MIAMI (AP) — Anthony Evans’ newly inherited players at Florida International were all invited to the news conference where he was introduced as the program’s latest coach.
That is, except for those who would have had conflicts with class time. They were barred.
“Our No. 1 goal is and will always continue to be to graduate all our student-athletes, in every sport at every level,” FIU director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia said. “Our No. 2 goal is to win.”
Article continues below ...
Garcia thinks Evans will be good enough to do both those things.
The former Norfolk State coach was officially welcomed to FIU on Tuesday, one day after accepting the chance to replace Richard Pitino, who left the Panthers for Minnesota after just one season — a winning one, something the school hadn’t experienced since 1999-2000.
FIU will likely have to skip all postseason play next year because of issues with the program’s Academic Progress Rate score, a problem that the university expects to fully present itself this summer because of things that happened long ago. Pitino stressed academics during his year at FIU as the replacement for Basketball Hall of Fame player Isiah Thomas, and Evans is no stranger to dealing with problems related to APR issues.
Norfolk State dealt with some scholarship reductions because of its APR score during Evans’ tenure, and did so in a season where he guided his team to the NCAA tournament.
“We had gone through a process beforehand, before I took over, which affected us later on,” Evans said. “But I think that us putting the plan in place helped the student-athletes understand the seriousness of academics, and that’s what really helped us improve.”
His new players apparently respected the order, laid down in their first team meeting under Evans on Monday night. Some of them were not in the room for Evans’ news conference. They’ll have plenty of time to get to know Evans in the coming weeks and months as the school gets ready for its first season in Conference USA, especially with FIU heading to Spain for two weeks this summer.
He takes over a team that went 18-14 playing an up-tempo style, aggressive on both ends, and he plans to have a playbook that calls for much of the same things at FIU in the years ahead. He said his wife was thrilled by the pending move from Virginia to Miami, saying she cannot wait to start experiencing South Florida sunshine.
And Evans himself will get plenty of time on the beach, sunscreen not required. FIU’s home court has been refinished and repainted in recent weeks to a one-of-a-kind scene, replete with images of palm trees, blue water, white-capped waves — and, oddly, the school’s Panther mascot looming in the middle of the sandy scene.
“I love it. It’s unique,” Evans said. “If Pete had anything to do with it, I knew it was going to be.”
Garcia said Evans finished second to Pitino a year ago when FIU was trying to hire Thomas’ replacement. This time around, Evans — who was a strong candidate for the job at Siena that went to Jimmy Patsos — was essentially the frontrunner on FIU’s list from the very start of the process.
FIU met with other candidates, starting to do so at the Final Four in Atlanta, before calling Evans. It wasn’t because the Panthers were not interested; it’s because they wanted to see if they could find someone who would impress Garcia the way Evans had a year ago.
“We saved him for last,” Garcia said.
And this time, the one they saved for last finished first.
“I picked the phone up on the first ring,” Evans said.