- Faith & Family
Talented seniors DeJuan Wright and Jeremy Allen, both guards, led the Florida International University (FIU) Panthers men’s basketball team last weekend in a tight tournament battle against Western Kentucky. But despite 24
points from Wright and several exciting three-point conversions made in the closing moments of the game, FIU (8-21) failed to repeat last season’s surprising conclusion that saw them one game away from earning an NCAA playoff bid. Still, Coach Isiah “Zeke” Thomas says he’s proud of his team, especially his seniors.
“Both young men are from Detroit and have had great careers here – they’ve laid a good foundation and I’ve watched them grow from boys to men,” he said. “But what makes me proudest is that they will both graduate on time with their degrees. I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Thomas’s arrival in South Florida came with great fanfare in the spring of 2009 and while most are aware of his accomplishments as a college and NBA standout, he has had less success as a coach
[26-65 in three seasons as head coach]. Now that the season is over, he says he’s already gearing up for next year.
“Winning in college and the NBA are two of the hardest things to do in sports,” he said. “Having won championships as a player at both levels, I now recognize the difficulty of those processes and the time it went into winning. College basketball is big business and the bigger, more traditional programs tend to get the attention and the money. That’s something that I don’t see changing. When I talk to potential players, I promise them three things: I will teach them all I know about basketball, I will make sure they get a good education including a degree and I will make them gentlemen. That’s all you can expect and I keep it simple and specific. It’s all about helping every player max out in his athletic and scholastic abilities.”
Thomas uses his “star power” to talk to young people about the importance of education and the dangers of gangs and violence.
“FIU is working with Miami Northwestern High in our efforts to shine the light on the problems that urban students more often face: poverty and violence in their communities,” he said. “That’s why I spend so much time on
doorsteps and porches. I have been on both sides of the fence and I think I have both a sympathetic ear and a motivational voice. We use the All-star classic at FIU and the Mary’s Court Foundation back in Chicago [named after his mother] to help parents in poverty navigate the educational system. My mom was the biggest baller of them all.”
Is the best yet to come for the FIU Panthers? That infectious smile for which he has become so well-known appeared on his face before he replied with a resounding, “Yes.”
By D. Kevin McNeir