Monday, February 22, 2010

Great Memories With FIU's Isiah Thomas

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

Whenever FAU and FIU meet in any sport, this is a nice intense rivalry between these two schools separated by an hour drive off the Florida Turnpike.

The Shula Bowl adds a nice ending to the football season while in baseball both universities have produced a lot of professional baseball prospects.

During the past two weeks, the basketball programs met and even though FAU defeated FIU both times, this series figures to get interesting in years to come.

On January 30, 2010, in Boca Raton, FIU Golden Panthers Coach Isiah Thomas made his first appearance in Palm Beach County.

For myself, it was an opportunity to be reunited with a guy that I worked with when I covered the Detroit Pistons for the Detroit Monitor during their Bad Boys era in the late 1980's and 1990's which won two NBA Championships.

Before the game, Thomas and I spent time talking about the good old days of how his team's defensive physical style of basketball changed how the game is being played today. We also talked about personalities like Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and the battles Detroit faced at the famed Boston Garden.

It was a great reunion for us and the crowds were much bigger than they were on this night. At the Palace of Auburn Hills, 21,454 fans jammed the building and the electricity was tremendous.

The FAU Arena was buzzing as well but the crowd was considerably smaller. FAU sold the game out as 2,916 turned out, in addition to filling the suites, media requests which increased the total to nearly 5,000.

Before the game, Thomas and I talked about the difference in the two arenas and we both agreed that basketball is basketball regardless of how big the building is.

On this night, FAU Athletic Director Craig Angelos was gleaming because he knows that there aren't many occasions that an opposing coach will sign autograph posters to frame and exhibit in his athletic department.

Naturally, he was pleased with the attendance to watch an opposing coach who also won an NCAA National Championship at Indiana in 1981 for the legendary Bobby Knight.

As for the game, FAU won round one 106-88 and judging by the way the Golden Panthers were playing, I got the feeling that Thomas, the Hall of Fame point guard, was going to go to the FIU locker room and put on his No. 11 jersey to show his team how things needed to be done.

Oh well, it was nice to dream!

But it was evident that Thomas was out coached by FAU's high profile coach Mike Jarvis. Last year, Jarvis had to experience a difficult first season as the Owls finished the campaign 6-26.

While FAU has turned things around this season with a 14-13, 10-6 record and is 2-0 against Thomas, with the most recent win occurring in Miami on February 18, 77-74, despite Isiah's 7-22, 4-12 record, this rivalry figures to get better as both teams recruit better players.

Meanwhile, Thomas and Jarvis have found fresh starts in South Florida after their departures from New York.

Jarvis was fired by St. Johns University on December 19, 2003 due in part to a series of off-court incidents.

Thomas had an unsuccessful tenure with the New York Knicks from 2003-2009 as an executive and head coach.

Both have traded the limelight & subways for the sunshine to begin their challenges of turning mid major schools into regular NCAA Tournament participants. They've earned all of their millions and are now in the "Been There And Done That Club."


Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be read at www.scottsports33.com.

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