College Basketball Nation: Isiah Thomas

Isiah Thomas G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesIsiah Thomas, 51, says he hasn't given up on his quest to stay close to the sport of basketball.
You have to hand it to Isiah Thomas: The man clearly loves basketball.

Whatever his other motivations for taking the Florida International job three years ago, it's hard to argue that a love of basketball wasn't at least partially behind it. The sport had bruised and battered Thomas at every level since his playing days; whether he was running the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association into the ground or signing Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry as his luxury-tax-engulfing starting New York Knicks frontcourt, it was long since clear that the gift Thomas had for the sport as a player had failed to carry over into management or coaching. And yet, he wanted back in, wanted to keep coaching, wanted to start over at a place that would offer him the chance to directly affect young players.

Even after the FIU experiment flamed out in epic fashion -- Thomas went 26-65 in three seasons, never winning more than 11 games in any one year -- the man remains determined to be near the sport, whether as an executive, NBA coach, or even, believe it or not, in the college ranks. That's what he told ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers this weekend, anyway:
"I definitely want to be in basketball again whether it be coaching or as a general manager," Thomas said by phone. "My gift is basketball. I would love working with the kids. If it's the right college program, I would consider it. If it's the right GM job or coaching job in the NBA, I would consider it. I love the game. I just want to be in the game." [...]

Thomas felt he wasn't given enough time to succeed at Florida International. With the players he had coming in this season and the ones returning from last season's 8-21 team, Thomas believed the program was on the rise.

"College sports finds itself in a transition right now," Thomas said. "There's old-school guys who know it takes time to build and do things right. Then, there's the new school that probably thinks you can get it done in 2-3 years. That's not how it goes. If I can find the right people with the right program, I'm confident I can put together a good college program."

That last bit is difficult to swallow. It's not like Thomas was obviously on the verge of a breakout season at FIU. He recruited some talent to the school, sure -- forward Dominique Ferguson, though troubled, was a highly touted recruit when he chose to play for the Panthers -- but he wasn't revolutionizing the way people viewed FIU. He wasn't even winning games. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia decided to end the experiment quickly; given Thomas's record, few have questioned that decision. Throw in Zeke's failures before FIU, and his on-again-off-again dalliance with the Knicks during his time at the school, he probably didn't deserve to keep his job.

So when I was catching up on all the weekend college hoops news this morning (I turned my computer off for the entirety of Memorial Day weekend, and I remain very happy with this decision) I read this story and immediately thought of ways to make fun of Thomas anew. That's what we do with Thomas now. He does something or says something worthy of ridicule, and then we ridicule him. Rinse, repeat.

This time, I'm going to pass. (In case you are interested in some good Zeke schadenfreude, the finest example may be the first comment on the above story by Howdy220, who wrote "You know what they say, if you can't make it at Florida International you can make it anywhere." +1.) It's not just because it's all been done before, though it has. It's more because the man clearly loves the sport of basketball and all it entails. He wants to be in it -- to compete, to observe, to analyze, to mentor, to fuel his own ego, whatever -- and he doesn't seem interested in much else.

For better or worse, I can identify with that. Can't we all?

But now Zeke's options are running thin. The FIU debacle has done little for his standing in the game, whether at the college level or in the pros. What athletic director would want to take a shot on Thomas now? What NBA front office -- other than the Knicks, it seems -- would want him around? Very few. And yet he keeps smiling and hoping for another chance, one he probably doesn't deserve, for the same reasons that made him the legendary player he was in the first place: The game is in him.

Sooner or later, the game won't want him anymore. It happens to almost everyone, one way or the other. The game moves on. For Isiah Thomas, that day may be coming far faster than he is willing to admit.
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.
Give it up for the Florida International Panthers: For a program that hasn't posted a winning record in the past 12 seasons, FIU has no problem landing "name" coaches.

Of course, the Isiah Thomas experiment always felt more like a public relations-inspired sideshow than a legitimate hire. Thomas had one foot out of the door during his entire time at FIU; the rumors of his involvement with the New York Knicks from afar never truly ceased, and if anything only increased, as it became clear Thomas wasn't remotely invested in a long, arduous rebuilding process. At some point, after the bemused headlines faded away, the PR grab wasn't even worth its own headlines -- mostly because it failed to generate any. We all stopped paying attention. Ho hum.

Now, as FIU seeks to quell the popular player uprising that took root after Thomas's April 6 dismissal, FIU director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia gone again to the public relations well. The difference, at least this time, is that their latest attention-grabbing coaching hire might actually be able to, you know, coach.

On Sunday, Louisville coach Rick Pitino told ESPN's Andy Katz that his son, Cardinals assistant Richard Pitino, would leave his father's staff to take over at FIU. The Panthers refused to confirm the deal Sunday, and no one returned correspondence, but Pitino was already eulogizing the time spent with his son, which included this season's unexpected run to the Final Four:
"You know I'm delighted, but I'm going miss (him) terribly," Rick Pitino said. "I think one of the great things in 35 years of coaching was spending three years with him. Watch him grow as a basketball coach, and you sort of don't want it to end."

[...] "It's his opportunity," Rick Pitino said. "It was his decision, not that I was against it. But I would have loved to been with him a few more years."

Richard Pitino came back to Louisville this season after two years spent as an assistant coach under Billy Donovan at Florida. He has also worked at Duquesne, Northeastern and the College of Charleston. As such, FIU may have just done about as well as it possibly could in hiring Thomas's replacement. The younger Pitino brings his name with him, so he has that public relations advantage, but he is also a legitimate college basketball coach in training, one who spent much of the past decade breaking down tape and learning under two of the nation's most successful college hoops coaches, one of which just so happens to be his father.

It's a win-win for FIU. Indeed, given the Thomas disaster, Richard Pitino -- inexperienced as a head coach though he may be -- might still be the absolute best possible scenario for a program hasn't broken the .500 mark, let alone made it to an NCAA tournament, in over a decade.

At the very least, however Richard Pitino performs, it can't possibly go worse than the past three years. It's a step in the right -- and an entirely more sane -- direction.

And so three years after it began, the Florida International basketball stunt is over.

Because that’s really all this ever was -- a public relations grab. Isiah Thomas was not hired for his coaching acumen, certainly. Nor was he chosen for his deep recruiting resources.

He was hired to turn attention to a school that otherwise was known for a football brawl with Miami.

And it worked.

We bit.

During Thomas’ first summer at FIU, I spent some time with him in Las Vegas while he dipped his toe into the deep end of recruiting. So did plenty of other people, intrigued by the notion of this millionaire and Hall of Famer trying to make a go of it in college basketball’s hinterlands.

The trouble with stunts: Eventually the smoke clears and you’re left with just the mirrors.

FIU went 26-65 with its part-time coach/full-time PR hire, a direct reflection of both Thomas’ coaching inadequacies and his level of job interest -- or more accurately, disinterest.

It’s easy to blame Thomas, but he only threw his name into the ring.

FIU made the hire.

And this was never a hire. This was little more than a fraud perpetrated by a university desperate to gain attention and a man looking to fill time between gigs.

Really, Thomas belonged at Florida International as much as I belong on Nick Saban’s defensive line. He had zero college-coaching experience, and what little coaching experience he had didn’t exactly jump off the résumé as resounding successes.

He had absolutely none of the recruiting contacts necessary to attract kids to a campus trying to make a name for itself -- and the staff he hired was underwhelming to say the least. His sales pitch equated to being able to name a few tenuous NBA contacts that sounded good but offered little in the way of real promise.

That was enough to lure Dominique Ferguson, a one-time top-100 recruit who had interest from all sorts of name-brand schools and instead opted for FIU. In two years, despite playing against competition that rarely sees the likes of his talent, he has yet to average double digits under Thomas’ tutelage.

Frankly, this was little more than a playground for Thomas, a chance to see if he liked this college thing without really giving more than the lip service his employer asked for.

In 2010, he was named a consultant for the New York Knicks, which should have sent red flags to FIU officials about his level of commitment and interest. Most coaches will tell you they don’t have enough time to eat breakfast, let alone consult on the daily activities of an NBA franchise.

Yet FIU didn’t even blink.

In the end, then, both are getting what they deserve: Thomas his pink slip, and the university mud in its eye and a program stuck in the mud.

Head coaching is not brain surgery (except, perhaps, to Jim Boeheim), but it is a full-time job.

And it deserves a full-time coach -- not a stunt.

Isiah Thomas brings NBA stars to campus

September, 30, 2011
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In support of Isiah Thomas, the Miami Heat's Big Three are coming to the Florida International campus to play.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will host the South Florida All-Star Classic, with proceeds going to the foundation in honor of the FIU coach's late mother.

"This will be a great event for FIU and the South Florida community," Thomas said in a statement. "We are thrilled that some of the world's greatest basketball players will put on an entertaining show here at FIU. It's also fulfilling to know that this is being done for a good cause. I can't thank LeBron, Dwyane and Chris enough for helping put this together."

Also expected to play in the exhibition, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel?
The game, organized by Miami Heat forward LeBron James, is scheduled to also include teammates Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. Also scheduled to attend are NBA rivals Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Amare Stoudemire, Russell Westbrook, Jamal Crawford, John Wall, Rudy Gay, Jonny Flynn, Eric Bledsoe, Lou Williams, Wesley Matthews and free-agent center Eddy Curry, as well as former Heat players Dorell Wright and Caron Butler.

Last offseason, Thomas was left in an awkward position when he was forced to backtrack on accepting a consulting position with the New York Knicks that was to have allowed him to coach at FIU as well. The attempted move raised questions about the commitment Thomas was showing the college game.

But at least with this star-studded affair put together for Thomas, it's a reminder of how the NBA connections that Thomas has can be used to shine a light on FIU, which last season finished with an 11-19 record.

"It is exciting to be able to bring an event like this to South Florida," FIU executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia said in a statement. "It is also great to see all of these NBA superstars come together for a great cause here at FIU."

When Isaiah Thomas met Isiah Thomas

February, 3, 2011
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That's right. Isaiah Thomas, the Washington guard who's quietly making a case for Pac-10 (and even national) player of the year honors, was named after the former Pistons guard, current FIU head coach, and formerly disastrous New York Knicks general manger Isiah Thomas. So, naturally, Isaiah (two a's) was thrilled when Isiah (one a) introduced himself after a February 2009 loss at UCLA.

How do I know all this? Because Sports Illustrated's Pablo S. Torre uncovered as much for a feature in this week's magazine issue (which I was reading in paper format on my airplane until I realized I had INTERNET IN THE SKY). The feature is worth the read for a variety of interesting reasons, but the story of the time the two Thomases met is probably my favorite. See if you can guess why:
"I didn't believe my mom when she first told me," Isaiah recalls. But there was the man himself: praising Isaiah's style, handing him his number, building his confidence. (Isiah was flouting an NBA policy that forbids teams to have any communication with players who have remaining college eligibility, but no matter.) "The first thing I told him," says Isiah, who became the coach at Florida International that April, "was that what separates a good player from a bad player is how much that player believes in himself." The two have stayed in touch ever since, exchanging advice and aphorisms roughly once a week.

Did you guess right? Yep, it was this parenthetical: "Isiah was flouting an NBA policy that forbids teams to have any communication with players who have remaining college eligibility, but no matter." Even in an interesting, enlightening story about one of the country's most exciting players, Big Zeke's involvement means chronicling at least one broken rule. Hilarious.

Anyway, check out the story if you're not familiar with some of Isaiah's background, his tweet game, and the like. And be prepared to know the kid's name. Washington has the look of a deep tournament team, and if that happens, Thomas has the chance to become a major March star.
There's never been much of a question that former New York Knicks general manager Isiah Thomas wanted another shot at the NBA. He's been open about it before. Before the NBA stepped in, Thomas was technically still employed by the Knicks as recently as this summer. This is not a new thing.

[+] EnlargeIsiah Thomas
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesFormer New York Knicks GM Isiah Thomas sees himself as the future GM of the Knicks.
Still, because Thomas proved himself to be rather bad at being NBA general manager (some are willing to make the argument that Thomas was the worst ever, which is hyperbolic but revealing all the same) he can't get a job doing so. So he's stuck at Florida International, pining away the days, dreaming daily of his triumphant return to Madison Square Garden.

I'm not saying this. Isiah Thomas, in an interview with ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor, is saying this. You couldn't make it up:
Isiah believes James (and perhaps Dwyane Wade) would be starting for the New York Knicks if Isiah had remained president of the team. Isiah believes he can recruit James out of Miami and into Madison Square Garden in 2014. Isiah believes that, with or without James, he will someday help the Knicks win their first NBA title since 1973.

"I want to be on the float and I want to get my ring," Thomas said. [...]

Asked if he hopes to replace Donnie Walsh whenever the 69-year-old Knicks president retires, Thomas said, "Every single day of the week.

"When I look at my GM/executive record, if I'm evaluated on that, then whoever's after Donnie, if you're not talking about some of the top people in the game, I'll put my draft evaluation record up against anyone's."

Before we put aside the brilliant self-delusion at work here, let's take a look at the above statements. Isiah Thomas believes he could have brought LeBron, D-Wade, and who knows who else to New York. He believes he's going to win an NBA title with the Knicks. He believes he's the best candidate to replace the general manager that replaced him. After one of the least successful -- and maybe the worst! -- front office tenures of anyone in modern history.

This is crazy talk, of course, but it would be harmless crazy talk were Thomas not currently employed. But he is. By a college basketball team. The Florida International Panthers. Maybe you've heard of them. (Actually, maybe not.) Pining for a job is one thing if you're sitting on the sidelines, but admitting that you think about getting your old job back "every single day of the week" while being paid to think about FIU every single day of the week, then you're just wasting everyone's time and money.

And yes, maybe FIU made their Faustian bargain for good reason; maybe they're willing to deal with this sort of thing if it means having a basketball celebrity sell your otherwise irrelevant program, even if that sale is halfhearted. I get it.

But good God, man: You have a job to do. Either do it or don't, but don't do this. If you're so desperate to get back to professional basketball, it probably helps to act like a professional.

FIU commit ends up choosing Auburn

October, 4, 2010
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Florida International coach Isiah Thomas got some very exciting, and then some very disappointing news in the matter of 24 hours. And both pieces of news came from the same recruit.

Cedrick McAfee, the No. 59-ranked player in the class of 2011, told Thomas that he would be coming to FIU after Thomas met McAfee in a face-to-face visit at McAfee's home in Memphis. Then, a day later, McAfee told Thomas he jumped the gun. Instead, he'd re-open his commitment and make his other scheduled recruiting visits to Auburn (this past weekend) and Baylor (later this month).

Now? McAfee appears to have spurned FIU for good, according to Gary Parrish. The guard committed to Auburn coach Tony Barbee this weekend and, barring another quick change of his decision, appears set to attend Auburn.

That has to be doubly disappointing for Thomas, because McAfee would have been the best player he's recruited to FIU since his arrival at the school two years ago. Thomas has been in on a handful of high-profile guys -- he notably went after eventual Cincinnati recruit Lance Stephenson when it became clear the hesitancy of other schools gave FIU a legitimate chance -- but he's failed to land many of them. Like any other coach, Thomas' goal isn't just to compete for recruits. He needs to land them. Having McAfee, only to watch him rescind his commitment and quickly end up elsewhere, has to feel like the ultimate tease.

NCAA prevents Alford from roasting Knight

September, 23, 2010
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New Mexico coach Steve Alford, an All-American player during the Bob Knight era in Indiana, wasn't able to crack jokes at the expense of his old coach because of an NCAA rule that prevented his participation in Saturday's celebrity roast.

Alford had been promoted since July as one of Knight's roasters, but couldn't gain NCAA approval because the event raised money for St. Joseph High School in Chicago. As a current college coach, Alford wasn't able to help provide a benefit to prospective student-athletes.

Florida International coach Isiah Thomas, another one of Indiana's signature players, was in fact able to speak and have the crowd in tears with his Knight anecdotes because St. Joseph is his alma mater.

It's really too bad Alford wasn't able to tell some stories himself because after years of being pushed and prodded by "The General," hearing him give it right back to Knight -- a current ESPN commentator -- would have made the night complete.

FIU recruit pulls switcheroo

September, 22, 2010
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You have to feel for Isiah Thomas. Maybe just a little bit. Maybe just for this one situation. But still, you have to kind of of feel for him.

Imagine, if you would, how excited Zeke must have been this Sunday. It was Sunday, after all, when the No. 59-ranked player in the class of 2011, Cedrick McAfee, told Thomas face to face that he would indeed be committing to Florida International. Imagine how happy Isiah must have been! Imagine the elation he felt upon leaving McAfee's house! You can almost see him clicking his heels in a mid-air leap as he jumps down the McAfees' front sidewalk. Huzzah!

The elation would have been warranted. After all, for all of Thomas's high-profile attempts at recruiting thus far in his FIU tenure, few players of McAfee's stature have considered Florida International seriously, let alone delivered on those considerations. It would have been a pretty big deal.

And there's the key phrase: "would have been." Because a day -- not even 24 hours -- after Thomas did his imaginary skip down McAfee lane, Cedrick's high school coach told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal that McAfee had a change of heart. Instead of locking in at FIU, McAfee was going to re-open his recruitment. According to the coach, he'll be visiting Auburn this weekend and Baylor in October. Ouch.

Zeke still has a chance to get McAfee. The player isn't ruling out FIU; he's just taking his time in making a decision, which is probably the smart thing for everyone involved.

But, still, yeah: poor Isiah. That one has to sting.
In a summer teeming with Isiah Thomas offseason news -- from his stated desire to be an NBA general manager to his questionable (and quickly squashed) bid to remain an official consultant to the Knicks during his FIU tenure -- this might be the one that most disappoints Florida International basketball fans.

Dominique Ferguson, Thomas' top recruit in the class of 2010, will be academically ineligible for the coming fall semester, according to Fox's Jeff Goodman. This, obviously, is bad news: Ferguson was the biggest recruiting coup of Thomas' young tenure. His top 100 ESPNU ranking-- No. 58, to be exact -- would make him the most talented player at FIU since the Halcyon Days of Carlos Arroyo and Raja Bell (1998-2001).

Ferguson was also recruited by Kentucky, Duke, Indiana, UCLA, and Arizona, but many of those programs ended up getting cold feet because of perceived academic and attitude issues. Ferguson struggled with his grades at Indianapolis' Lawrence North High School before transferring to Hargrave Military Academy (Va.) for his senior season.

In any case, with or without Ferguson, it was unlikely FIU was going to burst on the national scene this season; a handful of good-but-not-great recruits wasn't going to turn the 7-25 Panthers into the Gonzaga of the east quite so quickly. But if Ferguson continues to struggle to get eligible, Thomas' ability to prove he can lure top recruits -- without these sort of Lance Stephenson-esque warts -- will be an issue.

Top recruit's mom backs Isiah Thomas

August, 13, 2010
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Florida International coach Isiah Thomas won't officially be consulting for the Knicks after all, and the whole episode hasn't exactly earned him a lot of positive press.

But before giving up the Knicks gig, the New York Times did report that there does remain a staunch Thomas supporter out there, and she happens to be the mother of one of the best point guard recruits in the nation.

Josiah Turner is ESPNU's fourth-ranked point guard for the 2011 class, and it can't hurt Thomas that Turner's mother, Doris Ward, is saying great things about him as both a recruiter and mentor.
"Isiah saw Josiah before the rest of them jumped on board this year," Ward said Sunday during a phone interview. "He never strayed either way. Whether Josiah played great or he had an off-day, he's always said he's going to be a great player."

She added: "He saw stuff in Josiah that now everyone else sees it a year later, but he saw it a year earlier. I have to respect him for that because he's never wavered."

...

Ward said that in many ways, the sum of Thomas’s résumé -- the missteps to giant steps and the foibles -- made him a great mentor. "Coach Thomas doesn't need money, he doesn't have to coach F.I.U., he doesn't have to do what he does," she said. "He doesn't have to come see my son practice. Just the trials and tribulations he's lived through, as a player and as a man, you can't help but respect this guy."

Not that FIU is likely to land Turner, who is considering schools like Kansas, UConn and Arizona, but his mom's comments do provide a look into Thomas' abilities as a college coach.

His name alone was always going to draw attention, but if he's actively identifying talent and building relationships with top recruits, that's certainly a different picture than being cast as a guy simply lying in wait for his next NBA job.
Well, that didn't take long.

Isiah Thomas and the New York Knicks set off something of a firestorm last week, somehow managing to confuse both NBA and college hoops observers with the tenuous announcement that Thomas would serve as a front-office consultant for the pro franchise while also serving as the head coach at Florida International. It wasn't hard to spot the glaring conflict of interest at work there, especially given Thomas' stated Knicks duties, which included "player recruitment."

Both sides of the deal had reason to question the arrangement: Would Thomas use his ties to the Knicks to ensure pro chances for his star recruits? Would Thomas tout FIU players to the Knicks even if they weren't as good as other prospects? Why would either FIU or the Knicks allow this to happen? And just where is the NCAA in all of this? If the organization doesn't have a rule against the practice, what's to stop it from happening elsewhere?

Turns out, the NCAA didn't need to do anything. Thomas was oh-so-politely informed by NBA commissioner David Stern that the NBA doesn't allow league personnel to have any contact with players who aren't eligible for the NBA draft. From the AP:
"We have been informed by the Knicks that Isiah Thomas has rescinded his consulting agreement with the team. As a result, it is not necessary for the league to take any formal action on the proposed arrangement," Stern said. "However, we have reminded the Knicks of NBA rules that prohibit team personnel, including consultants, from having contact with players not eligible for the draft."

Yours truly assumed the NCAA would have to step in and classify NBA consultants and front-office personnel as akin to agents, thus closing a loophole that allowed Thomas' creative job situation in the first place. Alas, the NBA did its college counterpart one better. Easy enough.

So, um, thanks, NBA! Now, if we could just have a few more minutes of your time, we were hoping to talk to you about the one-and-done -- what's that? Oh. Yeah. I can hold.
Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski aren't the first college hoops observers to notice the massive conflict of interest at the heart of Isiah Thomas' job as a consultant with the New York Knicks. Our own Dana O'Neil tackled that last week. The calculus is pretty clear: At best, Thomas' dual jobs as Florida International head coach and Knicks consultant -- with responsibilities that include "player recruitment" -- make for a rather unseemly use of a loophole the NCAA would do well to close.

Interestingly enough, Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski agree. From Adam Zagoria:
"I would decline to do that just because I shouldn't be perceived to have an advantage in whatever way over another college coach, so that's why I wouldn't to do it," Krzyzewski said Tuesday. "I don't think there's anything ethically wrong with it or whatever, I just think that it's probably better to keep it separate."
"Have we served as consultants to the pros? Yeah," Krzyzewski said. "People call us before the draft, 'What do you think of this, what do you think of that?' I think it's better to have it like that."

Coach K was more diplomatic about the situation than Boeheim, who said the conflict of interest applied to both the NBA and college teams:
"It's a conflict [of interest] either way, from college or from the NBA, I just don't understand why it wouldn't be," Boeheim said. "You know, you're a college coach involved with kids and the NBA wants your players or evaluations of your players. ... It seems like it's kind of a conflict a little bit that you're coaching kids and then recommending them to pro guys."

Per the usual, Boeheim hits it on the head. The notion that Thomas could utilize his position in the Knicks front office as a recruiting ploy ... well, just what message does that send? And if you're a college coach, and you see this strategy work, why wouldn't you do the same? How long would it take for any college coach looking to compete on the recruiting trail to tie himself to an NBA team? It's another paycheck, and the NCAA doesn't have a rule against it, so, hey, why not?

Of course, there are problems on the NBA's side. If I'm the Knicks, and Thomas is touting a star FIU player over other draft prospects, am I going to trust his evaluation? Probably not. I'm going to assume he's fulfilling his side of a quid pro quo, or at the very least doing his best to build a league-straddling pipeline to the pros. What good does that do my franchise, exactly?

In any case, it will be the NCAA's job to step up and end the discussion. Thomas' roles are currently legal. But they're only an ethical fraction removed from the NCAA's rules about contact with agents and prohibitions on hiring "individuals associated with prospects" (read: AAU and high school coaches). It shouldn't take much to close that loophole.

Isiah Thomas protests gay marriage ban

August, 9, 2010
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Aside from pulling double duty coaching Florida International and advising the New York Knicks, Isiah Thomas is making his opinions known on a hot-button political issue -- by posing for pictures with duct tape over his mouth.

Thomas and his son, Joshua, appear in the pictures for the NOH8 Campaign, which according to the website is a photographic silent protest in response to the passage of Proposition 8, a California voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage that is currently being fought over in court.

"Photos feature subjects with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world, with 'NOH8' painted on one cheek in protest," according to the website.

Thomas appears in two photos -- one with his son and the other by himself holding a basketball. Beneath the photos is this statement:

"We are Isiah and Joshua Thomas. We posed for the NOH8 Campaign because we believe that all hate and discrimination is wrong. It is time for full equality and equal rights for everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, or gender."

Thomas, the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former Knicks employee that cost the team $11.6 million, was re-hired Friday by the Knicks as a part-time consultant and expected to perform those duties in his spare time from coaching FIU.

That same day, the NOH8 Campaign publicized the appearance of Thomas and his son on its website.

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