Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation [Print without images]

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Dominique Ferguson's experiment is over

By Eamonn Brennan

Remember Dominique Ferguson? He was the No. 58-ranked player, and the No. 14-ranked power forward, in the class of 2010. He had offers from Arizona, UCLA, Indiana, Kentucky and Duke. He chose to play for Florida International instead. And now, after Isiah Thomas' dismissal and an ensuing Panthers player rebellion, Ferguson is going pro:
Florida International forward Dominique Ferguson announced Tuesday that he was entering the NBA draft, saying he's unhappy about the firing of Isiah Thomas and unable to get permission to talk to other schools.

Ferguson told The Associated Press that his request to be released from his scholarship was denied by Pete Garcia, the school's executive director of sports and entertainment. A subsequent appeal process that Ferguson said included a meeting with university President Mark Rosenberg also did not bring the release he sought.

"It's been very confusing," Ferguson said. "I'm getting through all this mess. It's a big mess going on right now."

There's no denying that; the firing of Thomas, though surely the right thing to do for a flagging program with a coach who barely seemed interested in his own job, has turned into a massive mess. This is just the latest incarnation. Florida International made a good hire in Louisville assistant Richard Pitino, who will surely try to stem the tide of transfers among players with no shot of going to the NBA, but it won't be easy. And Ferguson should be given his release. Stalling may seem like a viable plan for FIU, what with players uniting around Thomas and promising to leave the school one way or the other, but sooner or later they need to give these kids their releases -- whether Thomas is pulling the strings or not.

Which is one thing about Zeke, and about Ferguson's decision, that I just don't understand. From the AP story:
"I wanted to play for Isiah Thomas," Ferguson said.

Right, we get that. But dude ... why?

Seriously. Why did you want to play for Isiah Thomas? In two years at the school, Ferguson -- a 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward who should have been a matchup nightmare for everyone in the Sun Belt -- averaged 8.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. His team won a combined 19 games in those two years. Ferguson never broke the 100.0 mark in offensive rating; this season he posted an 84.3 off. rating with an effective field goal percentage of 43.3. To be fair, he did have good blocks and defensive rebounding numbers, but hardly the kind you'd expect from a talent like Ferguson's in a conference like the Sun Belt.

So if Ferguson isn't obviously getting better at FIU, and Thomas wasn't using his NBA mojo to prepare Ferguson for the league, why is Ferguson so upset with the firing of his coach that he's rashly deciding to leave for the NBA? (And again, the school should give him his release. Let's be clear.) Because he's Isiah Thomas? I'm six years older than Ferguson, and I barely remember Thomas's playing days. Is it the sheer fact that he played in the NBA? That he was the Knicks' GM? Is that what all this loyalty is about? Was it simply fun to play under Thomas at FIU? Did everyone have a grand time?

For a guy who just won eight games in his final season, Thomas was able to inspire an incredible, borderline sycophantic loyalty in his players. You're firing our totally unsuccessful, moonlighting coach? Then we're all out of here! Forget our own careers -- we're loyal to Coach Zeke! It's weird, right?

And now Ferguson leaves in a huff, off to try an NBA career for which he appears totally unqualified. FIU isn't handling this well, but it's hard not to think Ferguson's decision is yet another in a list of poorly timed, poorly chosen paths to his professional dream. Anyway, wish him luck.