Evans ready for new challenges in second year

By: Patrick Chalvire/Asst. Sports Director

It’s been a long time coming for the FIU men’s basketball team as they get set to not only begin a new season on the hardwood tonight, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m. against Florida College, but one that they hope will end with them playing in the postseason.

On June 11, 2013, FIU received word from the NCAA that they would be ineligible for postseason play during the 2013-14 season. The Panthers had posted an academic progress rating score of 750 in 2011-12, according to the NCAA. That score brought the team’s four-year average down to 858.

Per NCAA rules, a school who posts a four-year APR average of less than 925 is subject to penalty; any score less than 900 leads to a postseason ban.

FIU’s Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment Pete Garcia said during a press release last year that current players were not to be held responsible for the low results.

“It’s important to understand that the student-athletes and coaches who are serving this postseason ban had no part in the actions which led to the punishment,” said Garcia.

Now, looking past the ban, Head Coach Anthony Evans said his team is ready to take on a season faced with several new opponents a year after going 15-16, 7-9 within Conference-USA, and sitting out the postseason.

“There’s always hope at the end of the season, because you get to play that last portion of the season this year, so whatever happens during the regular season, that’s about positioning for the playoffs,” said Evans. “I think there’s a different mindset, different focus going into this year.”

Last year’s squad was led by forwards Tymell Murphy and Rakeem Buckles. However, as college goes, players graduate and move on. Murphy was drafted in the NBA Development League Draft by the Canton Charge, the affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Buckles is currently playing for the Redwell Gunners Oberwart team in Austria.

However, Evans and the rest of his coaching staff have spent the offseason working with several returners, including guards Dennis Mavin and Jason Boswell, along with several new additions. New faces that Evans feel will be a key contribution to the team.

“The team is learning, starting to gel somewhat,” said Evans. “We’ve had a lot of injuries so it’s slowed us down a bit but I think the chemistry is coming slowly but surely.”

Redshirt junior Adrian Diaz will be filling in for Buckles. The 6-foot-11 transfer from Kansas State was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA rules, but is expected to be a presence in the paint, something Evans felt was missing at times.

“I think Adrian [Diaz] is a lot different than Rakeem [Buckles]. Rakeem was more of a power forward/small forward, where Adrian is a true post player. He’s gonna play with his back to the basket, he might step out some, he’s gonna give us rebounding, he’s gonna give us a presence inside defensively and offensively,” said Evans.

The Panthers roster will also include several players who are capable of shooting behind the arc. Senior guard Marco Porcher-Jimenez will return for his final year, but will be joined by redshirt sophomore Ray Rodriguez. Rodriguez previously spent time at North Florida.

Last season, the Panthers made just over four 3-pointers per game, but with the addition of several key shooters, Evans feels it will allow the team to spread out the floor, giving them better opportunities to score.

“We do have guys on the team who can shoot three-point shots,” said Evans. “We’re not going to be the Phoenix Suns or anyone like that shooting three’s consistently, [but] it’ll be part of our offense.”

The Panthers will host opponents on the Lime Court at the FIU Arena 12 times during the season, three of which will be against non-conference opponents. The 12 home games is three less than last year’s 15.

Among their schedule, they will take on the Louisville Cardinals, who reached the Sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA tournament, intra-state rival Florida Gulf Coast and they will also participate in the Spartanburg Marriott Upstate Classic in South Carolina during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Evans said the fact that his team will be playing more games on the road only makes the season that much more difficult, but was assured that no team will be overlooked, no matter their record or history.

“It’s never easy, especially when you’re on the road. There’s a portion of the season where we play eight road games in a row, so all of that stuff with a new team is gonna be a challenge,” said Evans. “We do have some home games, but a lot of them are on the road.”

The Panthers will not begin conference play until Jan. 4, when they travel to Boca Raton to face the Florida Atlantic Owls.

With all the changes regarding new players and a possible postseason berth, Evans is not alone when it comes to teaching some of the younger players the ins and outs to a college season. With the help from Mavin, a consistent starter from last year’s squad, it allows other players to get the understanding from one of their own.

“When you bring all the new players that we have, you need someone that is a player who can explain to them, who can tell them what we’re looking for and when coach starts to get on somebody, what I’m really trying to do is get them to work harder, and he can explain that to them, rather than a coach trying to do that,” said Evans.

Mavin averaged nearly 12 points per contest last season and Evans said he expects that to continue and for his leadership to be seen both on and off the court.

“He’s basically been a coach on the floor, he’s been a captain, he’s definitely been a leader and he’s the heart and soul of this team,” said Evans.

The senior guard has taken his new role full on throughout the offseason and said he continues to do so in hopes of ultimately reaching the NCAA tournament.

“The main focus is really just winning,” said Mavin. “Trying to get these guys fired up to have that winning mentality.”

About the Author

Patrick Chalvire
: Radio Host for Panther Sports Talk Live. Assistant Sports Director for The Beacon. Majoring in Communication Arts. Sports fan and aspiring anchor.

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