IRVING, Texas -- Talking with first-year FIU head coach Anthony Evans, one would never think that his program is still going through a bit of a storm. The basketball team is currently banned from post-season play for failure to meet the NCAA Academic Progress Rate minimum score of 900 during the 2011-12 season.
That is what Evans inherited after taking the position in April of 2013. Yet, while listening closely to his positive and uplifting vision for the program, one quickly begins to put aside the thought of the ban and suit up. Evans is a motivator and knows his way around the court.
“My expectations are high for what I want the program to be, the opportunities to go to post-season,” said Evans. “This year we don’t have the opportunity to go to post-season. So, it will be a learning year for me and for the young men on the team.”
Does this hurt recruiting? Yes. But, does this prevent Evans and FIU from the current healing process en route to building a successful program?
“I think people use it against us, of course,” said Evans. But, the ones that really want to be there will come. They understand that we’re taking the steps to better ourselves, to give ourselves the opportunity to go to post-season next year, and that’s all we can do.”
FAMILIAR WITH WINNING
Evans and FIU are constantly working while waiting their turn. They are entering a new conference after having been a member of the Transatlantic from 1991-98 and the Sunbelt from 1998-2013. The Panthers had their lone NCAA appearance back in 1995 losing 92-56 to UCLA in the first round.
This is also a program that has employed NBA Hall of Famer, Isiah Thomas and Richard Pitino, now at Minnesota and son of Hall of Fame coach and current Louisville coach, Rick Pitino.
Now the reins belong to Evans who’s no stranger to winning. The eighth coach in the history of the program comes from Norfolk State after six seasons. He finished strong with back-to-back 20-win seasons, 26-10 two seasons ago and 21-12 in 2012-13. Norfolk State was undefeated at 16-0 during Mid-Eastern Conference regular-season play. As a result, Evans was named MEAC Coach of the Year.
The team earned a second straight post-season berth with an automatic bid to the NIT. The team’s accomplishments saw Evans nominated as a finalist for the Ben Jobe, Hugh Durham, and Jim Phelan Awards.
However, it was during the 2011-12 season when Evans and Norfolk State won its first-ever MEAC title. Their finest hour came as the 15th seed during the NCAA Tournament when the Spartans defeated No. 2 seed Missouri, 86-84. The Tigers became the highest ranked team to lose its first game of the NCAA tourney since the expansion of the field to 64 and the loss could be considered the biggest upset in NCAA history.
Evans is now commissioned with building a winner at FIU. He’s excited about his chances despite the current setbacks.
“I think that Coach, (Richard), Pitino started a solid foundation last year within the Sunbelt,” said Evans. “They went to the Sunbelt Tournament Championship. So, there was a solid foundation. I want to implement the stuff that I did at Norfolk State and obviously bring in the type of players that fit our system. The things that we did there, I want to bring to FIU.”
Evans is referring to the type of players who will concede to discipline, coaching, hard work, and academics. It also helps to have really talented players who can catapult the program to a tradition of winning big.
“It helps when you have kid who blossoms into an NBA prospect,” said Evans. “Kyle O’Quinn is with the Orlando Magic and we had another one in Darvis Williams, who should with a great year be drafted – kids like that - surrounded by guys who wanted to take on a role rather than everyone wanting to be a superstar.”
Looking ahead to current and future talent, Evans is working it. He says he has similar players on a team that finished 18-14 overall, 11-9 in the Sunbelt.
“We went out and recruited three freshmen – Jason Boswell, Jonas Page, and Dominique Williams all of which are 6-foot-6 and above,” said Evans. “We can switch and do different things on the perimeter defensively to give us versatility.”
Evans also signed 6-foot-10-inch center Adrian Diaz, a transfer from Kansas State, who will have to sit this season due to NCAA transfer rules. FIU signed a 6-foot-2 combo guard in Ray Rodriguez, a transfer from North Florida. While a high school senior, Rodriguez averaged 18.2 points per game, 10.1 assists, and 6.1 rebounds per game.
“We’re trying to bring in the same type of player, or similar, to what we had at Norfolk State, and then the guys who are there are talented players.”
Tymell Murphy, first team All-Sunbelt, led FIU in scoring with 14.6 points per game. Rakeem Buckles, a 6-foot-7-inch talented senior and transfer from Louisville, sat out last season. However, he will bring his talents to the court in 2013. Buckles has a high basketball IQ, according to Evans.
“I think they can do some of the things we want them to do,” said Evans. “Obviously, it will be a small window because it will only be a year.”
If done correctly, time will work in favor of FIU and Evans. It appears that Evans is counting on time to get FIU going in the right direction.
“It took us a while, (at Norfolk State), to get to where we were,” said Evans. “It takes a year or so for the system to actually sink in – it’s what I call the process. You can’t skip steps in the process. You have to put in discipline, accountability, things of that nature, and that’s what we’ve started to do.”