January 23, 2015

Time for Russo to Rest

The surprise for many at FIU was that Cindy Russo returned for the 2014-15 season.

Since the start of the 2012-13 season, the standard prediction around the athletic department had Russo's retirement dovetailing with the end of star guard Jerica Coley's eligibility in 2014.

Last season's ineligiblity of 6-3 Marita Davydova infuriated Russo just as much at the end of the season as the beginning. She never flat said it, but she had to know that dropped the ceiling for Coley's last team and her last team with postseason potential. With some semblance of an inside/outside game, FIU could put together a winning season and would hold a puncher's chance in the Conference USA tournament. Without it, you get what happened -- FIU rising only to the level of Coley's superpowers. Once those ran out like a power ring's charge in the 25th hour against eventual champ Middle Tennessee State in the conference tournament semis, that was it.

Russo returned for one more year, I think, almost out of reflex. This is what she's done every fall since 1977. Routines beget full body muscle memory. But fatigue strikes earlier and earlier as the years pass until the time the remembering muscle tells the mind, "Forget this, I'm tired." 

All college coaches essay the role of parent on some level. For years, Russo had been the caretaker for her elderly mother. That's not a Wikipedia example of "sandwich generation" but it's still "sandwich generation." Most "sandwich generation" folks don't go on bi-weekly business trips to places like Bowling Green, Kentucky or Huntington, West Virginia (in January).

Soon after Russo's mother died in late December, rumors began around FIU athletics that she'd retire. Worn down even before being weakened by the flu that refuses to leave her -- I almost wanted to pour chicken soup through the cell phone when we spoke Thursday afternoon, she sounded so bad -- she saw the rest of the season looming like K2.

The vastness of Russo's career can't be overstated, both as far as FIU and women's basketball.

When she began as an assistant coach at 1970s powerhouse Old Dominion, many families actively discouraged their girls from participating in team sports. Heck, many girls actively discouraged girls from participating in team sports. Not feminine enough, you know. Many states didn't have high school girls basketball tournaments. Indiana, home of the most storied boys high school tournament, didn't start a girls counterpart until 1976, the same year the Summer Olympics first included women's basketball. Pro leagues? Please. The NCAA didn't sanction college women's basketball, but rather the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) did. The first AIAW national championship game to be nationally televised ended the 1977-78 season, Russo's first at FIU, where a few structures dotted a lot of space. Parking not a problem back then.

Now, well, look around. Despite the roles sexism and homophobia still play in college women's basketball, if you don't see the vast differences from 37-plus years ago, you're too obtuse to read this blog. FIU continues to grow an inexorably as The Blob.

Of course, Cindy Russo would've liked to finish this season, though it looks headed for a C-USA tournament one-and-done. No woman in sports Russo's age with any stature got there by leaving anything unfinished. All those women fought more battles than Patton just to get to the game time fight.

Russo's earned the right to say she's too tired to keep fighting.

January 03, 2015

Went to a Conference Party...

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, FIU Sprint Invite, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Women's Basketball, vs. FAU, Sunday, 6 p.m.

Swimming & Diving, vs. Central Florida, Texas Christian, FAU, Thursday, noon

Women's Basketball, vs. Middle Tennessee State, Thursday, 6 p.m.

No longer the new kids on the block, FIU's still given less of a chance in the Conference USA basketball jungle than New Kids on the Block would be. But in the mid-major hoops world, all hoop dreams remain in play until you lose in the conference tournament.

At least the 7-6 FIU men know they'll participate in that this season, making the conference schedule about something more tangible than media guide filler. As for the 3-8 women, though they played perhaps their best game of the season in beating Bowling Green 68-55 in Tuesday's consolation game of the FIU Sun & Fun Classic, they're still piecing together who best fits with whom and where.

Redshirt freshman Kiandre'a Pound, clearly FIU's best Panther, lacks the range and playmaking ability omniweapon Jerica Coley had, but she's a smooth, confident scorer with height (6-0), build and athleticism that pushes her high end above Coley's. Over the last six games, Gulf Coast Community College transfer guard Destini Feagin has established a place on the perimeter and her scoring numbers the last four games have been, in order, 3, 6, 10 and 15 points.

The erratic offensive games of point guard Taylor Shade and senior center Marita Davydova don't cause FIU as many problems as the Panthers erratic team defense. Whether slow afoot, on the help or on the rotation, the Panthers' defense arrives on Miami time far too often. Usually, when you see a team giving up 45.8 percent shooting from the field (335th out of 343 Division I teams), they aren't outrebounding teams by 8.1 per game. Check out the teams ranked 333rd (Saint Francis, PA), 334th (Alabama A&M), 336th (Loyola Maryland) and 337th (Grambling) in field goal percentage defense. Respectively, they average -14.6, -11.4, -8.2 and -18.4 in per game rebound margin.

Fellow Sun Belt refugees Middle Tennessee State, last year's regular season and tournament champion, and Western Kentucky have the best RPI. Western (11-2) and Marshall (8-3) have the best records going into conference play. 

On the men's side, "I think it's a great league," FIU men's coach Anthony Evans said. "Obviously, UTEP, La Tech (the preseason favorite), Old Dominion have been playing really well. Charlotte, too. Then, I think there's a second tier of teams and we're probably in the mix."

Evans knows what he's going to get from fifth-year senior guard Dennis Mavin and center Adrian Diaz every night. I asked him who else needs to gain that regularity of production to move FIU into that upper echelon of C-USA.

“The other guys, the Daviyon Drapers, the Ray Rodriguezes, the Jason Boswells, Marco Porcher Jimenez, if those guys continue to improve, then it helps us because now we’ll have more people they have to worry about than just two guys,” Evans said. “That’s what our numbers say. If those guys are making shots and playing well, I think we’re a really good team.”

 

June 06, 2014

Garcia drafted in Round 2

The second of two Conference USA players selected in the first two rounds of the Major League Baseball draft, FIU catcher and Conference USA Player of the Year Aramis Garcia went No. 52 overall to San Francisco.

That's the second highest an FIU player has been drafted. Toronto took Josh Banks with the No. 50 pick in 2003.

More than just a player, FIU lost a showcase athlete, the kind of student-athlete schools like to put on billboards and put in front of the Athletics Committee as the epitome of what a student-athlete can be: well-comported, good on the field and the classroom. Garcia and Jerica Coley fit that role perfectly. Who's next?

 

May 07, 2014

Coley Cut

I see former FIU guard Jerica Coley, who led the nation in scoring for the second consecutive season in 2013-14, has been waived by the New York Liberty. The Liberty signed Coley as a free agent rookie before training camp.

 

April 28, 2014

Coley in Liberty camp

FIU senior guard Jerica Coley, two-time national leading scorer and one of the most liked athletes in FIU history, has signed with the New York Liberty as a free agent. The Liberty began training camp Sunday, begin the preseason May 4 and the regular season May 16 against Connecticut.

April 01, 2014

Hat Trick for Coley; football games & practices moved

For the third consecutive year, the Associated Press has slotted senior guard Jerica Coley as an Honorable Mention when naming the All-America teams.

Once again, Coley led FIU in scoring (29.5 points per game), field goal percentage (42.5), free throw percentage (82.2), steals (1.8 per game), assists (3.9 per game), blocked shots (1.3 per game), autographs and being an all-around good person. She's the Tom Slick of the women's basketball team and maybe the entire FIU program.

 

FOOTBALL

The Shula Bowl, at FIU this year after two years at FAU, got moved up to Oct. 2.

Also, Saturday's open scrimmage has been moved to 7 p.m. Friday. Adjust your social calendars accordingly.

 


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