New coach with a new mix of players, a few left over from the previous coach after graduation and transfers, a coach installing a pressure defense relying on his team’s quickness — welcome to FIU men’s basketball 2012-13, or, actually, 2013-14.
“Sometimes, I see similarities, like when we get into the press,” junior forward Tymell Murphy said. “Sometimes, we look like last year’s teams and sometimes we look like a completely different team.”
It’s Anthony Evans in the role Richard Pitino took for one remarkable season, FIU’s first winning season in 13 years, before leaping to take over at the University of Minnesota. And Evans benefits from three players in particular brought in by Pitino: last year’s leading scorer and rebounder, the 6-5 Murphy; former FAU point guard Ray Taylor and 6-7 former Louisville forward Rakeem Buckles.
Taylor and Buckles sat out last season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. In a case of 5-6, quick and experienced replacing 5-9 and quick, Taylor replaces Deric Hill, the ignition of last year’s pressure-trap-and-steal defense, who left for a scholarship at Barry. Last year’s second-leading scorer, junior college transfer and three-point shooter Malik Smith, followed Pitino to Minnesota.
Miami Monsignor Pace High graduate Buckles almost followed Smith and Pitino, but the NCAA denied Buckles’ request to waive transfer rules so he could play immediately. The 6-7 forward tore right knee ligaments in February 2011 while at Louisville, then tore left knee ligaments 10 games into the following season.
“I see him playing a big part of this team,” Evans said. “I think he has a high basketball IQ. And he has some experience. He hasn’t played in the last two years, but he’s played at the highest level possible. So he understands what it takes to be successful.”
Said Murphy: “A lot of people are excited about me, but I think Rakeem is [possibly] the best player on the team. He’s really skilled inside and outside. He’s a mismatch for someone every night. Adding him was the greatest thing for this year’s team.”
Murphy’s athletic penetration game put him on the Conference USA Players to Watch list after he averaged 14.6 points per game and finished No. 18 nationally in field goal percentage. Evans noted on a three-game tour of Spain during August that Murphy showed the work he had put in on his outside shot hadn’t been in vain.
“Defensively, being a little bit more vocal,” Evans said about what more he’d like to see from Murphy. “I think as athletic as he is, he can be a tremendous defender. Someone who can play the best player on the other team and still give us the production he does offensively.”
No matter FIU’s outcome, NCAA penalties for low Academic Progress Rates in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons includes a ban on all postseason play, including the Conference USA tournament.
“I’ve talked to them about having the opportunity to compete at the highest level every single time we step on the floor,” Evans said, “going out there and laying a foundation of what this program is going to be. I’ve talked to the seniors about it. What they will do for us is give us that foundation and I will be forever grateful to them for that. Whatever happens in the next few years, they will be a part of this and they will be a part of that.”
Murphy echoed those sentiments and said, “It doesn’t even come up anymore.”