FIU. Thomas to open up vs. Ohio State
By Tim Reynolds
Associated PressMIAMI ó The next chapter of Isiah Thomas’ coaching career will start amid familiar territory for the Hall of Famer: the Big 10.
FIU’s new coach is prepping to debut Nov. 9 at Ohio State in the opening round of a Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. The matchup has been in the works for months and is expected to be formally announced later this summer. Thomas ó a Chicago native who grew up watching and eventually playing in the Big 10 ó says it’ll add extra significance to his first night with the Golden Panthers.
“Big 10 country,” Thomas said Thursday as he played in a charity golf tournament hosted by Alonzo Mourning and Dwyane Wade, taking a rare break from his FIU workload. “If at some point and time you’re going to be able to compete with the big boys, you might as well just jump right into the fire and get started.
“We’ll take our lumps during the season. But if we can be ready by March, that’s what you’re really peaking for.”
Thomas went 1-1 at Columbus during his two seasons playing for Indiana. He knows that record probably won’t improve this fall, not with the Buckeyes widely expected to start the season as contenders for a Big 10 championship and FIU simply looking for a new beginning after three 20-loss seasons in the last four years.
“It could be a bad night,” Thomas said. “But it’s good to go back and start there.”
Not even three months have passed since Thomas made the surprising move to FIU, eager to restore a reputation tarnished during his tenure as coach and president of the New York Knicks. That stint was marred by a sexual harassment claim, “Fire Isiah” chants greeting him at Madison Square Garden and an incident where rescue workers were summoned to his home after he took sleeping pills.
It’s been a hectic 90 days, for certain.
Thomas took the FIU job on signing day, putting him in a huge recruiting hole. Still, he signed enough players to fill the current roster (landing several highly regarded junior-college transfers), is making big strides on the 2010-11 recruiting class and, without even playing a game yet, is getting some prospects who would have never considered the Golden Panthers in the past to give FIU a serious look.
“All of us, as alums and former players there, are pretty excited about what he can bring to the program,” said former FIU star and Charlotte Bobcats guard Raja Bell, another player in the charity field Thursday. “It’s up to him to get in there and do what he’s supposed to do, but I think we’re all pretty excited about what he could bring to FIU.”
Thomas still isn’t totally settled in Miami since the job hasn’t given him much time to come up for air.
His coaching staff remains incomplete. It seems like one of FIU’s best incumbent players, Freddy Asprilla, will not be part of the program going forward even though the school is still rebuffing his attempts to get released from his scholarship. And he acknowledges, moving “at warp speed” isn’t always easy.
“We’re definitely still in transition, because the bulk of the time has really been spent on recruiting and chasing,” Thomas said. “It’s almost like you’ve had to cram two years of work into three months. We’re piecing it all together.”
Thomas’ goals are both high and realistic. FIU won’t be tabbed as a contender for anything next season, even though the guy on their sideline won championships as a player at the NCAA and NBA levels.
For now, he’s fine with that.
“Who likes losing? Losing’s not a good thing,” Thomas said. “Losing, it’s ugly. I’m used to winning. I’ve had my taste of losing and I don’t like how losing tastes.”
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