Isiah Thomas Promises A Scrappy Team For FIU Fans

Shortly before 7:30 p.m. last night, a sparse crowd gathered outside the entrance to the freshly renovated $5 million U.S. Century Bank Arena at Florida International University's south campus.

A bald man with a goatee wearing a navy blue FIU t-shirt talking to three other Golden Panthers fans relayed the latest controversy involving the school's new celebrity head basketball coach Isiah Thomas. "Yeah Magic Johnson trashed him in his new book," the FIU alum explained. "But Isiah came back swinging in an article by Sports Illustrated."

Soon, the man and his pals joined 50 other alumni and students inside the Golden Panthers' home gym to meet the Hall of Fame point guard whose recent history made him the perennial Bad Boy of Roundball, a role Thomas eloquently enjoyed when he led the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back world titles in 1989 and 1990.

Near midcourt, Thomas signed autographs and posed for pictures with

kids before addressing the crowd about what to expect from the FIU

Golden Panthers this year - a team that has produced five losing

seasons in a row. Dressed in a white FIU shirt tucked into black

shorts, Thomas informed the audience: "We may be small, undermanned,

but we will be scrappy. There won't be a harder working team in college

basketball this year than FIU."

Thomas, who waived his first year's pay from his $1.2 million five-year

salary, admitted to the fans he didn't know much about FIU when Athletic

Director Pete Garcia invited him to tour the campus earlier this year.

"When I came down for my first visit," he said, "I thought I would just

visit my friends in Miami, play some golf, pass by the school and then

leave. But when I got here and saw the new law building, the arena, the

new medical building going up, I said to myself: 'I could make this


Indeed, Thomas has already done a decent job adding good players like

Marvin Roberts, the nation's leading junior college scorer, and his

teammate Antoine Watson, who was fifth in scoring among JUCO players.

Roberts and Watson, who came from Redlands Community College in

Oklahoma, certainly appeared happy to be at FIU as they shimmy-shaked

to New Boyz's hip-hop ditty "You're a Jerk" blaring from the arena's

public address system.

"I can't play for a better coach," Watson asserted. I was about to sign

with Memphis when he called me. He convinced me to come to FIU by

beaing real with me. He didn't promise me anything except that he's

going to push me hard to get me to the next level." 

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.