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Wednesday, February 10, 2010
How's Isiah Thomas doing? Not great

By Eamonn Brennan

Make no mistake: Getting a coach like Isiah Thomas to come to Florida International was a major coup for that school. Sure, Isiah has had his fair share of struggles elsewhere -- OK, he's had, like, five times his share, but who's counting? He's also a big name that can lure the occasional top recruit on celebrity status and NBA knowledge alone, and in the Sun Belt that might be enough to put FIU basketball over the top.

This was the thinking when Thomas was hired last year. How's that going for FIU? Thus far, not so great. Working with a depleted lineup, the Panthers are last in the Sun Belt, fan attendance is low and very few people -- notably deep-pocketed boosters -- have taken note:

Nor has Thomas's arrival led to a surge in alumni interest or cash. Although FIU has invested more than $55 million in building a new football stadium and upgrading the arena — while cutting back more than $32 million on academics — so far, there's nothing to show for it.

The gridiron Panthers had a dismal year, and the basketball team has averaged a paltry 120 attendees per home game this season. The arena seats 6,000.

Yeesh. Of course, Rome wasn't built in a day, and programs aren't built overnight. Even a place like Indiana, with its deep basketball tradition, saw a downtick in seat sales when the program took a Kelvin Sampson-piloted nosedive. FIU is not Indiana. You have to give people a reason to care, and that reason has to be more than: "Hey, it's Isiah Thomas!" (Plus, say you lived in Miami. Of all the things you're going to spend your time on, are you going to attend a college basketball game? And if you do attend a college basketball game, is it going to be FIU? Beautiful morning here in Miami. What should I do today? South Beach ... Isiah Thomas. South Beach ... Isiah Thomas. You know, I'm going to go with South Beach again today. South Beach remains undefeated!)

That said, 120 attendees per home game? In a 6,000 seat arena? No matter how low your expectations, this must be considered a failure, at least for now. Thomas deserves plenty of time -- he has to prove he can coach, remember -- but, um, yeah. Thus far, the Isiah Thomas experiment is not going well.

(Hat tip: SB Nation)