NCAA BK

Thomas, FIU starting over together

Share This Story

   
 

MIAMI (AP)

Isiah Thomas knows what his first FIU pregame speech will entail. He'll gather players Monday night, just before they take the court to open the season against defending national champion North Carolina. The talk will be quick. "God help us all," Thomas predicted he'll say, fearing a rout. In time, the plan will be for Thomas and FIU to help each other. If ever a team needed revitalizing, it's FIU, with nine straight losing seasons and a record over that span that doesn't even rank among the top 300 Division I programs. So here to lead this colossal challenge comes a Basketball Hall of Fame player, an icon in the game, whose last stop with the New York Knicks began with spectacular fanfare and ended amid a spectacular flameout. FIU views this as a reinvention of its program. Thomas views this as a reinvention of himself. "Our goal is to be a good basketball team by March," Thomas said. "If these guys keep working, I think we've got a shot." Ah, a coach's optimism. But make no mistake, Thomas understands the enormity of this challenge, which starts in Chapel Hill, N.C. against the sixth-ranked Tar Heels. Thomas' collegiate playing career at Indiana ended with a win over North Carolina in the 1981 NCAA title game, but deep down inside, knows that Monday could be a long, long, long night. "You've got to get the players first," said Rollie Massimino, who coached Villanova to the 1985 NCAA title and is now the coach at NAIA school Northwood in West Palm Beach, Fla., a little over an hour north of FIU's campus. Northwood beat FIU 71-61 in an exhibition game Wednesday night. It wasn't a fluke, either. "Isiah will get the kids," said Massimino, who gets his brain picked by Thomas regularly these days. "He will. He'll do a great job." Everyone, Thomas included, knows that job will take time. FIU has produced two current NBA players (Carlos Arroyo, Raja Bell) but somehow lacks any sort of basketball identity. The home court is a gym more than an arena, the Golden Panthers have lost 20 games in three of the past four seasons, and since their last - and only - NCAA tournament trip in 1995, 230 different schools have qualified for the Big Dance, while FIU keeps waiting 'til next year. A year ago, FIU was 13-20. The last winning season was a decade ago, the last 20-win season was in 1997-98. "It's time for us to turn that around," said guard Marvin Roberts, a junior college transfer who said he "immediately" picked FIU when Thomas made the recruiting call. It took a perfect storm of downfall for Thomas to find his way to Miami. When FIU first asked him to visit, Thomas had no plans to take the job. He thought it would be a three- or four-day paid getaway out of New York, a chance to reconnect with some friends and play some golf. His reputation and pride were stung from the tumultuous end of his time with the Knicks, debacles that included a sexual harassment lawsuit, "Fire Isiah!" chants at Madison Square Garden and being found unconscious in his home by rescue workers after taking sleeping pills last fall. His intrigue built quickly. On April 13, the deal was done. That night, team was summoned to meet its new coach. "Isiah Thomas? THE Isiah Thomas? Here?" was how fifth-year senior forward Marlon Bright remembered his initial thought process. "Somebody with his resume truly has a lot of options when it comes to basketball. So it's already been a surreal experience." Thomas had little time to recruit for this season. His efforts for the 2010-11 season, though, have already been noticed around the country, with a handful of players on the top-100 lists already saying they'll sign with FIU. Clearly, if Thomas wasn't there, that wouldn't be happening. "He's been very open with us about everything," Bright said. "He strikes all of us as someone you can really trust. What's out there is what's out there. We know him for who he is. He's a man who looks you in the eye and shakes your hand and wants you to be better." Thomas expects there to be some long nights this season, and his roster has some glaring holes, particularly in its amazing lack of size - only one rotation player might be taller than 6-foot-6. So he's already eyeing the end of the season: Thomas can envision FIU going to the Sun Belt Conference tournament, playing its best basketball, and taking its chances. "By the time January, February gets here, I hope we're a pretty solid unit," Thomas said. "If we're a good unit going into conference play, then we'll take our chances with the four games in March. And if we win the four games in March, then it's a good year." Thomas signed a five-year contract, one that doesn't have him drawing a base salary this season. He does not regret it, insisting despite his fame and fortune, he remains a simple guy with simple needs. There's no glitz and glamour; postgame dinner for the team Wednesday wasn't the catered delights the Knicks would enjoy on their custom charter jet, but rather a pile of pizzas delivered from a chain restaurant. And FIU does most of its travel by bus, something else for Thomas to get used to. "We're starting from the bottom. We want to go to the top," Thomas said. "And the journey, the ride along the way, is the most important thing. ... The journey, to me, that's the most enjoyable part. This is the fun part. It starts now."
Tagged: Florida International

Related Stories



NCAA BK Videos

Georgetown, Syracuse to renew CBK rivalry Posted: Jun 10, 2014
Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson III on the renewal of the rivalry betw...

Cuonzo Martin new head coach at Cal Posted: Apr 16, 2014
Cuonzo Martin is introduced as Cal's new head coach.

UConn tops Notre Dame in women's final Posted: Apr 09, 2014
Hear from Geno Auriemma and his players after their National Championship victor...

More Than Sports on MSN

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Nike Florida Gators #1 Replica Elite Basketball Jersey - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Florida_Gators/browse/featuredproduct/885881/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_885000/ff_885881_xl.jpg&w=100 74.95 Nike Florida Gators #1 Replica Elite Basketball Jersey - Black
    Nike Georgetown Hoyas #22 Hyper Elite Road Performance Jersey - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Georgetown_Hoyas/browse/featuredproduct/1030243/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1030000/ff_1030243_xl.jpg&w=100 119.95 Nike Georgetown Hoyas #22 Hyper Elite Road Performance Jersey - Navy Blue
    Nike Duke Blue Devils #5 Tourney Takeover Replica T-Shirt - Duke Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Duke_Blue_Devils/browse/featuredproduct/1032710/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1032000/ff_1032710_xl.jpg&w=100 27.95 Nike Duke Blue Devils #5 Tourney Takeover Replica T-Shirt - Duke Blue
    Nike Oregon Ducks X-Ray Ball T-Shirt - Green http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Oregon_Ducks/browse/featuredproduct/1052002/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1052000/ff_1052002_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Oregon Ducks X-Ray Ball T-Shirt - Green
    Nike Ohio State Buckeyes Road Warrior Tri-blend T-Shirt - Scarlet http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Ohio_State_Buckeyes/browse/featuredproduct/1052645/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1052000/ff_1052645_xl.jpg&w=100 29.95 Nike Ohio State Buckeyes Road Warrior Tri-blend T-Shirt - Scarlet
    Indiana Hoosiers 2013 NCAA Men\'s Basketball Road to March Madness T-Shirt - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Indiana_Hoosiers/browse/featuredproduct/1124528/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1124000/ff_1124528_xl.jpg&w=100 19.95 Indiana Hoosiers 2013 NCAA Men\'s Basketball Road to March Madness T-Shirt - Cri..
    adidas Louisville Cardinals 2013 March Madness #10 Premier Swingman Jersey - Red http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Louisville_Cardinals/browse/featuredproduct/1127200/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1127000/ff_1127200_xl.jpg&w=100 89.95 adidas Louisville Cardinals 2013 March Madness #10 Premier Swingman Jersey - Red
    adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013 March Madness #45 Premier Swingman Jersey - White http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Notre_Dame_Fighting_Irish/browse/featuredproduct/1127218/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1127000/ff_1127218_xl.jpg&w=100 89.95 adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013 March Madness #45 Premier Swingman Jersey ..
    Nike Gonzaga Bulldogs March Madness Bracketville T-Shirt - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Gonzaga_Bulldogs/browse/featuredproduct/1155821/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1155000/ff_1155821_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Gonzaga Bulldogs March Madness Bracketville T-Shirt - Navy Blue
    Top of the World Miami Hurricanes 2013 NCAA ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Champions Adjustable Hat – Green http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Miami_Hurricanes/browse/featuredproduct/1177723/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1177000/ff_1177723_xl.jpg&w=100 25.95 Top of the World Miami Hurricanes 2013 NCAA ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Cham..