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Basketball: FIU Isiah Thomas working to get ahead

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Basketball: FIU Isiah Thomas working to get ahead

Here is an article form the Miami Herald:

Isiah Thomas working to get ahead of learning curve at FIU
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The back-to-school portion of Isiah Thomas' coaching career is continuing, with only a few minor glitches mostly in his rear-view mirror.

The Sun Belt Conference meetings got him more familiar with his future competitors. A quick sweep through the recruiting trail has snatched some quality players away from powers like Pitt and Cincinnati. And a Dick Vitale charity event to raise money for cancer research in Sarasota last month provided Thomas with more basketball brains from which to pick, including a two-time national champ.

''It has been very educational and very invigorating,'' Thomas said of his initial attempts to make FIU a significant player in NCAA hoops.

That's one way to describe it. Or it could be considered insanely tiring, incredibly tedious or extremely involved.

You see, Thomas is going about most of this on his own. With no staff in place just yet, and his last real collegiate experience coming in 1981 when he left Indiana, the hoops legend is laying down the foundation with little assistance.

He feels like he has to, given how much he has to learn.

He feels like he wants to, given how much satisfaction he gets from getting a bit closer to the grass-roots level of the sport.

''It reminds me very much of the situation that I took over in Toronto, where you just roll up your sleeves,'' Thomas said, referring to his days as head man of the expansion Raptors. ``No job's too big and no job's too small. You're just trying to get it done.

``You actually get a chance to get your hands dirty and make a difference in someone's life.''

Of course, a handful of those responsibilities are educational for different reasons. Probably the most difficult job of a coach who takes over a new program involves informing current student-athletes of the program's new direction. Change, which is always necessary when a coach like Thomas comes in with grand plans for a growing program, doesn't always sit well with collegiate athletes.

And informing incoming recruits that the program has new plans isn't exactly an enviable experience.

Thomas caught some heat recently for supposedly not handling that process in an ideal manner. Jamel Marshall of Orlando and Terrance Beasley of Pensacola were two of former FIU coach Sergio Rouco's recruits who weren't in Thomas' design for FIU. How to tell them that, however, was a new process for a man whose most recent business dealings were in the cold, calculated business of the NBA.

So Thomas, still not entirely familiar with all the NCAA recruitment rules, had Heath Glick, an assistant under Rouco who knew the recruits better than Thomas, send along the message.

It was received poorly, but how can that process ever really go well? Coaches who take over programs are forced in these same actions every year, and every year nationwide there are upset high school students and coaches wondering why they were suddenly deemed not good enough for a particular program.


But not all those coaches are named Isiah Thomas. Being rejected second-hand by a legend had to pain these particular recruits a bit more. But it's not the legend's fault – especially given his limited amount of experience in this area.

Florida coach Billy Donovan, whom Thomas has known for several years, was among the coaches at Vitale's charity event, and one that Thomas spent a significant amount of time picking up pointers from.

Donovan has twice had to take over a program he wanted to elevate quickly, first at Marshall and then at Florida, and he can't blame Thomas for any of his actions so far.

''I think Isiah is a good person,'' Donovan said. ``If there was a situation where he didn't call somebody, or they didn't hear from him, a lot of that could be just from the way he has done things for so many years in the NBA.

``That was some of the things that he and I talked about, just differences that come into play in college. A lot of times, when you're making a decision or having to do different things, what you want to be able to do is touch base and keep in contact with the people that are most influential around the player.''


Keeping in touch is one of Donovan's specialties. He's known for being more hands-on in the recruiting process than most. It was his constant personal contact that landed him former Miami Pace standout Ray Shipman.

But Donovan understands Thomas isn't entirely familiar with the process just yet.

''A lot of times, because it's the college level and there are family and friends and high school coaches and AAU coaches all involved, sometimes there can be an expectation level that they want to be kept in the loop of what's going on,'' Donovan said.

``Sometimes when you first take over a job, you really don't know who those people are. You're walking into a situation at FIU, he doesn't know if the player is close with the grandmother, is he close to his AAU coach, his high school coach, is there a best friend, a mother, a father, a different family member. Sometimes those dynamics take a little bit of time to understand.''


Thomas, though, has managed. He's apparently soaking in all the advice quite well, having landed five of the better junior college recruits in the country during this transition.

And he's not concerned with threats from Florida high school coaches claiming he won't be received well in certain schools.

''If that's the case, we wouldn't be attracting the type of kids we're attracting,'' Thomas said.

So Thomas continues to get his hands dirty, among the next steps being filling out his staff, figuring out how to make his team's schedule tougher ASAP and continuing to familiarize himself with the NCAA rules. It remains surreal to think that Thomas is the one responsible for FIU's basketball program. It's even more difficult to consider he's basically a student himself these days. And his challenges are only beginning.

''The first few years are going to be rough, humbling years,'' Thomas said. ``We're prepared for that.''

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Re: Basketball: FIU Isiah Thomas working to get ahead

Not sure ''If that's the case, we wouldn't be attracting the type of kids we're attracting" (based on JUCO signings) shows that he can compete for the premier talent at powerhouse Florida highschool basketball programs…especially since the coaches aren't going to back him…

Chicago could likely be a go to cubbard given all of the philanthropic efforts he has contributed to there…

Guess we shall wait and see…
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