FIU basketball

FIU Panthers’ Rakeem Buckles set to return to action after long hiatus


Friday: FIU men vs. Eastern Kentucky

•  When/where: 5 p.m.; KSU Convocation Center.

•  TV/radio: None.

Friday: FGCU at FIU women

•  When/where: 6 p.m.; U.S. Century Bank Arena.

•  TV/radio: None. PantherVision live stream at

Friday’s FIU men’s basketball season opener against Eastern Kentucky at the Kennesaw State Tournament begins the end of Rakeem Buckles’ most mutable college basketball career.

What got launched at Louisville ends at FIU after an aborted attempted leap to Minnesota. Buckles lost seasons to knee injuries and one to NCAA transfer rules. When he takes the court Friday, it’ll be his first game in two years, during which the 6-7 forward learned to appreciate and prepare for any time on the court — games or practice.

“Every day, I was just anticipating getting back out there and getting better,” Buckles said. “I learned a lot sitting out, more than when I was playing. I was actually blessed to be able to watch a lot of basketball the last couple of years.”

Buckles, who grew up in Liberty City and Opa-Locka, is on track to graduate with a major in criminal justice and wants to be a probation officer.

An hour after the men’s team opens its season in Georgia, the women’s team does the same at home against Florida Gulf Coast, which has taken the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season title three years in a row and is favored to do it again.

In beating FIU last season, Gulf Coast did what no other team managed to do in 31 FIU games: hold the nation’s leading scorer, FIU guard Jerica Coley, out of double figures. Coley went 4 of 12 from the field and scored only nine points.

As that happened, Buckles began his year in NCAA transfer purgatory. His 2010-11 season at Louisville ended with a knee injury. Just 10 games into the 2011-12 season, it ended the same way. When Richard Pitino went from Louisville assistant to FIU head coach and brought Buckles’ high school coach Mark Lieberman with him, Buckles’ followed.

“I wanted to come back home, play in a lower level conference, so I could produce my last couple of years of college,” Buckles said. “And, also, so I could play for coach Richard Pitino and my high school coach. I would’ve stayed if the opportunity hadn’t come about with Richard and the job here.”

Buckles tried to follow Pitino when the coach jumped from FIU to Minnesota last spring. The NCAA denied Buckles attempt at a waiver that would allow him to play this year if he transferred to Minnesota. So, Buckles stayed at FIU.

“It was another opportunity to play a lot at a higher level,” Buckles said. “I was excited to do that, but it didn’t work out. I’m in the same position in the same conference where I can still do well.”

FIU coach Anthony Evans said, “I’ve always said I wanted to support Rakeem because he wanted to go to Minnesota. That was my thought process. When the decision came down, it was never ‘I’m hoping this doesn’t go well for him.’ But when it happened, he became part of this family. That’s just how we’ve handled it. He’ll be a big part of this team.”

Buckles, who grew up in Liberty City and Opa-Locka, is on track to graduate with a major in criminal justice and wants to be a probation officer.

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