Players look for release after Thomas firing

By Igor Mello/ Sports Director
igor.mello@fiusm.com

As college hopefuls begin to sign their letters of intent to the universities of their choice, the men’s basketball team is still without a coach and possibly without any recruits. And now the school could lose the majority of their current players.
During the annual athletics banquet on April 9, six players staged a walk-out when they were being honored.
After serving three seasons at FIU, Isiah Thomas and his entire coaching staff was fired on April 6, just five days before the initial signing period began for basketball recruits.
Because of the popularity of Thomas, the news of his firing and the protest of his former players have brought national attention to FIU from numerous sports outlets.
As a result, the players have found other ways to voice their frustration in the wake of the firing of Thomas.
“It’s just sketchy how they have handled it,” said Tanner Wozniak, who will be a sophomore next season. “They waited an entire month and a half [to fire Thomas] and that puts us in a hole.”
And now just days after walking out, the players, led by DeJuan Wright, have written a letter to University President Mark Rosenberg asking for an explanation on why they are not being allowed to transfer.
“It was all composed by everyone on the team and sent to President Rosenberg through an attachment email,” Wright said.
According to Wright, nine out of the 13 players on the current roster are demanding the school to release their scholarships so that they can attempt to transfer out of FIU. Rosenberg declined to comment to Student Media.

“I don’t know what I would do [If I can’t get my release],” said Wozniak. “I will keep my options open.”

Tola Akomolafe (who is a junior college transfer), Cameron Bell, Steven Miro and Manuel Nunez are the only players that have decided to remain on the team for now.

“They should have their freedom [to stay or go] since they came to play for Isiah Thomas and he was fired,” said Wright, who served four years at FIU and is not eligible to play for the team next season.

Whether Thomas was the coach at FIU or not, Dominique Ferguson did not want to be in Miami. Ferguson felt homesick and filed a request to release his scholarship in mid-March, nearly three weeks before Thomas was let go. Ferguson will be a junior next season.

“I had a meeting with Julie [Berg] (Senior Associate AD) and I was denied. They didn’t give me a reason for why I was being denied, kind of like how they did not give a reason for Isiah [Thomas] being fired,” Ferguson said.

The Athletic Department did not grant his release, so Ferguson considered staying at FIU. But when it was announced that the school was making a coaching change, the Indianapolis native quickly filed an appeal to have his scholarship released. The last player to request a release was Freddy Asprilla in 2009. Asprilla, a 6-10 forward/center, went on to leave FIU to play in the junior collegiate level, enrolling at Miami-Dade College at the time.

If an athlete transfers to another NCAA school, they must sit out a year before becoming eligible to play for that school.

According to Ferguson, a ruling on his appeal will be made on April 13 to decide whether or not he can be free to transfer out of FIU.

“It’s not like we came here for FIU. We came here for Isiah Thomas,” Ferguson said.

Regardless of the outcome, Ferguson has vowed to never dress in an FIU jersey again.

“I’m done here. It is a business but you can’t trust an AD that just fired your coach for no reason,” Ferguson said. “I am not attending school here [next year].”

FIU has less than a month to round up their recruiting class for 2012. May 16 is the final day for any recruit to sign their letter of intent. They may need to fill up more spaces in their roster if the school grants any of the nine players who are demanding to transfer out.

An open letter to Rosenberg:

Dear President Rosenberg, FIU Administrators, Faculty, Staff and Media:

We are writing this letter in regards to a few concerns we have surrounding the firing of our Coach Isiah Thomas and his staff.  Firstly, we would like to explain that on Monday night at the Sports Banquet we meant no disrespect to our university or anyone persons in attendance but only wish to exercise our human right to protest and support our coach and mentors in a time of grief. Our staff taught us five values Honesty, Loyalty, Belief, Sacrifice and Trust so I am sure you can see that our “silent protest” stems from these excellent principles.

Our main concerns that we wish someone to address are, why Coach Thomas and his staff where fired and why it was done in such an ugly fashion. To this day nobody in this university has sat down and gave a thorough  explanation as why they were dismissed. This is very troubling because even though we are athletes we are still humans and have rights which should be respected. What is confusing is that if Coach Thomas was fired for losing games, he is not only at fault because we were the ones playing the games. He was given five  years to fix an already existing  problem  and then it was cut to three. The  team he had coming in next year was young but by far his best class. Neither he nor we got the opportunity to finish what we started and have no explanation as to why our goal was cut short by this university.

We also ask someone  to look into why Coach Thomas and his staff had to be humiliated by being told they were fired and to pack their belongings immediately and with no explanation of what was going on in front of our team and other FIU staff members. It was quite embarrassing for us to witness and hurtful, they deserved a better way to leave, it is already embarrassing being  fired.

 We would like everyone to know that we came to FIU not only to gain an education and play basketball but also to be mentored by Coach Thomas. This is why we are extremely upset about his firing; we lost not a coach but a mentor. Maybe you are not knowledgeable of the many things that Coach Thomas has done in helping develop us as young men. These things don’t show up on the scoreboard at FIU but do show up on the scoreboard of life. There are too many to discuss but we collectively will mention to you one of the most important ones he did and that you can investigate.

 Please  get in contact with the writers of a book Coach Thomas suggest that we read, “Out of Bounds, When Scholarship Athletes become Academic Scholars” by Dr. Jabari Mohair and Dr. Derek Van Rheenen from the UC Berkeley. Not only did Coach Thomas tell us about this book but on multiple occasions he brought these authors to FIU to lead academic workshops which stimulated our minds and helped us to understand what it is to be a true scholar athlete. These workshops were also attended by FIU faculty and students who were not athletes, even NBA All Star Amare  Stoudemire sat in the workshops which lasted over a weekend. But more amazing is that not only did Coach Thomas and his staff participate in the workshops but Coach Thomas has led by example by taking classes in sports and education  with the professors on Skype. He also was admitted into the MA program at UC Berkeley in the School of Education. He was not only telling us to go to class but served as a role model by being a student himself. Please reach out and ask these professors about our team and coach and how education and mentoring was the focal point of his short tenure not winning on the court but in changing lives. Coach would tell us that” our record may be losing on the court, but that will change in time but our graduation rate is 17-2 which is more important”. This is the Isiah we know and love not the one which the media attempts to destroy. If they brought there camera and notepads into these workshops they may find it beneficial  to report on how sports should be used to build character not destroy it.

Lastly, the AD of FIU told us only that Coach Thomas was fired because “ we are going in another direction” and we respect his decision even  if though we disagree with it. Every human has a right for “freedom of choice”  which is  given not a privilege.  We chose to come to FIU for at least 5 years to be mentored, play basketball and enjoy college life. FIU has given us a great opportunity and is a fine university, which we have appreciated our time here.

Yet, some of us have asked to be released from the school and have been rejected by the AD. We ask that under such circumstances with our mentor being  fired you to give us the freedom of choice to “move in another direction”. Please help us receive our athletic “releases” so that we can find a coach and program which will be a good fit in our growth. America has many fine universities to choose from and we only  wish to have the option of staying here or finding a place which has a coach that will continue in the same tradition as Coach Thomas. Even if FIU was to hire another ex- NBA coach that would not change our feelings about leaving because we did not come here thinking Isiah Thomas was going to take us to the NBA. But the person of Isiah Thomas as a mentor is what was important in our decision.

In one of our meetings with the Professors we learned that “ when an athletic department uses players as commodities it loses its moral leadership”. We hope that this school sees us not as “bodies” but “minds” which can grow develop and become productive citizens of the world.

Thank you

FIU men’s Basketball Team

 

 

 

 

 

 

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