, "I did my job. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary," FAU coach John McCormack said, "Some plays that the shortstop made in this game? Wow. Julius played really well. Thank God he's leaving this year."
Gaines made a game-saving (for the moment) play in the eighth on pinch hitter Danny Murray's tough grounder with the bases loaded. McCormack marveled that Gaines operated efficiently enough to get control of the ball, see he'd be too late for the force out at second and still fired a Murray-beating throw to first.
McCormack said two other things I found interesting. He blamed himself for FIU's 6-5 win Friday. He said he should've gone to Seth McGarry immediately in the eighth with a 5-2 lead. Instead, he used lefty Devon Carr, who gave up two hits and a walk in four batters, sparking FIU's four-run eighth inning.
He also said he didn't believe in any FIU-FAU rivalry.
"I don't believe in rivalries because the players continually change," McCormack said. "I'm not big on, 'Win this one for The Gipper, they're our biggest rivals.'"
Out on the football field, Ron Turner said FIU's lack of experience at wide receiver and abundance of tight ends and running backs wouldn't mean FIU would use double tight end sets more in 2015 because "we did a lot of it last year." But, Turner said, they'll use more sets with varying position numbers and groupings now that FIU's in the third year of running his offense.
"I've told these guys from Day 1 I really believe in utilizing our personnel and moving them around. If you've got a guy and he's always in the same spot, they can take him away very easily. That's one of the biggest things I learned in the NFL -- get your playmakers involved, put in position to make plays. We've done a little bit of that the first couple of years, but not as much as we'll do this year. In that league, they pay those guys a lot of money. The owners say, 'I'm paying him a lot of money, why isn't he getting the ball? Why isn't he involved?'
"And we have some guys with versatility. Look at our tight ends. We've got three guys (Jonnu Smith, Ya'keem Griner, Akil Dan-Fodio) who can line up at tight end, line up in the slot, line up as a No. 1 receiver outside and, in some cases, line up in the backfield. Look at our running backs, same thing. We've got some guys who are strictly backfield guys or you've got some who can line up in the slot or outside. We've got a couple of wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and play some running back, quarterback or whatever."
After saying he was excited about all the different options for FIU, Turner joked once spring football ends, the coaches will have too much time to come up with too much other offensive stuff to teach. Or, maybe he was only halfway joking as staffs do make that mistake more often than is noticed.
Funny what you can learn sitting around the arena on a Friday afternoon.
Executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia passed with Senior Associate ADs Julie Berg and Heath Glick and invited me along to look at the choice of new chairs for FIU Arena.
At least all the lower bowl chairs in the arena will be replaced. That's the "Bleacher Project" referred to in the pre-Miss Universe e-mail to Glick as "likely scrapped."
The other project mentioned as "likely scrapped" in that e-mail, the softball/golf locker room, should be started after FIU hosts Conference USA softball championships, according to Garcia and Berg. The new practice area for the track and field throwers, also part of the Women's Sports Initiative, should be done before the year's out. Garcia said a major upgrading of the baseball stadium will be coming in the next year or two.
A major donation should be announced soon that'll pay for the baseball stadium and arena seat replacement. The other projects should be covered under what's been collected for the Women's Sports Initiative.
Recently, I heard again from someone close to the situation, as I did last fall, that the long-awaited soccer/track stadium will become a reality once FIU takes over the Youth Fair land. Don't confuse this with any drive to get Major League Soccer as a temporary FIU tenant. This pitch would be for FIU and youth teams.
Considering the amount of time we've been waiting on this project, all skepticism until dirt gets disturbed is warranted.
I doubt an FIU coach came into this season with more optimism softball's Gator Rebhan.
Rebhan, an assistant under Jake Schumann last year, gets a Division I job after two decades of coaching travel softball and high school softball in South Florida. And the roster, which loses only three players from a 33-win team and includes seven of his former travel softball players, has enough talent that Conference USA coaches voted FIU co-favorite with UAB to win the championship on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium in May.
Rebhan told the Board of Trustees Athletics Committee last fall that the Panthers could be a 40-win, Conference USA champion. He saw no reason to back off of that Thursday afternoon.
"We're very capable of reaching that. We're a very athletic team," Rebhan said. "Our pitching is strong. Our defense is strong and fast. Our hitting, one through nine, should be solid. We don't have one thing that stands out. We're well-balanced. Their attitude is excellent. They're really loose, which is good."
Hours later, the Panthers backed up their coach by crushing Houston in its season opener 8-1. Sophomore Stephanie Texeira, last year's Conference USA Freshman of the Year, bashed out a double, a home run and four RBI. Freshman Ashley Belans doubled in another two runs. Panthers bats ruined Houston starter Shelby Miller the way they would a Shelby Mustang, sending her back to the garage totaled after one and a third innings.
Meanwhile, junior Corrine Jenkins diffused nine hits over seven innings. The Jenkins-Shelby Graves right-handed combination will be backed up by Brianna Bartuccio, a transfer from Austin Peay.
Sophomore Ashley Leon played second base ("defensively, she's phenomenal" Rebhan said), had two hits and hits second. Rebhan figures she'll shore up the second spot, which he considered an FIU weakness last year. Then, it's FIU's Pitchers Pounders: Texeira, sophomore Gabby Spallone and senior Krystal Garcia.
Texeira came out of Gulliver with credentials -- the first high school All-American to come to FIU -- and exceeded them last year. She hit .408 with 11 home runs, 41 RBI and a .736 slugging percentage. According to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia, Texeira let him know she wanted Rebhan as their know coach and he listened. Spallone also made C-USA's All-Freshman Team after hitting .319 with seven home runs and 33 RBI.
Friday, up at the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Alabama, FIU gets Lamar and McNeese State. Saturday, the Panthers face Eastern Kentucky and Alabama. Their first home game is a week from Friday, against Memphis.
CoachingSearch.com reported that FIU wide receivers coach and quarterbacks coach Cam Turner would be skipping to the NFL's Carolina Panthers to be assistant to the wide receivers coach. So, let's recap...
Cam Turner coached The Citadel's wide receivers and special teams for one season. That was his experience as a hands-on coach when new FIU head coach and father Ron Turner ("the best quarterbacks coach in the country" according to Pete Garcia upon hiring) hired Cam Turner to be the quarterbacks coach AND the wide receivers coach in 2013.
Ron Turner was disappointed with the quarterbacks in 2013, disappointed with the wide receivers in 2013 and 2014, disappointed with the whole passing game both seasons. But the guy in charge of those two units in his second and third years of hands-on coaching gets lifted to an NFL staff headed by Ron Rivera. That's Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator for Chicago during some of the same years the Bears offensive coordinator was...Ron Turner.
Pete Pelegrin was calling Thursday's game for the PantherVision webcast when Kris Gulley, in pursuit of a loose ball, crashed across the table, knocking off Pelegrin's glasses and scattering some of the radio equipment.
It worked as metaphor for FIU's 14-turnover, outscored-by-20 second half in the loss to Texas-San Antonio
Ironic, appropriate or both that the first women's basketball home game after Cindy Russo's retirement is against Old Dominion, alma mater of Russo and longtime associate coach Inge Nissen?
You don't need a shot of Old Grand Dad to know that FIU's got a shot at Old D if they find their defense. it's the only area of clear superiority for the Monarchs. In Conference USA play, Old Dominion has given up only 58.9 points per game and 35.9 shooting from the field. FIU's given up 74.5 and 45.8. And that's with a conference-leading three-point shooting percentage defense of 27.2 percent.
Old Dominion's men share four characteristics with the FIU men -- good defense and conference losses to Western Kentucky and at Alabama-Birmingham and Middle Tennessee State. But the Monarchs lead the conference in rebounding margin while FIU is last in assists per game and scoring offense. Not a good combination when you've got a ball stagnant team against a good defense. We'll see whether the 12-day gap swung FIU's offensive game toward the acutely sharpened or the obtusely dulled.
FIU's arena-based teams could move wholly back into their spaces today, the last day any Miss Universe people or stuff should be in the arena or parking lot.
That's according an FIU synopsis of the agreement between the school and Miss Universe.
A seat count from various photos taken late last week after the arena got set up for the contest comes up with 1,118 chairs + an estimated 1,500 bleacher seats on each side. That's 4,118, but the Miss Universe folks got 1,000 comp tickets per night. Preliminaries, Dress Rehearsal and the Finals sold out. FIU's $5 per ticket gets them approximately $46,770.
The Athletics release, which already downgraded the FIU benefit estimate from $400,000 earlier in January to $330,000, included $50,000 to $70,000 in ticket revenue and assumed $140,000 of state matching funds on the First Generation Scholarship Fund.
Anyway, it's back to normal for the FIU Athletics hoi polloi, whose staffing, workload and pay sometimes remind me of this scene from the 1985 classic DC Comics Crisis on Infinite Earths No. 8.
A happy Panthers bunch grinned and hugged through the alma mater Thursday night as if not quite ready for the come down usually already embraced by the time this closing credits tune sails.
And why not? In their 66-62 overtime win, they really made two comebacks to win in the kind of game where you usually get only one shot.
Down 38-21 early in the second half, FIU went on a 12-0 run as the Panthers got to Marshall on the defensive perimeter. As Marshall works inside about as well as NASCAR (and, frankly, aren't the most basketball intelligent team at either end), taking away the three turned the Thundering Herd into the Blundering Herd.
Center Adrian Diaz's points (two) matched his fouls (two) in the first half.
"When he's in foul trouble, I try to take him out," FIU coach Anthony Evans said. "Especially if he gets two quickly, we can't afford for him to get the third early because in the second half, I have to play more conservatively. So once he got two, he and Dennis (Mavin), I took them out and we had to ride it until halftime."
Early in the second half, Diaz's fouls edged ahead. Marshall's 6-9 Cheikh Sane threw himself into the part by throwing himself to the floor as Diaz got position for a rebound of a Marshall miss. A Diaz pass deflection launched Mavin to a hoop-and-harm three-point play on a fast break the previous possession. Now visibly roused by the bad call, Diaz blocked Sane the way an older brother blocks a younger one and whipped a pass out to Kris Gulley for another fast break layup.
At the next media timeout, with FIU closed to 38-31, FIU assistant coach Louis Rowe appeared to be telling Diaz to calm down and Diaz seemed to be saying, "I'm all right, I'm all right."
"Dennis was penetrating, getting to the basket," Evans said. "They were going to pay a lot of attention to him. They were downing the ball screen on the side so I thought the best advantage for us was a middle ball screen. Once he started doing that, he was able to penetrate, dish to somebody else, dish to Adrian. So it started to create some havoc with them."
After FIU closed to 38-33, Marshall got together a 9-2 run to go up 47-35 with 11:41 left. Running out of time wasn't so much a concern as running out of mental gas. Pick your sport, teams making big comebacks often have one in them, if that. If they get back into the game, they can ride that positive momentum and energy until either the end or the other team answers. If the other team answers, then you get saggy shoulders, the drained feeling. It's why it took until last weekend for an NFL playoff team to erase two 14-point deficits to win. Marshall had answered.
And the Panthers had something else for The Herd. Mavin ran off eight consecutive FIU points in the middle of a 16-4 FIU run that ended with a Diaz leaner in the lane to put FIU up for the first time all game 51-50.
The Panthers deserved to win. They outsmarted and outgutted Marshall. But they did get two important pieces of zebra help.
Diaz got his fourth foul with 10:16 left in regulation. Apparently, to get his fifth, he would've needed to use weaponry and insult each referee's mama. You can say that's karmic balance for some of the lousy calls on him earlier. Or, you could point to Marshall's laughably pathetic six for 16 from the line -- making FIU's 16 of 27 (59.3 percent) look like a team of Rick Barrys and Steve Alfords -- and 10 for 39 shooting from two-point range to conclude it flat didn't matter.
Also, the Mavin miss that Diaz jammed home for a 63-62 lead with 58 seconds left in overtime, the most important overtime bucket? Mavin didn't just travel on penetration. He ran for a first down.
The final book of game statistics and play-by-play didn't include an official attendance. A second quad set of cabanas now grace the east side of the court, giving the house eight cabanas to not sell. That moved the pep band over to Section A, the Lincoln Road section, while keeping their playlist back in 1967-87. That helped fill in the student section, on the south side. So, there was good noise for the first home game in Originally Sunblazer Arena since America had hope Annie wouldn't be the disaster it was.
"Hopefully, for our game Saturday, they'll all come back," Mavin said.
Just looked this up: last season's official average attendance, 1,474, placed FIU 265th in the nation and earned athletic director Pete Garcia a bonus of approximately $7,613.
This is the track team boarding a bus for their workouts. Behind them sit two of the four massive, parking lot cramping trailers that have something to do with getting FIU Arena ready for Miss Universe. Not sure why the scene struck me as metaphor, but...
UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Women's basketball, FIU Thanksgiving Classic, vs. Arizona, Friday, 6 p.m.
Women's basketball, FIU Thanksgiving Classic, vs. Toledo or Virginia, Sunday, 2 p.m.
The power went out about a half hour before Sunday's FIU women's basketball game on Replacement Lime Court at Unsponsored FIU Arena. Not sure what happened. I'm pretty sure FIU has paid FPL. The lights came back on in time for Cleveland State to beat FIU 73-65.
Just in case, however, maybe you want to bring flashlights for Friday's opening of the FIU Thanksgiving Classic.
The football team's no longer tempting claustrophobia on a one-engine plane designed to fly with more motors than that.
They got put on the bus, Gus, sent to a mall to eat dinner while a new plane was flown in from a few hours away, according to FIU sources. The team might not get into its hotel until 10:30. Luckily, this isn't an early afternoon kick, but rather 3:30 p.m.
FIU's been using Allegiant Air, to other airlines as a food truck parked on Meridian is to Lincoln Road, for years. This isn't the first issue that's delayed travel the night before a football game. But, they're cheap.
THIS YEAR'S FORMER SUNBLAZER ARENA FLOOR
Logo's almost done.
FIU will join over 100 other FBS schools this Saturday in wearing a Coach to Cure MD patch to promote funding for Duchnne Muscular Dystrophy research.
You donate at the Coach to Cure site. You can even text a $5 donation to 90999.
Collegiate Baseball says FIU has the nation's No. 29 recruiting class. Among its Conference USA peers, that puts FIU second to Rice (No. 23).
If you click on the truck picture from two posts ago that shows the replacement floor being brought in, you can expand it to where "ANAHEIM" is easily visible along the side of the truck. Apparently, the floor got trucked all the way across the country from the home of the Anaheim Ducks, the Honda Center, or, colloquially, The Pond.
Here it is getting put down Monday afternoon
Defensive end Michael Wakefield's been tearing it up since late last season. Saturday's two sacks, one other tackle for loss and forced fumble got him another Honorable Mention from the College Football Performance Awards.
REPLACEMENT LIME COURT
It should be down and painted with FIU colors soon. No time for the beach, though.
I kind of like the dual imagery of funky, unique (but dented) arena in front of me, pretty campus behind me.
FIU's women's basketball team will host Tennessee Tech, UCF, Cleveland State, Arizona and Auburn in non-conference games, according to the schedule released by FIU Athletics today.
The Nov. 14 opener against Tennessee Tech apparently will be part of a doubleheader with the men's basketball team's opener against Florida College. Expect they'll be playing on Replacement Lime Court at FIU Arena over the original Lime Court after last weekend's weight-dropping fitness competition left the floor -- and those of us who liked the beach-themed paint scheme -- all broken up.
FIU gets a hat trick of home games to start the Conference USA schedule, Jan. 4 vs. FAU, Jan. 8 vs. Middle Tennessee State and Jan. 10 vs. Alabama-Birmingham. The Boca Raton part of the FAU home-and-home is Jan. 24.
As far as in-state schools outside Conference USA, FIU goes to Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 18 and hosts UCF on Dec. 6, then up to Jacksonville Dec. 14. FIU's back in Jacksonville the following weekend, Dec. 20 and 21, for the North Florida Tournament.
FIU faces Arizona Nov. 28 in The Thanksgiving Classic, and either Toledo or Virignia on Nov. 30. FIU's other annual tournament, The Sun & Fun Classic, Dec. 29 and 30, sees FIU vs. Auburn on Dec. 29 and against Bowling Green or Hampton on the 30th.
Not much to see at Camp Mitch today.
Junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon wore an orange injury jersey and limped off the field after going through a full practice. This might seem like a good time to note that senior backup cornerback Randy Harvey will be back this week after FIU coach Ron Turner put him in timeout for one game following his brief boxfight with a Wagner wide receiver.
No one else on the two-deep wore a Home Depot jersey.
THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH IS ABOUT TICKETS. IF YOU DON'T LIKE TO READ ABOUT TICKETS, YOU CAN SKIP OVER IT. REALLY. THERE WON'T BE A TEST OR A REFERENCE BACK TO IT LATER.
I'm hearing some season ticket holders are receiving generous offers of near free tickets so as to prevent The Cage from being half La Cage Aux Folles from the Louisville support. In addition to the fans who'll travel, there's going to be more than usual local support for a visiting team. The Cardinals roster features 16 players from Miami-Dade County, one from Broward County, two from Palm Beach County and nine other players from the state of Florida. Even if every player brings in 20 friends and family -- a generous number, but using it because it's at the high end -- that's still only 560 extra Louisville fans.
Lamar Thomas coaches Louisville's wide receivers. I wonder if he'll be in one of the coaching carnival booths or along the sideline. I'm not sure which would be more entertaining.
The line's hanging around 27 with an Over/Under of 48.
Tonight's match against FAU will be at the Rec Center after weekend kettlebells broke the beach, also known as Lime Court at FIU Arena. Free admission and posters to all. Autographs afterwards.
Still waiting for final official word about what'll be done about a floor. The temporary floor over the dented floor for this season seems to make the most sense with the least displacement.
Tidbits from today, with my Gatorade carried by my able assistant, Natalya...
Freshman Alex McGough will start again at quarterback against Louisville. Asked if junior EJ Hilliard would make another relief appearance, FIU coach Ron Turner said, “He could. We’ll see how it goes.”
I felt I'd just heard a football coach version of, "I feel full after the risotto."
Junior linebacker Davison Colimon will be a captain this week. "He went from really deep in the doghouse to captain. Hopefully, he can sustain it," Turner said. "Zero accountability. Like a lot of guys here last year."
Defensive end Denzell Perine ranks 12th nationally in sacks, 21st in tackles for loss. Richard Leonard's still ninth in both punt return average and combined kick returns. The defense ranks 16th in total defense, seventh in pass defense. That's the product of a good secondary, strong pass rush and opponents who think pass is what you do after the extra greasy burritos.
When you're a punter, are 91st out of the 92 punters ranked by the NCAA statistics, have dropped one game-winning field goal snap and turned a grass-hugging punt snap into a safety, you might need a strog GPA to save your spot. Study, Chris Ayers, study.
The CrossFit people want you to know that RAID Games VI, while calling its FIU Arena floor-destroying weekend competition a CrossFit competition, had no legal right to call itself a CrossFit competition. CrossFit, like Xerox and Kleenex, is the proper name of a company.
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.
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.
The hanging drummers present Thursday won't be there every night. FIU contracted with Galaxy Entertainment only for Thursday night's home opener, the 85-39 waxing of Florida College. Galaxy provided the drummers and the scaffold from which they sat in harnesses. Check out my Twitter feed, http://www.twitter.com/DavidJNeal, for photos of the drummers, the cabanas, etc.
"We've done it everywehre from amusement parks, bar mitzvahs, any kind of party," said David Parente, who hung and drummed along with Sean Woods before the game and during halftime. "Any place they'll have us, we'll do it."
Is the whole shebang as overdone as the name "Lime Court at U.S. Century Bank Arena?" Sure. And I'm OK with that.
(By the way, "Lime Court..." A Mexican restaurant chain founded by a white guy, who sold it to a restaurant company named after a British rock band's hit song, gets its name put the basketball court of a university largely identified with the Cuban-American community. Add in a black person somewhere and it's the epitome of diversity, Miami-style.)
Sophomore Jerome Frink said it'll be a while before he gets used to the courtside cabanas. Both he and Rakeem Buckles felt the team got too distracted by what FIU head coach Anthony Evans called a "festive" atmosphere. Once they started rolling Florida College at 10-0, the Panthers tried to be as flashy as the show around them. Didn't work.
Evans said he was fine with it -- "We're in Miami. So, sometimes, you have to do things that kind of stand out. I guess we did that" -- but he always comes off as the kind of guy who thinks including Crunch Berries ruins Cap'n Crunch. I think he'll be happier Saturday
He's definitely a man-to-man defense kind of guy.
"I've always been a man-to-man coach," Evans said. "But it seems like they play well in the zone. It seems like I'm going to have to shift it a little until we can become a better man-to-man team. I don't like to play a lot of zone, but if we're good at it, then we're going to continue to play it."
Thursday, FIU went to a zone late in the first half when they took over the game.
"I thought when the younger guys came off the bench, they really gave us a boost with their athleticism and their length because it gave them problems in the zone," Evans said. "Once they started missing shots, we wre able to take the ball in transition and get some layups."
I asked Buckles, once again the team's leading scorer, if he's surprised with what he's been able to do so far. He replied, "No, I feel like I should be doing it. I'm 23 years old, this is my fifth year in college (basketball). I had lofty goals for myself, so I'm happy with the way I'm playing...it's expected, let's put it like that."
Evans said, "I'm very impressed with Rakeem. With everything he's gone through, he still has a true passion for the game," Evans said. "I really didn't know what we were going to get because he hasn't played basketball in two years. Once we started practicing, you could see he was trying to work the rust off. The first game, he was still trying to work the rust off, get into game shape. Then, he started getting into a rhythm. That's what you see now."
As for what they think of the team after five games, Frink said, "I think we're more talented than last year's team, we just have to get everything together, combine our talents and be unselfish."
Buckles assented: "It's going to take a while. Hopefully, we get it quickly. We're not the team that we should be right now, we'll say that."
I Tweeted at Herald high school sports scribe Andre Fernandez while he was covering tonight's Coral Gables-Hialeah game "How's Henry Bussey look?" He answered, "Legit fast. Speed back."
By that point, Bussey already had exploded for an 85-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage. He finished with 141 yards on 10 carries, so he averaged 6.2 yards per carry on his other nine carries. That ended his season with 1344 yards and 19 touchdowns on just 133 carries (10.1 yards a pop). He also caught eight passes for 199 yards (24.9 yards per catch) and two touchdowns.
That's the kind of explosiveness FIU needs in its offense. It'll be interesting if Bussey can bring that combustibility to college.
If you want to know the team invited to the unveiling of the cabana at the men's basketball home opener Thursday night...
Florida College plays in the United States College Athletic Association, a group of 86 schools (Tuesday's FIU opponent, Warren Wilson, was the 2013 Division II national title winner...of the USCAA). The Falcons got routed 101-73 by Jacksonville in their most recent game. The game beforehand, however, against Warner (University, not Bugs, Daffy, Wile E., Porky and MJ), freshman Anthony Allen provided one of the highlights of the young college basketball season.
He does that Thursday night, Florida College might get a bill.
Fifth-year senior Rakeem Buckles put up double doubles in his first three college basketball games since suffering his second season-ending knee injury two years ago, while at Louisville. The 20-point efforts in the second and third games boosted his average to 17.7 points per game while being consistent in pulling down rebounds -- 12, 13 and 11.
All that let Buckles share the Conference USA Player of the Week awards with Marshall's Elijah Pittman.
Thursday night, the men's team officially opens the cabanas adjacent to the painted beach on Lime Court at U.S. Century Bank Arena with a game against Florida College. The athletic department's going all out for a decent crowd for the home opener, down to calling it "LIV it Up at the FIU Basketball Beach Bash."
Club LIV's not actually involved, although the site of the real LIV (as opposed to the offshoot at Sun Life Stadium), The Fountainbleu Hotel, sponsors the suites and cabanas. There will be, however, a postgame student party with free food, a photo station playing on the basketball and bench themes, a mechanical surfboard (that would be amusing if some of the users tailgated before the game) and giveaways.
Knowing better than to rely on students, especially on a weeknight, it's also FIU Faculty, Staff and Retiree Appreciation Night. Each person who fits the above can buy up to four tickets for $1 each.
Highlights from FIU's women's basketball schedule for this upcoming season, the last for senior guard Jerica Coley, last year's Sun Belt Student-Athlete of the Year.
Season-opener and first game on Lime Court at U.S. Century Bank Arena (or Miami Mex at The Branch): Nov. 8 vs. Florida Gulf Coast.
First road game: Nov. 15, at Central Florida.
FIU Thanksgiving Classic, Nov. 29 and Dec. 1: FIU, Valparaiso, Montana State and Villanova.
29th Annual Sun & Fun Classic, Dec. 28-30: FIU, Fairleigh-Dickinson, Wake Forest and Florida A&M.
First Conference USA game: Between The Cabanas vs. Rice, Jan. 8.
The FIU Coaches Shootout: That's what I'm calling the Mar. 1 game against Old Dominion, alma mater of FIU head coach Cindy Russo and longtime FIU assistant coach and Hall of Fame player Inge Nissen.
FIU vs. FAU: Jan. 25 in Boca Raton, Feb. 1 at The Branch.
Conference USA Tournament: Mar. 11-15 in El Paso, Texas.
Former FIU coach Isiah Thomas used a Huffington Post column to fire back at accusations from media and FIU (particularly athletic director Pete Garcia) that he's responsible for FIU's men's basketball's postseason ban for under-the-basement APR.
Some of what Thomas says in the column has been seen here in the April 5 post on this blog. He's right about the post-firing transfers damaging FIU's APR, although they weren't all in protest of his firing. That APR effect is one reason, I believe, some football transfer requests have been denied. Football could be in enough APR trouble next year without that.
Anyway, also note what I put in last week's post on the Board of Trustees Athletic Committee: the men's basketball team's GPA for the two semesters of 2011-12 were 2.18 and 2.16. Not exactly a trend of academic achievement there.
CORRECTION ON JUNE 18: The 2011-12 team GPAs were 2.16 and 2.48.
One member of the committee asked Dr. Phil Moses, director of the Student-Athlete Academic Center, if the problems in football and men's basketball were the academic abilities of the athletes recruited or the support system after they're here.
Look, let's be real about this: the four-star guy with the Stanford-level SAT or ACT isn't coming to FIU. He's going ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10. Maybe he gets a wild idea he'd like to be part of the group running the country and go to Harvard or Yale. But he isn't coming to Camp Mitch.
And we all know football and men's basketball coaches at any level get more job security from guys who can do 4.4 on the field or court than guys who can make a 4.4 in the classroom. Coaches at FIU and elsewhere at the "mid-major" level are trying to steal the best players they can from more prominent schools. They usually fail. They must scavange the remains -- a lot of guys who inspire "yeah, but he..." qualifiers. Sometimes, those cautions concern the academic end. But what's a coach to do?
You know: bring the kid on campus. Maybe that support could compensate for any shortcomings in teaching or academic acuity. At least, that's what the coach hopes while running the extracurricular activity that pays for the student-athlete's formal education while perhaps also hindering it.