September 24, 2014

Athletics Committee Meeting Stuff

The Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meets every few months to get reports on the athletic department’s doings from athletic department people with titles. There’s public discussion of those doings between the suits on the Committee and the Athletics Titles. The Suits and Titles exchange pats on the back or harrumphs. The Titles vow to improve. Then, the Suits get coffee as a slightly different set of Suits comes in for the next BOT Committee meeting. The Titles whoosh back to the west side of Camp Mitch.

The value in these meetings come in the chunks of information or analysis the Titles lay on the Suits. After a moment of feistiness from committee chairman Jorge Arrizurieta regarding the minutes of the February meeting, the Sept. 10 meeting carried a happy feeling. Not quite Up With People happy, but it was a Prozac-and-Percoset party compared to the last two Athletics Committee meetings I attended.


A committee member happy to see the FIU vs. the University of Miami football series revived asked if FIU was working on any kind of football relationship with Florida State or Florida.

“We’re working with all the major schools around the country,” FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said. “We wanted home-and-homes. We feel we can bring those games here. As you’re seeing Pittsburgh this week, Louisville’s coming here to play, we feel at this point in our development, we want to do home-and-homes. We’re willing to play anybody anywhere as long as we do home-and-homes.”


Garcia admitted sophomore Stephanie Texeira, the softball team’s best player as a freshman, played a larger than usual role in the selection of Gator Rebhan as FIU’s new softball coach.

“Obviously, when we go through the process of selecting a head coach, for the most part, you don’t talk to the student athletes that much about the search process. This was a little bit different,” Garcia said. “She was very adamant about what they wanted. The night we selected our next softball coach, she was actually sitting in her car about two hours outside my office waiting to hear if Gator was going to be our next coach.”

Early on in these things, the athletic department presents a proudly FIU example of the student-athlete ideal. It gives the committee a hot chocolate feeling inside before getting an ice bucket challenge of real problems elsewhere. Texeira got the call for this one. It won’t be her last.

Texeira pointed out her Mom-and-Dad home is only 15 minutes away but she stays at FIU. She extolled the Student-Athlete Academic Center (SAAC), the first of many attaboys for the SAAC on this day.

She went on to talk about Rebhan: “Gator has been my mentor for 6 years. I played for him in travel ball. I was fortunate enough to have a coach who was able to push me, to challenge me, he did everything he could to push me to the best that I can be. And it’s not like he picks on me. He picks on everybody. And everybody knows he does it because he cares.”

Then, with “We have a Turtle (baseball coach Thomas). Now, we have a Gator,” Garcia introduced Rebhan.

“This is a dream come true for somebody who was born and raised in Miami, coached the last 20 years here to be a coach at FIU,” Rebhan said. “It is an honor. I think the admiintration and the support of everybody to give me this opportunity.”

He stated, “One of the goals here is I want to keep the local talent from leaving. We have so many great players here in our backyard that for years we let get away. That’s one thing I want to focus on – keep our local players here. Girls like Stephanie, All-Americans, we keep them here, it builds excitement and fills the stands.”

He also thanked the administration for the new softball stadium. Rebhan pointed to the softball team’s 3.34 team GPA last year to applause and stated the goals for the season: 40 wins, winning the FIU-hosted Conference USA tournament, “and hopefully go far in the regionals.”

Rebhan closed with “One thing about girls softball, from coaching baseball and softball -- with girls, they have to feel good to play good. And right now, being out there watching these girls out there, they feel good. They feel good about themselves and the program.”


Without mentioning FIU’s most recent appearances in the national media noise, Garcia swung into talking about Compliance, the SAAC and academic progress rating (APR). This is usually when “How did this happen?” gets asked often enough to be each meeting’s signature catch phrase.

Not this time. Compliance hadn’t bungled anybody’s eligibility. Nobody’s been put in academic time out. There’s no new APR problems.

“I feel very comfortable about what we have going on in the SAAC and the Compliance department with our APR and it’s been a total, total team effort,” Garcia said. “We’re starting to see the results. In a lot of these areas, you don’t see the results until two or three years down the line. What’s really encouraging is we’re seeing immediate results.”

He sang of Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Bejar – “She’s a workaholic. She gets things gdone. She’s very demanding, I’ll say that. But it makes everybody go to the next level.” – before handing the floor to Compliance Director of several months Hank Harrawood.

“I know from our last meeting, the certification process was important to make sure our student-athletes on the field are indeed able to represent us on the field,” said Harrawood, hired in the months following the Ray Taylor and Marita Davydova oops-ups that cost both basketball teams.

Now, the new web-based certification system will, he said, “allow for cross checking. It’ll allow everybody to go back and see what others have done. It’ll allow for greater accountability in the certification process and help majkre sure our athletes are indeed able to represent us when they do represent us on the field.”

Also, all the coaches who needed to be certified to recruit off campus passed the certification the first time. Harrawood said from what he’s heard that’s an FIU first.

Arrizurieta gave kudos that, so far, Compliance being under the Athletics umbrella works. Garcia extolled Harrawood’s work ethic with “weekends, he’ll call me in the middle of the night. Then, he introduced APR consultant John Shukie.

Shukie used to work for the NCAA. Now, he’s the president of Forward Progress Athletics Company, which works with 20 schools. Right before Shukie made that transition, he got a call from FIU as a school staring the APR abyss of men’s basketball and football.

“Let me paint the picture for you in the summer of 2013 when I did get that call,” Shukie said. “FIU athletics, especially men’s basketball and football, were facing some difficult APR issues. The men’s basketball team knew they’d be ineligible for the men’s basketball tournament coming up this past academic year. Football was looking at a very difficult sittaiton where they might fall in that same boat.”

“The first thing I did was diagnostically figure out, How did FIU get there? What put them in this situation?”

Shukie listed staff instability (the SAAC had more directors the last few years than Gone With the Wind) plus a lack of resources. Then, when bringing up the APR issues that penalized basketball and threatened to do so with football, he pointed at former men’s basketball coach Isiah Thomas and former football coach Mario Cristobal.

“What was lacking were some coaches who didn’t necessarily buy into the concept of APR,” Shukie said.

Having had a long APR discussion with Cristobal as he groaned about the difficulty in raising a low APR, I’d call that assumption into question. I'd also say the problems in Compliance and the SAAC, the same ones being celebrated as being fixed, contributed heavily to the basement APR. Such as the SAAC advisor who advised one athlete to take a course he'd already taken and passed, helping his academic ineligibility (she later advised a track athlete right into inelgibility).

“We are still, in some senses, paying for what happened in 2010-11 and 11-12 now because we keep those numbers until they roll off four years later,” Shukie said. “We had coaches, at least from what I can tell -- who have since left (or been fired – DJN), I did not deal with them -- weren’t necessarily recruiting with an academic purpose. They were probably recruiting with an athletic purpose, to win games, but there didn’t seem to be a real strategic plan for recruiting student-athletes who could be successful on the court or field and off the court or field.

“Over the course of the year, I’ve witnessed a 180,” he continued. “I thind it starts at the top. When I say at the top, there’s a group of people at the top. It starts with Pete Garcia stressing to his coaches, emphasizing to his coaches the importance of academics. I wasn’t a witness to what was going on before I got hired, I assume those conversations happened before I arrived as well.

“What I have seen is coaches buying into that. Especially in football and men’s basketball, where a lot of my work has been focused. We have coaches that buy into the concept of APR. They’re bringing in student-athletes who are focused athletically and academically.”

So, does Shukie think change started at the top with Garcia or at the coaching level? He seems to say both.

Anyway, Shukie lauded the involvement of men’s basketball coach Anthony Evans and football coach Ron Turner: “I’ve had more phone calls from Coach Turner than any coach I’ve worked with across the 20 schools I’m involved with.”

Shukie said any athletes coming to FIU just for a visit have their academics fully vetted before coming. If not in order, he claims, no visit. Remember the cancelled visit by all-purpose guy Javonte Seabury, for a while FIU’s highest rated 2014 football recruit? There you go.

“Part of our strategic plan is to have them create relationships with the faculty For men’s basketball, we require them to face to face interactions with the faculty, not just sit in the back,” Shukie said. “They have to actually go introduce themselves. We also require men’s basketball to participate in the on-campus mentoring program so they can have an administrative, faculty mentor. Not just helps them academically, but ties them to this school. So they feel tied to FIU and not just tied to FIU men’s basketball program.”

Arrizurieta half-joked, “if we were the first (client) and helped you get another 19 clients, we should get a reduction on our fee.”

Garcia countered, “Mr. Chair, just the penalty alone for football for any school that doesn’t make the APR (minimum) is $300,000. He’s worth every penny.”

The February meeting introduced a new bigger budget for the SAAC. This meeting officially introduced the new SAAC Director, Wes Maas.

Maas said the SAAC will add two learning specialists by the end of this semester as well as an assistant director position. The SAAC itself is getting a construction version of a workout-and-wardrobe makeover.

Maas wants to increase “the pride in our facility so our student athletes, who are 18 or 19 years old, feel as good about walking into the SAAC that they feel when they walk into the math lab on campus, which is amazing, state of the art and it’s new.”

They won’t be walking in for study hall. Maas eliminated it because he felt that a system of simply counting hours turned SAAC employees into timekeepers. It failed to provide the in-person attention some athletes need.

“We want to create independent learners. We don’t want to hold hands, we don’t want to facilitate eligibility,” Maas said. “We take the syllabi, break down the reporting status, so we know every week what our student athlete is supposed to be doing. We bring them in on Sunday or Monday. We have the student athlete create their objectives for the week, what they’re supposed to complete and when. We can assign them tutoring, we can assign them office hours with faculty, we can do anything in that time to ensure the student-athletes have the resources they need. Then we follow through the week and make sure the student-athletes complete the objectives they’re assigned.

“This is obviously for freshmen and athletes new to the university. But the idea is teach them how to do it, so that the next year they can do it and be independent in the process.”

After Maas finished, Arrizurieta said he was proud of the work the committee did in pushing for improvements in the SAAC and Compliance.

“Whatever else this board needs to do to support the initiative of athletics, the SAAC, Compliance, I’m incredibly happy to see that we are generally in the direction of progress, we’re tangibly seeing progress,” he said.

Vice Chairman Mitchell Adler assented.

“Thank both of you and the rest of the trustees for pushing the envelope and making us better,” Garcia said. “I’d like to thank President Rosenberg and the administration for giving us the resources we need to make this work. I echo the senitments that its been a team effort from both your stand point, the administration and everybody who’s doing the actual day-to-day work. I couldn’t be more proud of what everybody’s done and more excited for our future. Because without academic success, we’re not going to have any other kind of success.”


Arrizurieta stayed for the Finance Committee meeting that followed. He asked FIU Foundation president Howard Lipman if there was a policy of “a donor gone bad,” a clear reference to David Alfonso. The donation deal between FIU and Alfonso that put his name on the football field now called Ocean Bank Field ended after only three of its five years.

Lipman said as far as taking a donor to court “I don’t think that would be anything I would ever recommend.”

In 99 percent of cases, Lipman said, an unfulfilled donation occurs not out of any maliciousness but bad situation, i.e., market downturn, business dropoff, something happens in their lives (bad health and bad divorce can suck your money faster than the biggest black hole -- DJN).

“The last thing we want to go is create a policy toward the 1 percent,” Lipman said.

Arrizurieta said some protection must be given because “We’ve been through this before. It’s not intangible, it’s tangible and it’s happened.”

June 11, 2013

APR news, not-so-news (basketball postseason ban), a football departure

 I don't know what happened to this post. Somehow, inserting the Alice Cooper video eliminated the rest of the copy. I apologize.

In summary, the men's basketball team got the NCAA punishment expected for almost a year -- no postseason play in 2013-14, activity time limited to five days and 16 hours -- when the 2011-12 Academic Progress Rate came in at an abysmal 750. That pulled the four-year rate down to 858. The reasons behind the 833 for the 2010-11 school year, one of the factors in Isiah Thomas' firing, was discussed in an April 5 post on this blog. I'd heard stories of players willfully crashing their acadmics after Thomas' firing. Such a comically low APR score all but confirms that happened. Between that and transfers from the program post-firing, there's your 750.

The football team's single-season APR was 932 and four-year was 930. The leading programs on the four-year APR were tennis, 992, and swimming, 986. Women's basketball and golf both put up single-year APRs of 1000.

Football had the lowest four APR aside from basketball. Baseball had the lowest single season APR aside from basketball, 867.


Baseball: multi-year, 945. 2011-12, 867

Men's basketball: multi-year, 858. 2011-12, 750.

Men's cross country: multi-year, 975. 2011-12, 938.

Football: multi-year, 930. 2011-12, 932.

Men's soccer: multi-year, 943. 2011-12, 975.

Men's indoor track: multi-year, 960. 2011-12, 970.

Men's outdoor track: multi-year, 952. 2011-12, 970.

Women's basketball: multi-year, 972. 2011-12, 1000.

Women's cross country: multi-year, 955. 2011-12, 980.

Women's golf: multi-year, 983. 2011-12, 1000.

Women's soccer: multi-year, 954. 2011-12, 958

Softball: multi-year, 967. 2011-12, 935.

Swimming: multi-year, 986. 2011-12, 991.

Tennis: multi-year, 992. 2011-12, 968.

Women's indoor track: multi-year, 957. 2011-12, 928.

Women's outdoor track: multi-year, 960. 2011-12, 943.

Volleyball: multi-year, 973. 2011-12, 932.



Sources close to Camp Mitch say yet another director of football operations, Nick Mehlhaff, has resigned. That's four directors of football operations since January 2012, two in the last five months.


January 10, 2013

Back to UM for Cristobal

Sources close to former FIU coach Mario Cristobal, a former University of Miami player, graduate assistant and assistant coach, say he's not officially a University of Miami assistantagain yet, but will be soon, probably by the end of the day.

Now, the question becomes: what sanctions will the NCAA come down with and what reaction will it bring from head coach Al Golden? Because if Golden goes, don't rule out Cristobal being lifted into that position.

On FIU's end, size matters -- of Cristobal's paycheck. Whatever he'll make at UM this year cuts into the $906,386 FIU owes him just out of base salary (one year automatically plus a second year with that amount reduced by whatever he makes in another coaching job).

FIU owed former basketball coach Isiah Thomas $660,000 upon his firing last April. In 2012, the school with the second largest athletic budget in the Sun Belt Conference (around $23 million), the budget with the largest percentage in the nation coming from public money or student fees, managed to do at least $1.1 million worth of head coach firing.

That speaks for 40 to 50 percent of next year's Conference USA football TV money.

June 21, 2012

APR OK...except in MBB; a QB

The NCAA released its overall reports on four-year Academic Progress Rates for scholarship athletes on Wednesday. I was on furlough -- day off, no pay, no contact allowed with any parts of The Herald -- on Wednesday. So, I'm blogging from the balcony about this stuff today.

Overall, FIU showed well, especially the women's teams. The women's tennis team, recognized by the NCAA for its excellence (see a few posts ago), led the way with a 1,000 APR and the lowest women's team, cross country, rolled in with a 958. That beat the best men's team, baseball, which pitched a 952. All programs have their full complement of scholarships.

The only deficient FIU team was men's basketball: 909, well below the target 925.

It gets worse. That number, while lowest among FIU's athletic programs, isn't horrid when looked at the previous four-year totals, going backwards chronologically: 910, 886, 874, 854, 870. Still, the 909, being below 925, might earn FIU some finger-wagging and a slap from the NCAA.

But the single-year APR, according to college academics sources, was 833 in 2010-11. That followed a single-year APR for 2009-10 of 900, according to Isiah Thomas' 2011 yearly evaluation (there's always a year lag in APR reporting to account for summer classes, etc.). And that could earn a little more nasty attention from the four-letter organization in downtown Indianapolis, especially for a school that doesn't bring much history or cash.

833, eight wins in one year, 26 wins over three years...there you go.


Also, Wednesday, Collins Hill (Ga.) quarterback Brett Sheehan, who threw to FIU freshman wide receiver Nick England often enough for England to make honorable mention All-State, announced a verbal commitment to FIU for 2013.




May 16, 2012

Old Basketball Numbers, New Volleyball Players, Maybe Football Players

A few things from the perusal of Isiah Thomas' file and Richard Pitino's contract for the above story:

1. Under "Termination by University for Just Cause" there are nine ways this can happen that are spelled out in Thomas' contract. There are 19 in Pitino's. The phrase "win-loss record is not considered "just cause"" appears in subsection (a) of Thomas' deal. It doesn't appear at all in Pitino's, although his (a) is otherwise identical to Thomas': "failure to perform Head Basketball Coach's duties as set forth in this Agreement or refusal or unwillingness to perform such duties as set forth in this Agreement."

2. The performance bonuses show Thomas' people knew they were negotiating from strength. Pitino gets only $10,000 for winning the conference tournament or getting an at-large NCAA bid while Thomas would've gotten $20,000. Conference Coach of the Year and each NCAA round bonuses each had the same 10-20 disparity. Thomas also would've gotten $10,000 for each postseeason NIT win. Pitino gets a handshake and another road trip. But Pitino does get $100,000 should FIU make the Final Four and $250,000 for winning the national title. Thomas got nothing for the Final Four and $100,000 for winning the title. Pitino gets roster bonuses. Thomas didn't.

3. In an amazing coincidence, FIU's individual game ticket sales were identical in 2009-10 and 2010-11. According to sales reports in Thomas' file (he got half the ticket revenue over $1,000), in each season, FIU sold 16 of the $60 Floor Seats; 846 of the $10 reserved seats; 353 of the Upper Bowl Adult tickets; and 187 of the $5 Upper Bowl Junior or Senior tickets. They also sold 36 season tickets for the Floor Seats each season and 65 Family Plan season tickets.

Most remarkable numeric coincidence since Rams NFL title game appearances after the 1951, 1979 and 1999 seasons all ended with the NFL's No. 1 offense getting the winning touchdown on a 73-yard pass. Or Henry Aaron, No. 44, hitting his 715th career home run in the fourth inning of the fourth game of the 1974 season, in the fourth month of the year, in a game that had seen four runs scored already.


The volleyball team announced four signees Tuesday.

Lucia Castro, 6-1, is a member of Puerto Rico's National Team


Maryna Samoday, a 6-1 outside hitter from the Ukraine by way of Seminole State College, will play both regular and sand volleyball.

Kimberly Smith, a 6-3 middle blocker from Zionsville, Indiana (a now-bustling suburb just on the other side of the northern county line from Indianapolis), spent two seasons at Robert Morris University-Illinois. Last season, she was in the NAIA's top 35 in hitting percentage, blocks and blocks per game.

Brittany Spencer, a 6-2 middle blocker, did one year at Miami-Dade and comes from Chesterfield, Virginia.


FOOTBALL A Hallandale High coach announced that FIU offered linebacker Jeremy Derrick Tuesday. An FIU coach also was at Tallahassee Godby High visiting defensive back Lester Thomas and wide receiver Earl Calloway.

April 17, 2012

The Pitino Presser; Mundy, Mundy (la, la, la, la-la)

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.

April 13, 2012

Ferguson's appeal denied; 2 decommit from 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.

April 11, 2012

Hoopsters send a letter to the president; Ashley, Ashley

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.


Thank you

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.

April 09, 2012

Honors Aplenty and Men's Hoop Tells Its Story Walking (Out)

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 .


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.





April 06, 2012

A Stunned Thomas Thought He Had More Time, Doesn't Know What Next

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.


Isiah gone. What do you think?

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.

February 10, 2012

North Texas' Tony Mitchell could've been FIU's Tony Mitchell

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.

February 09, 2012

Late Night with another David from Indianapolis' north side

 Barely awake after arising 20 hours ago with a coughy kid for the second day in a row. Hopefully, I'm still more coherent and grammatically better than, say, Twitter.

For no other reason than it's winter, this is on my Winter Dance Party playlist and I couldn't find a proper video of "Stay Up Late."



The men, FIU's Thomas Wolfe Bunch -- they get deep with the whole You Can't Go Home Again concept -- hosts North Texas Thursday at 7 p.m. on the Sun Belt Sports Network. A bench full of NBA scouts should be in The Branch to check out the Mean Green's 6-8 Tony Mitchell. Mitchell's trying to Eric Heiden the Sun Belt conference game statistics, leading in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage. He's sixth in free throw percentage, but nowhere to be found among the steals leaders, a group headed by FIU's Jeremy Allen (2.3 per conference game).

In the women's game, you've got the Sun Belt scoring leader, FIU sophomore guard Jerica Coley, who's still second in the nation in scoring (24.3 per game, 24.6 per conference game). Coley leads FIU in almost every major individual category except steals, the category now topped by forward Fanni Hutlassa's 50 takeaways.


Though FIU's still listing the offensive coordinator job publicly as open, Tim Cramsey's still getting the job.

But FIU does need a new director of football operations after Andrew Green left to head the athletic department at Riviera Prep, a middle school and high school that opened its Coral Gables-area high school this year. Job? Handle everything. Travel logistics, recruit visits, whatever.  


Softball opens its season Friday night at home against Michigan State, the night before the now-sold out Diamond Dinner. If senior Ashley McClain puts up another year in range of last year's numbers -- .409 average, .696 slugging percentage and 12 home runs -- where would that rank among this year's FIU individual athletes? Ahead of or behind Coley, kicker Jack Griffin, T.Y. Hilton? Equal to, surpassing or far behind ridiculously dominant diver Sabrina Beaupre?

Odd thoughts while fighting off a face plant on my keyboard....nite nite.

January 21, 2012

Basketball, the beach and radio, radio on a Saturday morning

Take care of yourselves out there -- there's stomach virus going around, dropping kids and adults like Sonny Liston in a bad mood on a good day.

They might still be hammering, painting and punch-listing stuff inside The Branch as the entrance renovations and suite(s) debut today. And it won't look finished until there's no more oversized Tonka stuff digging up the northeast corner of the arena area or the landscaping is truly finished on the southeast side.

But, hey, this is Miami-Dade County, where basic contracting has recently advanced all the way to 1968 ("Maybe the gate to the garage doesn't work because your windshield is too thick") and waiting for projects to finish could've been the inspiration for the Chinese Restaurant episode of Seinfeld. So, while we have the Acronym Agony Shootout inside today between two men's teams just trying to get themselves together for the Sun Belt Tournament, FIU should count itself lucky the building's Just For Men treatment got done in time.

Speaking of today's men's game, it's on The Sun Belt Network and (my shallow understanding is) blacked out locally on because it's on The Sun Belt Network. That's mimosas and white sangria if you have Comcast Cable, which has The Sun Belt Network. It's you and the kid with a stomach virus if you don't.

TV's also why the men's game open's for the women's game today. Of course, had the scheduling been done by record, it also would've been a situation in which the women's teams, the two with the over .500 records, could've told the men, "Go warm 'em up for us."

As mentioned, neither FIU or FAU, the men's preseason conference favorite, is having the level of success of even its most reasonable hopes. Some of you have asked about Isiah Thomas' job security. My sense is Thomas, who'll have two years left on his contract after this season, is more likely to fire FIU than FIU is to fire Thomas. Dealing with off court, paper wrangler mistakes such as the eligibility problems of forward Tola Akomolafe, who didn't stumble in any of his classes according to an athletic department source familiar with the situation, are the type of thing that can cause someone who doesn't need the job to say, "To Compton with this crap."

FIU sports long have been hindered on the field/court/pitch is that the school always seems to be playing catch up in the offices and board rooms. They went Division I in basketball without the proper infrastructure. They did the same in football. They've lost tournament bids, favorable rulings on transfers, etc. out of political weakness. Whatever you want to say about Pete Garcia, he brings a political savvy and a knowledge of relationship value to the FIU athletic department that's been arid in that area for years.

On Garcia: he feels there are certain sports FIU just should be winners in just on being in South Florida -- golf, tennis, soccer (I'd debate that one), baseball, football. And he wants to be a power in sand volleyball, which the NCAA has added for spring.

 "I've emphasized it and here's why: I want to win," Garcia said. "It's a new sport. No school has a 100-year head start on us. No school has a winning tradition over us. No school has better facilities than us -- everybody's building the same facilities. And, there's only a couple of regions in this country that can have as good a weather and South Beach for sand volleyball. You add that up and we should be very competitive, very quickly at the highest level because we don't have those things to overcome. We're not trying to catch anybody and we have some advantages they don't have at Nebraska. Michigan." 

I asked him why FIU basketball games aren't on the radio anymore. FAU's on 760AM up in Palm Beach. Even Nova Southeastern has its games on the air, 640AM.

"You've got to be a superfan to listen to FIU radio basketball. And if you're really that superfan, we've got to do everything we can to get you here," Garcia replied. "And remember, radio is expensive -- they're not paying us. We'd have to pay them to be on the radio. You've got to buy the time. It's an expense. How much are you getting out of that expense? Are you better off spending that money on marketing, promotions, the low hanging fruit. What's our low hanging fruit? Our students, right there in the dorms. Let's use that money, buy pizzas, let's do this or that, let's promote it over there right across the street and let's get them to come."


FIU got the doubles point to take a 1-0 lead on No. 14 Clemson in the women's tennis season opener. Then, Clemson went West Virginia-on-Clemson on FIU, taking the six singles matches to win 6-1. Karyn Guttormsen and Giuletta Boha won their doubles match and Lisa Johnson and Christine Seredni won theirs.


She threw it down on so many tunes for so long. But this is the one that, to me, not only fit romance (wife and I had a second "first dance" to it at our wedding in 1999), but for any athlete who ever won a long pursued championship.

My your heart and head be at rest, Ms. James.


January 17, 2012

Wright returns Thursday; another POW sweep for the swimmers & Beupre

While the women's basketball team's best player, Jerica Coley, is putting up All-America consideration numbers, the men's team's been laboring without its best player, senior guard DeJuan Wright. That ends Thursday at South Alabama when Wright returns from a leg injury suffered at Maryland, he said Tuesday afternoon.

The exact nature of the injury remains a minor mystery. Wright said when he went down, he knew instantly he'd be out for a while. Wright's 15.9 points per game and 8.7 rebounds obviously were missed as the Panthers went 1-7 without him. Head coach Isiah Thomas likens Wright to a great special teams player who swings the field and momentum with a couple of great plays.

At 4-13, the Panthers need somebody to open the parachute before there's a full-scale crash.


Sophomore Sonia Perez Arau won the 1000-yard freestyle, 200 backstroke, and the 400 Individual Medley, win Nos. 11-13 this season for Perez Arau, a team best. She won swimmer of the week.

Sabrina Beaupre, of course, won the diver of the week honor, her sixth in eight weeks this season.

January 08, 2012

Saturday at The Branch: Having your best when you're not at your best

FIU's women's basketball team knows they've got their best player, maybe the best player in the program's history, for 40 minutes a night. FIU's men's basketball team doesn't know if they'll have their best player back by the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

There's your difference Saturday night against both genders of win-starved Louisiana-Monroe hoopsters. Whether it turns out to be the difference come conference tournament time, we will see.

Sophomore guard Jerica Coley saved the FIU women from an embarrassing potential upset home loss by taking control of Saturday's game -- twice. It was akin to watching an old school parent and kid. Monroe reached for the game, Coley slapped the hand. Monroe reached for the game again, Coley popped it upside the head. FIU won 65-55 and Coley poured in a career high 36 points. 

There was no senior guard DeJuan Wright to save the men. The Monroe men came in 1-15, yet after an 11-0 first half run, never trailed FIU on the way to a 54-50 win. FIU had its chances near the end, including with a strangely staffed desperation play, but nobody took true ownership of the game. Not to say guard Phil Taylor (6-18, 19 points) and Jeremy Allen (4-16, 10 points) didn't try. They didn't get it done, however. 

Neither women's coach Cindy Russo nor men's coach Isiah Thomas felt her/his team played well offensively Saturday.

"They're nice athletes, they're quick and they're fast," Russo said of Monroe, which came in 4-12. "And they showed us a different kind of game. It was kind of a junk defense at times. But we never really settled down and picked it apart, which we should've been able to do. Five players just decided we're not all going to do it at the same time. Congratulate them on pulling it out, but disappointed that I thought we lacked the focus and concentration we needed to have."

Coley said, "First half and second half we didn't run our sets like we wanted to, we didn't run it hard. We could've gotten more of what we wanted, so we let them hang around.

Also, FIU spent most of the game plodding fast break opportunities away, as if scoring so quickly and easily would offend their sensabillities. Monroe, on the other hand, had two players flying as soon as they saw a shot and got the outlet passes going. The Warhawks got some cheap buckets, while FIU grinded it out every possession. And, when FIU's lead shrank to 41-40 in the second half, you could feel the uh-oh permeating the building.

Coley had gone 5 for 14 in the first half.

"I figured, eventually, they were going to go in," Coley said. "So, I just kept shooting. Coach was telling me I was rushing the shot, so I tried to slow it down a little bit and they went in."

With FIU precariously leading 41-40, Coley hit a three-pointer; blocked a pass from Elexar Tuglar (not to be confused with Alexar Tuglar, also on Monroe), stole it, then fed Finda Mansare for the fast break layup; got a fast break layup off a Carmen Miloglav steal; made another steal, and went end-to-end for a driving jumper off the glass.

All that put FIU up 50-40 with eight minutes left. But four minutes later, there they were again, up only 51-50. So, Coley drained a three with the shot clock buzzing; banged in a foot-on-the-line two-pointer; then bombed in another three pointer: 59-52. Coley went four for four from the line in the last 25 seconds as FIU put away the game.

So, to sum up: 12 of FIU's last 14 points, 19 of the 23 points in the two runs after FIU's lead got cut to one; a 23-point second half on eight of 10 shooting, four of five from the line. That's not being clutch. That's being The Thing at Clobberin' Time.

"Jerica's everybody's game plan. We need to really execute our offense, have four or five passes, we can get her the ball back," FIU coach Cindy Russo said. "It's not going to be off the first two passes. She has to be everybody's game plan. She attracts a committee to stop her. At the end of hte game, when we ran some things right, she got the ball back, that's exactly what happened. They can't keep up with her all the time."

Nobody stepped up like that for the FIU men. Thomas seemed at a loss why even after getting into the bonus, FIU didn't get the ball inside, where 6-10 Joey De La Rosa and 6-10 Brandon Moore could've put their Gatorade bottles atop the heads of their smaller Monroe counterparts.

"We didn't have enough patiencce to move the ball and put it inside," Thomas said. "Our guard play failed us in terms of patience."

In this game, it was FIU who played from behind all the way, closing the gap, then seeing Monroe pull away again throughout the game. Nobody could provide the final push on those key possessions. That's part of what Thomas lamented was lost without Wright.

"As you can see, we don't have that go-to guy out on the floor," Thomas said. "We struggle offensively because we don't have him. You can mark it down -- he gives you 17 (points) and eight (rebounds). But you also get those momentum plays where you get a dunk, you get a steal. His energy, his leadership. You definitely miss that on the floor."

Asked if Wright would be back before the conference tournament, Thomas said, "I don't know. I hope so."

With 6.9 seconds left, Thomas inserted Deric Hill, who had been stapled to the bench throughout the game. Hill's job was to throw an inbounds pass from behind the end line to De La Rosa at midcourt. Hill got the call because he'd been a high school quarterback in his past. Maybe he was a running quarterback because the pass was short, even as De La Rosa completed his come back pattern. Tight coverage got the ball knocked away. Monroe recovered it and Fred Brown hit two free throws to ice the game.

Going to try a home run play wehre Deric's going to throw it to the big," Thomas said. "The big will catch it, we had three trailers, three shooters or three people who can take it off the dribble. If he didn't have it, he could've called time out. That situation never should've happened. We should've taken care of business the first half."


November 18, 2011

FIU vs. Western Kentucky (one more time); bowl business; Carroll in Battle of Florida

Here we go again. November's become FIU vs. Western Kentucky Month in the Sun Belt Conference.

First, the two schools faced each other in the Sun Belt Tournament women's soccer final, which FIU won on penalty kicks. Later that day, Western hung around until FIU screwed up just enough to lose a key football game at Western. Now, they'll meet in the Sun Belt Volleyball Tournament, Friday at 7:30 after FIU got rid of Denver, 3-1 (25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 25-18) Thursday and Western Kentucky dismissed Troy.

FIU, as host of the tournament, will enjoy a home court advantage. And they don't have an antiquated nickname like "Lady Toppers" (is that a brand of wigs?). Other than that, the preponderance of the evidence suggests another Western win. Only Middle Tennessee State, among Sun Belt schools, emerged victorious from a meeting with Western Kentucky. It'll be FIU"s third match against WKU and FIU's still waiting for their first set win. WKU zapped FIU twice this season, both 3-0 sweeps.

Listening to FIU coach Danijela Tomic's analysis of Western sounded like both the women's soccer and football breakdown: great defense, simple offense. 

Thursday, junior hitter Jovana Bejelica rolled up 18 kills and 15 digs. Marija Prsa banged down 15 kills and 11 digs. Andrea Lakovic had a season-high 16 kills. Jessica Egan rolled up 51 assists and 12 digs.

No. 2 seed Middle Tennessee faces No. 6 North Texas in the first game of the night, a 5 p.m. contest.


Quaterback Wesley Carroll might've lost his starting quarterback job to Jake Medlock, but he didn't lose his spot in The Battle of Florida, to take place Jan. 21 in Boca Raton. The game involves NFL draft eligible players who played high school or college in Florida or were born in Florida. Outgoing FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger will coach one team and FSU's former longtime coach Bobby Bowden will be on the opposite sideline.


As expected, sources tell The Herald, if Arkansas State wins Saturday, the Sun Belt tie-in bowls will be Louisiana-Lafayette to the New Orleans Bowl and Arkansas State into the Bowl. Everybody else will have to get what they can get.

November 15, 2011

FIU men upset George Mason, 79-76 (OT)

FIU coach Isiah Thomas had said he hoped the way the Panthers lost close games last season taught them how to win them this season. It took time, but they showed they did Monday night against George Mason in the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Tip Off.

After DeJuan Wright missed three free throws down the stretch in regulation, FIU bounced back to dominate overtime and upset GM, 79-76. FIU led almost the entire last 12 minutes of regulation behind Wright and fellow senior Jeremy Allen, but were down 66-64 on their last regulation possession. Allen made a nice penetration, then sneaky pass inside to Wright, who got the short shot and the foul. Wright missed the free throw and George Mason missed a jumper at the other end.

Can't say I wasn't warned.

As I sat at the makeshift desk I like to use near the U.S. Century Bank racquetball courts Monday afternoon, a passing FIU athletic department staffer asked me if I thought FIU would win. I shook my head as if he asked, "Do you want Brussels sprouts?" He said he thought FIU would pull it off and wasn't just talking stuff. He listed logical reasons -- Mason is in their second game under a new coach, the point guard is suspended for 10 games, they played lousy defense and shot horribly from 3-point range in beating Rhode Island in overtime Friday.

November 14, 2011

Men's ball opens vs. George Mason tonight at 9:30; T.Y. Hilton Special Teams POW; Medlock starting (we think)


FIU men’s basketball needs an ignition victory like the gatekeeper needs the keymaster. Chance No. 1 for that comes Monday night against George Mason at Virginia Tech, the start of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Tip-Off (9:30 p.m., ESPN3).

George Mason opened a 15-poit favorite, now down to 14 or 13.5 most places. Their point guard, Andre Cornelius, has been suspended for the first 10 games of the season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor credit card fraud. The Patriots finished 27-7, 16-2 in Colonial Athletic Association last season  George Mason threw up some major league masonry, two of 14 from three-point range, while beating Rhode Island 92-90 Friday night in overtime. That’s one more game in which to start working out the kinks and getting to know themselves under new coach Paul Hewitt, who spent 11 years at Georgia Tech.

“A big opportunity for us,” senior Jeremy Allen said. “Not many people get the chance to play on that big stage. It comes with a lot of responsibility. We need to be mature about it.”

Fellow senior DeJuan Wright said of his younger bretheren, “They’re mature young guys, so they should be able to handle it.”

The young player from which the most will be expected is 6-7 sophomore Dominique Ferguson, who joined FIU midseason. Ferguson said he felt apart from everything all season because he wasn’t allowed to join the team, even in conditioning workouts, until December. Still, he blocked 30 shots in 20 games.

 “That’s just instinct,” he said. “I’ve always blocked shots.”

Nobody’s worried about FIU’s offense…

“We move the ball around,” Ferguson said. “We don’t have any selfish people. We don’t have anybody that’s going for their own thing. If anything, we’ve got people who are passing up shots. That’s the only negative.”

…it’s the defense that’ll make the difference between set the pace and create an identity, if this team is to find one. And they’ll start finding out who they are and where they are tonight in Blacksburg, Virginia.


T.Y. Hilton's 97-yard punt return Saturday night earned him Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week, his third player of the week award for the season and the seventh of his career. The record is nine, held by current Buffalo Bills cornerback and former Troy defensive back Leodis McKelvin.

FIU will look for a medical redshirt for senior safety Chuck Grace. Also out for the rest of the season with a sprained knee is long snapper Mitch McCluggage.

As for who'll start at quarterback between Wesley Carroll and Jake Medlock Saturday at Louisiana-Monroe, Mario Cristobal insisted it was still an open competition. But Medlock goes into this week with the edge.

"To keep it fair, yeah, they'll both get plenty of reps in practice," Cristobal said. "Jake will  go in as the starter."

By the way, I'm not much for playing Bowl Bingo, but we can play that later today if you folks want. The one bowl that was a possibility that's definitely out now is The New Orleans Bowl, which will have Sun Belt champion Arkansas State.


FIU, host of this week's Sun Belt Conference Volleyball Championship, will start as the No. 4 seed and face No. 5 seed Denver at 7:30 Thursday at U.S. Century Bank Arena.The winner will face Western Kentucky. Technically, the winner will face the winner of No. 1 seed Western Kentucky, 15-1 in the Sun Belt, vs. No. 8 Troy.


November 09, 2011

Free FAU-FIU tickets for military; Baseball & Basketball signings; Hobbs' All-Academic

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.



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