I've momentarily escaped the official play-for-pay land of Dolphins and Heat that keeps Death Star Tractor Beaming me away to discuss the major acquisition of the last two days.
My daughter's bunk beds got delivered!
While I was throwing Barbie's cocktail glasses in her dream house -- thank goodness it has an elevator, no way that bony lush makes it up three floors of stairs -- to prepare for delivery over the last two days, FIU basketball coach Richard Pitino was landing Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony's forward Jerome Frink and junior college shooter Malik Smith, originally out of the Boston area.
Frink, 6-6 or 6-7, was a First Team All-New Jersey player this season. He averaged 10 points and 5.8 rebounds per game during the regular season and 16.2 and 6.5 per game in the playoffs. He and Kyle Anderson, who'll be heading for UCLA, were the only two starters on both St. Anthony teams that won a combined 65 consecutive games over the last two seasons and two New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament of Champions titles.
The 6-2 Smith averaged 13.9 points per game for Jacksonville College. He's a shooter, not a slasher -- he put up over 11 shots per game, but shot only 36 percent from the field, got to the line an average of only three times per game, but sank 84 percent of his free throws.
South Alabama was giving FIU the what for, 5-1, in the fifth inning of Thursday evening 's Sun Belt tournament play when lightning halted play. Before things resumed, the rains came and shut the party down for the night. Play will restart tomorrow.
YOU MAKE THE CALL
Actually, they make the call. "They" being the folks in stripes, a design formerly associated with prison, which is where some fans inevitably feel officials should wind up for stealing a game from their fair team.
Alas, about 90 high school, Division II and Division III officials won't be in jail, but will be attending the 2012 South Florida Officiating Clinic Friday and Saturday at FIU. The event put together by Miami-living nine-year NFL official Alberto Riveron and former NFL zebra Gerald Austin, officials coordinator for Conference USA, will bring in 45 active NFL and Division I officials from C-USA and the ACC for one-on-one tutoring of the 90.
But what's a ref without action to judge? Those passing by FIU Stadium or the soccer field over the next two days might notice football games inside. Thirty-six local high school teams will give the practicing refs actual 11-on-11 action to call.
They'll leave with their games on DVD and a detailed critique. The heads of offficiating for the ACC, Sun Belt, SWAC and others all have decided to drop by this weekend to observe and check out whether anyone might be ready for a bump up in level. Also, scheduled to be present is NFL vice president Carl Johnson.
Riveron says he would like to do this annually, if it goes well.
The Sun Belt announced the addition of Texas State for July 1, 2013 Wednesday. That's the same date FIU and North Texas are expected to become Conference USA members.
"If we were to lose two current members, replacing them with Georgia State and Texas State gets us back to 10 football schools with Arkansas-Little Rock as a non-football member," Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said in a Wednesday afternoon conference call. "The goal is to get to 12 members to create some geographical efficiency with members in the West vs. the East."
Benson said they hadn't been notified by North Texas or FIU that they were leaving. That's true -- officially. While all the papers haven't been signed, know that FIU is engaged to be engaged to C-USA (sort of like Otter said he was to the late Fawn Liebowitz).
In contrast to his predecessor, Wright Waters, Benson said they didn't want to get to 12 schools just for a football championship game and wasn't sure such an event was in the Sun Belt's best interest. Benson said the Sun Belt would search for FBS schools within the Sun Belt's "geographic footprint" and had been confacted by four to six FCS (what we used to call Division I-AA) schools within that footprint. If they wanted a large Florida market, they could look at Jacksonville.
Anyway, FIU's got one more season in The Belt before doing a little George-and-Weezy to C-USA. Count those players on the field or court...
The school announced the signing of guard Tymell Murphy out of Brooklyn by way of South Plains College and Mohawk Valley Community College. South Plains won the NJCAA championship this season. Murphy averaged 9.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks. He shot 57 percent from the field, 43 percent from three-point range and 71 percent from the line.
The nomadic Murphy averaged 16.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game for Mohawk Valley in 2010-11. He shot 52 percent from the field, 33 percent from beyond the arc and 60 percent from the line.
FIU freshman-to-be Dieugot Joseph, a 6-6 defensive end, noted on Twitter that the move to Conference USA means he'll be playing games against his brother, 6-3, 289-pound Marshall freshman offensive lineman Josue Joseph.
The Brothers Joseph recalls music from other brothers J...
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.
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.
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.
FIU's spring football session ends Friday at 7 p.m. with the Blue & Gold Spring Game on Alonso Field at FIU Stadium. You'll have a chance to see the freshmen who enrolled early as well as the toddler version of the new offense FIU hopes to have in late adolescence if not young adulthood by the fall. Also, allegedly, there will be about 100 recruits in the house.
Admission's free. First 200 students get a free t-shirt, something no college student can have too many of in their closet.
Antoine Myers, a 6-3 point guard from Baltimore Forest Park High by way of Pensacola State College, has verbally committed to FIU.
Myers averaged 7.6 points, 1.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game last season for Pensacola.
Senior guard DeJuan Wright's career-high 35 points and 13 rebounds Saturday night against South Alabama fueled FIU to its second home victory of the season highlighted a week of two double-doubles and earned Wright Sun Belt Player of the Week honors.
Wright also pulled down 10 rebounds while putting up 13 points in Thursday's loss to Troy.
Saturday, Wright set FIU records for free throws attempted in a game, 19, and made, 16. He finished the regular season averaging 16.1 points per game, leading the conference, and 7.7 rebounds per game, third in the Sun Belt.
TIM SAYS HE'S COMING
FIU got a verbal commitment Monday from Class of 2012's Tim Williams, a 6-7 power forward out of Chicago's Homewood-Flossmoor High.
A couple of things from FIU's 68-61 loss to North Texas:
1. It Could've Been You -- FIU was a finalist when North Texas 6-8 freshman Tony Mitchell, the Sun Belt's leading scorer and rebounder, made his collegiate choice. A source out at Camp Mitch says Mitchell would be on the FIU bench Thursday instead of North Texas', but he was rejected by FIU as too big an academic risk.
Some of you are gawking at the screen in disbelief. Some of you are laughing at the screen because with some of the pseudo-student-athletes at FIU or any but a few Division I schools, you wonder how they got into any educational institution other than ones that advertise on "Judge Judy." Every school has actual student-athletes and a number of athlete-students.
To be fair, Mitchell signed with Missouri in 2010, got ruled academically ineligible a year ago and transferred to North Texas. So, he is an educational crapshoot. All I'm chuckling at is the thought that he's that much more of a longshot than some folks already wearing blue and gold.
That also seems funny in light of Mitchell thorwing down a one-handed, windmill, Dominique Wilkins-escque dunk, then breaking off some verbal disrespect to the FIU bench (one person at that end of the court later said it was the F-bomb).
2. Ilguskas in the house -- Zydrunas Ilguskas, former center for Cleveland and, last season, the Heat, was at The Branch Thursday night to check out Mitchell. Ilguskas is now a special assistant to the general manager for Cleveland, but he'll be splitting time between here and Cleveland.
3. Point/Counter No Point -- I'll likely be writing on sophomore point guard Phil Taylor for Saturday's paper and on Taylor having to deal with Isiah Thomas, a fair-to-middlin' point guard in his day, as his coach.
One thing I know is Thomas wouldn't be happy with a stat line that includes, under assists, "0." Thursday joined the home loss to Middle Tennessee as Taylor's second zero-assist game of the season. He's had three others with only one assist.
4. Jeremy Allen Almost Grand -- Senior guard Jeremy Allen is three points from 1,000 for his college career.
From Lagos, Nigeria by way of the University of Wyoming and Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, comes transfer Lekan Ajayi, a 6-10, 245-pound forward. Ajayi, rated by ESPN as the No. 24 center in this year's recruiting class, will be available as a sophomore when the 2013 spring semester begins.
So FIU will have Ajayi, 6-10 Joey De La Rosa, 6-10 Brandon Moore and 7-0 Gilles Dierickx on the roster next season, academics permitting. That's not just a lot of size, that's a lot of fouls to give in physical games.
Here's why the last few weekends before National The Fax Is Working, Right? Day have college coaches across the land chasing Tylenol with shots.
FIU verbal commit Josh Glanton, a linebacker out of Haines City High, posts that with signing day nigh, it's "decision time" between FIU and Syracuse. Glanton's visiting this weekend, along with a momvan full of other recruits. Another load of recruits will be in the weekend after next. Better hope The Rusty Pelican brings its best stuff.
SWIMMING AND DIVING
Sophomore diver Sabrina Beaupre was named Sun Belt Diver of the Week Tuesday. And the sky is still blue, grass is still green, 836 still more clogged than that Stanford kicker's chitlins. Beaupre's received this honor five times this season already. She swept the diving events at Saturday's FIU Invite with scores of 311.10 (1-meter) and 312.08 (3-meter).
Ah, but something new has been added with senior Kariann Stevens winning the Sun Belt's Swimmer of the Week award. Saturday, she won the 200-yard freestyle (2:00.29), 100-yard breaststroke (1:12.52), 100 free (55.33) and 100 Individual Medley (1:02.40) and was part of the victorious 200 free relay.
Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson junior Andre Horne, a 6-8, 230-pound forward, has made a verbal commitment to FIU for the 2013-14 school year. Horne averages 9.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game.
Head coach Mario Cristobal was marching through Georgia Thursday on a recruiting sweep.
One interesting transfer into the program is senior cornerback AJ Annelus. Interesting because of his rather serpentine path into South Florida. Annelus graduated Grandview (Mo.) Senior High in 2008, making him likely 22 when He redshirted for a year at Santa Monica Junior College before playing two seasons, then transferring to the University of Idaho. He spent the 2011 season there, getting into two games. Now, he's at Florida State College in Jacksonville, preparing to transfer to FIU.
FIU won six of the 12 events at Thursday's FIU Relays, giving them a 12-point win over second place Eastern Michigan.
The six winning teams were in the 300 backstroke (Jenny Lee, Elly James, Danielle Meara); 800 freestyle (Vicnan Torres, Sonia Perez Arau, Nadia Farrugia, Colleen Quinn); 500 free (Kariann Stevens, Torres, Farrugia, Quinn); 200 free (Kelly Quinn, Stevens, Torres, Farrugia); the 400 medley (Klara Andersson, Stevens, Perez Arau and Meara); and the 400 free (Farrugia, Torres, Quinn, Grace).
The swim team will be back in action Saturday in the FIU Invite.
Members of the military, veterans and families of those currently serving overseas can get two free tickets to Saturday's FAU-FIU game with military, veterans or family identification. Said identification should be shown at the University Credit Union Box Office, which opens at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Hours before their exhibition against Florida Memorial, the men's basketball team officially announced the signing of 6-4 swingman Milton Doyle out of Chicago's Marshall High for the class of 2012. Doyle's verbal committment was reported on the blog last month.
FIU head coach Isiah Thomas grew up in the part of Chicago where Marshall is located and his late brother Gregory Thomas played there. You might've recall Marshall as the school Arthur Agee went to in the documentary Hoop Dreams after suburban private school St. Joseph's booted him, allegedly for unpaid tuition. With Agee as one of the leaders, Marshall wound up going "down state" to the finals of the 1991 Illinois State High School tournament by upsetting perennial power King High.
The baseball team announced three signings Wednesday
Right-hander Michael Franco, out of Corpus Christi, Texas and Howard College, was named Most Valuable Pitcher in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference last season. Franco had a 10-2 record, 2.84 ERA, 88 strikeouts and 31 walks in 79 1/3 innings.
Reliever Reid Scoggins went 4-0 with a 4.59 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 24 walks in 33 1/3 innings for Howard. He had two saves. Another reliever, Tyler Sullivan, bounced from the University of West Florida to Weatherford Junior College, where he had 32 strikeouts and 13 walks in 28 innings, a 4.82 ERA and 2-1 record.
Defender Anthony Hobbs, named All-Conference USA First Team earlier this week, was named to Conference USA's All-Academic team Wednesday.
6-9 Wendale Glinton from Lake Worth, a junior at Grandview Prep after starting at Lake Worth High, has verbally committed to FIU for 2013. Glinton plays center, although he'll have to bulk up to play any position at the college level. He weighs "210, 215. I've got to get up to 250," he said Tuesday night.
Glinton has played AAU ball with Amar'e Stoudemire's Each 1 Teach 1 AAU basketball program.
The first game of the Sun Belt Tournament, which begins Wednesday at 11 a.m. Eastern time, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., is FIU vs. Arkansas State. Tuesday night, the Sun Belt announced their regular season awards at a get-all-gussied-up banquet.
Freshman of the Year went to forward Ashleigh Shim, the third consecutive FIU player to win the award, succeeding forward Chelsea Leiva (2010) and goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage (2009). The Jacksonville Sandalwood graduate had four goals and three assists, second in scoring to Leiva's five goals and six assists.
FIU missed the regular season conference title by only a half-game. Yet,the All-Sun Belt First Team had four players from Denver, three from North Texas, three from Western Kentucky and one, senior defender April Perry, from FIU. Shim, Leiva, Savage and senior midfielder Kelly Hutchinson were named to the Second Team. The conference's 12 coaches selected the teams.
While sitting in the Graham Center, pondering if there was enough from football practice to blog (they're not that optimistic wide receiver Jacob Younger plays this week even though they're taking it easy with him. There, that's it), I heard about a verbal committment for men's basketball's recruiting class of 2012.
Chicago Marshall basketball coach Henry Cotton called Milton Doyle, a 6-4 guard/forward, the best unsigned senior in town to the Chicago Sun-Times. Doyle sat out last season after transferring from Chicago Tilden to Marshall, then breaking his wrist. Despite that, a buzz about Doyle remained, especially after summer ball. llinois Prep Bulls-Eye, http://iprepbullseye.com calls "one of the most athletic players in the state and a solid mid-major recruit."