February 22, 2014

Play4Kay Hoops & Cut Baseballs

Saturday represents the only basketball sort of doubleheader of the season -- the men at 2 p.m. vs. Tulsa, the women at 6 p.m. vs. Marshall, baseball and softball going on during the time between games --  and the women's game also will be the penultimate home game for senior guard Jerica Coley.

It's also the Play4Kay game, FIU's part in the movement to try to find a cure for breast cancer. The team will wear several pink accessories and fans are also asked to wear pink.

BASEBALL

The Diamond Dinner keeps the baseball and softball programs above the Internet panhandling to which the track and volleyball programs have been forced to stoop. Baseball needs that event as its budget has subtly sunk like a good Randy Jones pitch over the past few years.

Total operating budget: 2011-12: $834,498

Total operating budget for 2012-13: $825,940. Main difference: $4,872 less for Tuition, Stipends, Scholarship, $11,000 less for Game Expenses, $9,061 more in baseball staff and operations salaries. 

Total operating budget for 2013-14: $820,460. Main differences: $5,000 less for Team Travel, $20,211 less for Tuition, Stipends, Scholarship, $3,500 more for Recruiting Travel, $10,000 more for Game Expenses, $4,284 more for baseball staff and operations salaries.

The budget for men's basketball fell also each of the last four years. It fell 0.2 percent from Isiah Thomas second year to his third and final year, but 6-1 percent from Thomas to Richard Pitino's year and another 2.7 percent from last year to this year. But examining that difference line by line shows most of that difference is in Team Travel, which was budgeted over $100,000 less each of the last two years than each of the last two Isiah Thomas-coached seasons, a drop of over 30 percent; and basketball staff and operations salaries, which have gone down with each coaching change (Thomas to Richard Pitino, Richard Pitino to Anthony Evans); and in the line item Fringe Benefits, which has also gone down with each change.

Football's budget dipped by 2.1 percent from 2010-11 to 2011-12 (bowl season to bowl season); rose by 1.2 percent from 2011-12 to 2012-13; then rose again by 4.29 percent for this year. Most of that came from larger numbers for operations and staff salaries and Tuition, Stipends, Scholarship.

But, note that there were head coaching changes around each of the moves in budget for football and basketball. Baseball's staff has remained the same at the top.

Keep in mind, there was an increase in student fees of 54 cents per credit hour, approved to cover the move to Conference USA and increased yearly fees. The increase more than paid for that move, as the students have more than paid for their share of FIU athletics. According to USA Today's annual subsidies (student fees, state funding, etc.) report, FIU's the 25th most subsidized athletic department budget (83.38 percent). Among the 24 more subsidized departments, only Georgia State plays football at the FBS level. 

Now, all of this assumes that the budgetary numbers I received from a public records request from FIU are accurate. Sometimes, numbers get misplaced. Or, things go missing.

 

February 20, 2014

Coley Academic All-American; Compliance moves

The day after tying her career high with 47 points in a loss to Southern Mississippi, senior guard Jerica Coley was named a Third Team Capital One Academic All-American.

You know the numbers: 3.41 GPA, 29.4 points per game, an amazing (or ridiculous) 42.7 percent of FIU's offense this season. The only home games remaining for Coley, assuming FIU doesn't make a postseason tournament of any kind, are Saturday against Marshall and a week from Saturday against Old Dominion, both 6 p.m. games.

COMPLIANCE

Val Sheley was the Director of Compliance until last fall. Back then, Compliance didn't fall under Athletics.

Now, comes Hank Harrawood. Harrawood's title? Associate Athletic Director of Compliance, indicating that office has been moved under the Athletics roof or is about to be.

FAU, USF and UCF each have both an an Assistant AD of Compliance and a Director of Compliance. FAU doesn't list staff beyond their top two. In addition to the assistant AD and director, UCF has a director in charge of rules, another for financial aid, an assistant director in charge of monitoring rules and one monitoring eligibility. USF has three additional assistant directors of compliance and a "compliance extern."

FIU has the Harrawood position, three assistant director positions (one open, the one in charge of APR) and a compliance intern (also open). Not sure what Harrawood's making, but Sheley was making $100,000. The two assistant directors in place now make around $110,000, combined. Considering FIU's Compliance troubles and possible fines incurred to the NCAA for those troubles, the school might want to drop a little coin on the department. At least that'll keep the money in town.

The same could be said of the SAAC. Former director Phil Moses wrote in his 2012 evaluation, "The needs of the student-athletes we serve and the needs of the SAAC staff members are diverse. The financial constraints of a budget that does not match the needs of the students we serve necessitates decision-making that is consistently efficient, but very challenging. The same goes for the professional development of the SAAC staff. Much development is needed for staff, but critical priorities have severely hampered funding such development."

In one of her performance evaluations, Sheley wrote that "our staff is not big enough to be doing all things at all times for all people" and that Compliance at FIU had responsibilities "for certain areas not usually housed in the Compliance office." Then again, I've heard some athletic department staffers in an area that should have nothing to do with Compliance were having to handle Compliance work.

Or, to paraphrase Biggie, "No money, mo' problems."

(Yes, I have made a public records request for the budgets of Compliance and the SAAC.) 

Let's see if FIU puts the new guy, Harrawood (undergrad at East Carolina, law school at Elon) and whoever takes over the SAAC in a better situation. Harrawood most recently was an assistant AD for nine months at Louisiana-Monroe, where Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub was athletic director before coming to FIU. Before that, Harrawood was the Compliance Coordinator at Gardner-Webb University.

 

 

From Gomez (not Addams)

Southern Mississippi attempted defense, a pressing, trapping kind. FIU's Jerica Coley ended with 47 points. FIU attempted defense. Southern Miss scored 106 points and shot 54.4 percent from the field. Stetson attempted defense and achieved comedy -- six errors leading to five FIU runs.

Only FIU's relief pitching seemed to have the concept down Wednesday night at Camp Mitch. And the last of those relievers, senior Mike Gomez, is truly appreciative of another chance to be the closer FIU thought he would be in 2013, before Tommy John surgery ended his season after five appearances and four saves.

"It's unreal," Gomez said. "To be back on that mound, there's nothing like it. All last year, I was sitting and watching from the stands. All I could think about is getting back on the mound."

In three appearances, Gomez has two saves. 

"Close to night and day, the way my arm feels at least" he said. "With our new pitching coach now, Coach (Sam) Peraza, he's teaching how to just command (pitches) and just pound the zone with strikes. Not taking away from our other pitching coaches. Coach (Drew) French was a great coach, but this year I think what I needed was "throwing strikes" engraved in me because I had too many walks last year and the year before that."

Gomez has developed a cutter to stick in his arsenal.

"I've been working hard on that pitch," he said. "It was a little struggle at first. Me and Coach Peraza overcame it. It's a good pitch for me, especially against lefties. I needed an out pitch against lefties. My changeup has been devastating to righties, so that was a good pitch to add."

The baseball team sits at 5-0 going into the weekend series against Stony Brook (No, they don't have a Flinstone Hall or Rubble Recreation Center). They got votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Top 25, votes that would surely multiply if FIU comes out of this weekend 7-1 or 8-0.

February 12, 2014

Coley and CLASS; Snow day; 2015 Diamond Dinner

Another pile of points from senior guard Jerica Coley, 29 of them, couldn't lead FIU to an upset of Middle Tennessee State Wednesday night at The Branch. But Coley did get two pieces of individual good news lately: she's one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award (http://www.seniorCLASSaward.com) and one of the 30 finalists for the Naismith Women's Player of the Year Award.

The former award takes into account Coley's excellence in the classroom as well as on the court and fans can go to the website to vote for their favorite student-athlete. 

TENNIS

The women's tennis match against Winthrop got snowed out. They can't clear off the courts and play? Nobody's got a shovel up there? Sheesh...

BASEBALL & SOFTBALL

Arrangements for the 2015 Diamond Dinner, Feb. 7, 2015, already are underway. And FIU's in talks with another excellent keynote speaker. I'm not sure he's a better speaker than this year's Jim Kaat, current broadcaster and former longtime major league pitcher, but he's one of the biggest names in baseball from the 1960s and 1970s.

February 07, 2014

Joining The 700 Club; new softball stadium's first game

Between planes connecting FIU's women's basketball team from San Antonio to El Paso isn't an ideal time for serious reflection. That's where I caught Cindy Russo Thursday afternoon after her 700th career coaching victory, she and her team were in Houston with UTEP in the future (Saturday) and the milestone win against Texas-San Antonio in the past (Wednesday).

"It's an honor to reach it," Russo said. "It took a lot of time and a lot of good people."

As for the most memorable of those 700 wins, Russo pointed to the 81-76 1995 first round NCAA win against she and longtime assistant Inge Nissen's alma mater, Old Dominion. Despite that connection, I got the feeling the top placement owes more to the game being the first of FIU's two NCAA tournament wins.

"And, of course, it's always nice to beat UM," she laughed.

Russo couldn't remember win No. 1.

"It' was too long time ago," she laughed. 

It was 42-41 against Brevard Community College, Jan. 7, 1978. Russo recalls FIU's campus encompassed seven buildings. The team played at Miami Christian High School. They practiced in a former airplane hangar they called "The Tin Gym" now used for storage.

"That first year was memorable," Russo said. "I had a lot of volleyball palyers playing after their season and a lot of softball players playing before their season. But they were a gutty group and coachable."

In the Florida AIAW tournament, FIU won two, then lost two, finishing second to Bethune-Cookman. An eligibility issue, however, knocked Cookman out of the AIAW tournament and sent FIU to the Southeast Regional at the College of Charleston. The Sunblazers (gosh, how much cooler a name is that?) lost to Tampa to end their season 8-14.

Appropriate that the building of wins from eight to 700 by the longest serving FIU coach in any sport in some ways parallels the building of FIU's current campus.

SOFTBALL

Speaking of construction, the new softball facility debuts today at 4 p.m. when FIU plays Maryland in the Felsberg Memorial. Tomorrow night is the major fund-raiser for the softball and baseball programs, the Diamond Dinner in the Graham Center Ballroom at Camp Mitch. Reception is at 6 p.m with the dinner starting at 7 p.m.

Former major league pitcher Jim Kaat will be the keynote speaker.

January 30, 2014

Coffee, Coley & TV

 The biggest weeps over senior guard Jerica Coley graduating FIU might not be heard in the women's basketball offices, but the marketing and media relations offices. They'll be crying like it's the end of Love Story. For those arms of FIU media, Coley's the gift that never stops giving, the cornucopia of FIU goodness.

This week, it's being named a Capital One Academic All-District athlete by College Sports Information Directors of America. This district covers colleges in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Coley carries a 3.41 GPA and majors in dietetics and nutrition.

Coley and the entire women's basketball team will be signing autographs Saturday after FIU faces FAU at 6 p.m. on National Girls and Women in Sports Day. Female FIU employees with their FIU card get in free. Girls under 12 receive a free t-shirt.

TELEVISION

The Apr. 5 FIU vs. FAU softball game will be televised on Fox Sports Network as will the May 3 FIU at East Carolina baseball game. Conference USA announced its spring television schedule today.

 

 

 

January 27, 2014

Making A Move on Gardner; Coley again No. 1 scorer

The FIU coaching staffs Turners were up state Monday, trying to woo three-star running back Alex Gardner, a 5-10, 185-pound runner out of Jacksonville Raines, to FIU. Gardner was to visit FAU this weekend. Now, he'll visit FIU.

Gardner visited Wyoming last week. According to MaxPreps, he ran for 1,955 yards and 18 touchdowns his junior and senior years on 314 carries, 6.23 a pop. As far as catching the ball, his 29 receptions led to 359 yards and five touchdowns in that same two-year span.

 

 

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Senior guard Jerica Coley bumped past Baylor's Odyssey Sims in the national scoring race to retake the lead in the category she won last year.

Coley's 38-point effort Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham put her at 30.0 points per game. Meanwhile, Sims suffered a seven for 27 shooting night against Oklahoma State, scoring only 17 points and dropping her to 29.7. That was Sims third game in the last four of 20 or fewer points. Baylor won two of those three games, one of which saw Sims play only 28 minutes as Baylor routed Kansas State.

January 26, 2014

Two up (basketballs), one down (pool)

Saturday night at The Branch, I wonder if anybody had a Joe Montana-John Candy moment. You know, looking off the court and seeing, "Hey, that's Ray Taylor over there!" or "Hey, check it out -- people actually in the cabanas!"

That contribution to a solid gathering helped give The Branch good life throughout FIU's 66-57 win. The court and the cabanas, as such things go, now just seem normal, although I still like the uniqueness of each. The only thing two things beach-like about Saturday night's game, in fact: the Spotlight Dance Academy preteens creepily twerking like they worked at Club Madonna (accompanied by little girls creepily made up like they worked for Iceberg Slim) at halftime and the way officials treated fifth-year senior forward Rakeem Buckles. The zebras imitated Miami Beach PD who wanted Buckles to move along during Urban Beach Weekend. To be fair, officiating helped neither team, but of Buckles' five fouls, I saw him commit two, maybe three.

FIU didn't give FAU's Pablo Bertone a chance to see much of anything in the first half. Bertone wound up with 19 points, right at his 18.1 per game average, but all of it came in the second half as FAU tried to come from 34-24 down at the half. The Give A Hoot, Don't Pollute guys never made it. In fact, after Tymell Murphy knocked down the game's first jumper less than 20 seconds into the contest, FIU never trailed or was tied.

Anyway, back to the defensive job on Bertone. 

“I thought they paid extra attention to him,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “There wasn’t a time when he caught the ball that someone wasn’t on him. We let No. 12 get a couple of clean looks early. But I don’t think Bertone got any clean looks whether Dennis (Mavin) was on him or Tymell.”

Evans usually doesn't crack anything close to a joke in the postgame conference, win or lose. Saturday, after Murphy finished answering a question about his double doubles, Evans said, "He almost had a triple double..."

"Eight turnovers...," Murphy groaned.

"If he had two more turnovers, it's a triple double," Evans said.

"I was just looking at that," Murphy said. "That's horrible. I've got to be better." 

When FIU needed offense, it was Murphy coming up with the tough move or rebound, Mavin using his quickness to break down the defense or sophomore forward Jerome Frink unafraid to take the shot. Defensively, Mavin and Murphy helped out down low well and Frink, again, always seeming to be there for a steal, block or rebound. 

As Murphy left the postgame press conference, I said to him, "You hear your girl got 38?"

Murphy threw out more complimentary words about senior guard Jerica Coley, of whom Murphy's the biggest on-campus fan. UAB couldn't keep Coley from the hole and they couldn't keep Tynia McKinzie off hte boards.

Coley got her 38 strangely -- hitting five of nine from three-point range, but only seven of 26 from inside the arc. Still, you know what Coley's going to give as far as points almost every night. The difference in FIU winning or losing Saturday, as so often, is the supporting cast's production. McKinzie put in 10 points to go with her 19 rebounds.

And that's the difference between the 63-52 win and team failure.

SWIMMING & DIVING

Having a dysfunctional facility clearly didn"t affect Florida Gulf Coast's ability.

Pool problems caused the diving for Saturday's dual meet to be hosted by FIU while Gulf Coast hosted the swimming. Senior Sabrina Beaupre swept both the diving events while senior Sonia Perez Arau won the 1000 freestyle in school record time (10:07.06, knocking 4.3 seconds off her own FIU record) and took the 500 free and 400 individual medley, too. FIU coach Randy Horner called it the best dua meet of any athlete h'es coached.

Unfortunately for FIU, Gulf Coast won everything else and the meet, 189.5-109.5. The first dual meet loss of the year for FIU, No. 12 in CollegeSwimming.com's mid-major rankings (Gulf Coast was No. 9), comes a week before they face FAU in the season-ending dual meet.

 

January 23, 2014

Making a push

Though men's basketball attendance runs ahead of last year's pace, the folks at Camp Mitch want to make sure there's a not-embarrassing crowd at The Branch for Saturday's Abbreviation Armageddon with FAU. The game will be televised on CSS.

Which is why they're bringing a peck of promotions to pack the place.

Students arriving before tipoff -- instead of straggling in five or 10 minutes into the game, just ahead of Miami time -- will be entred into a free raffle for FIU gift cards. Trying to get the family crowd for the 6 p.m. start, they're offering the Family Four Pack: four tickets, four hot dogs, four popcorns, four soft drinks for $29. Just call the ticket office or log onto http://www.fiusports.com with the promo code FAMILY.

Maybe in a nod to the forever ineligible Ray Taylor, who played three years for FAU and seven games for FIU, they could raffle off a couple of jobs in the Compliance department.

 

 

January 19, 2014

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.

 

 

January 18, 2014

Coley among Wooden Award Final 20; recruiting stuff

Martinsville, Indiana's John Wooden eschewed the superior basketball school about 20 minutes away in Bloomington and went on to become an All-America at Purdue and, some years later, a pretty fair hoops coach at UCLA. The Wooden Award recognizes the best college player of each gender who also is moving toward a degree at a 2.0 GPA or better clip.

No surprise then that FIU senior guard Jerica Coley has made the midseason final 20 list for the women's Wooden Award. The FIU women face Tulsa Saturday.

RECRUITING

Texas-San Antonio snagged a commitment out of two-star Orange Park Oakleaf linebacker Justin Todd, who had been committed to FIU.

FIU is making a run at Dillard wide receiver Dennis Turner, a former UM commit. Of assistance in that pursuit should be Dillard quarterback Bud Martin, who has enrolled early.

One commenter mentioned Marquese Dudley-Gordon, a three-star defensive back from Cypress Bay who spurned several more prominent schools to commit to FAU. One school not playing France Joli and singing "Come to Me" to Dudley-Gordon was FIU, but I think that had more to do with frigid feelings on the other end. Remember last year, when FIU yanked the offer of Cypress Bay defensive lineman Jason Rae during the two weeks of Luke Butkus and about a week before Signing Day? Rae was stunned. Some folks were left angry and hurt. Rae wound up at Central Florida, where his older brother played.

Javonte Seabury's cancelled visit could be just screwed up paperwork in Compliance, which still isn't fully staffed. Or, there could be a problem with his grades. You do have to wonder when Seabury, rated at three to four stars and a former Florida State commit, isn't getting dive bombed with offers. That can mean something's up (or not up enough) in the grade department. I hope whatever the problem is, it gets cleared up.

January 17, 2014

Cold Night at The Branch; MLK breakfast

Thursday night's basketball presentation at The Branch could be likened to walking in on your octogenarian mother or mother-in-law in the midst of an undies change: an unsightly ragged surprise that shrinks your appetite for anything similar.

Upon returning to South Beach, I didn't want to see even one attempted jump shot, dunk or entry pass. What Old Dominion and FIU did to basketball put it almost in a state from which not even sure the Jackson Five could save it.

 

Most annoying in the 36-point performance, an FIU-record for offensive futility, was the lack of movement. Too much statue basketball -- get the pass, stand, observe, pass to another person to do the same -- where there's not much movement of the ball or off the ball. That led to forced drives, which leads to bad shots and turnovers.

"Combination," assented FIU coach Anthony Evans about the stagnant nature of the offense. "I think the ball is stoopping too much. Going to one person and sticking instead of crisp ball movement so we can get open shots."

And, FIU saw some inside shots dance around the rim before falling away, inevitably to an Old Dominion rebound. Evans said practice today would be devoted to defense, reasoning if your offense is slumping, get the defense together to create offense from defense.

I apologize for the lateness of the blog. After dinner, dessert, Daddywork (melted cough drops in the backpack...c'mon, kid), I banged out some of the postgame blog then went face down on the keyboard. Then, this morning, after dropping the kid off, I skedaddled over to the 23rd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Breakfast at the Graham Center ballroom.

I saw Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub at the breakfast. I was told the athletics table across the rom included several coaches including, predictably, swimming coach Randy Horner (the swim program defines "ubiquitous"). Not in the house full of successful, affluent Miamians and FIU-connected folks? Ron Turner. I know a pile of recruiting visits are this weekend, but that's exactly the kind of event at which an athletic department living student fees-to-student fees needs the coach of its most visible program.

The keyote speaker was Dr. Clarence Jones, a speechwriter for and close friend of Dr. King, a copyright lawyer and professor at Stanford. I really wish I'd gotten down verbatim his quoting of Dr. King on striving for personal excellence and taking responsibility for your personal behavior.

RECRUITING

Another thing about football recruiting: that other schools are sweating some FIU recruits speaks well of them. You want players other schools want. That also means, however, you've got to make them love you enough to keep their affection through the wooing of others.

Just a thought as FAU's making a run at Hialeah running back Henry Bussey, an FIU commit.

 

January 10, 2014

Tymell Thursday

The Knicks won; 15 rebounds; 22 points, 20 of them in the second half; a 71-60 FIU win over Rice in the Panthers' first ever Conference USA game.

Yeah, Thursday was a happy day for senior forward Tymell Murphy.

Freshman Jason Boswell set a school record as he went five for five from the line, stretching his streak to 27 consecutive free throws. Cameron Bell held the previous record, 24 in 2011-12. Dennis Mavin put in 16 points with nine boards.

FIU had only 10 turnovers against Florida A&M and six against Rice. They'll need to keep up that improvement Saturday at Louisiana Tech.

 

January 08, 2014

January 03, 2014

Report: Special teams coordinator Wolthausen to UConn

I've been wallowing in Dolphins, Heat and Orange Bowl stuff the last few weeks. The good folks at CoachingSearch.com say FIU special teams coordinator Kevin Wolthausen is headed to the UConn staff.

That's all. That and I expect free throw shooting will get some extra practice time after the FIU men blew Thursday night's game at Florida A&M on bad free throw shooting late in the game. 

Guys, keep it to one name in the Comments. 

SWIMMING & DIVING

FIU finished second to Michigan in the six-team Orange Bowl Classic swim meet. Senior Sonia Perez reeled off three third-place finishes -- the 400 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 200 Individual Medley.

Today, FIU hosts the FIU Invite at 1 p.m. 

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 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

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.


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