Webster’s dictionary defines the word as “newly produced … not old or spoiled … clean and pure.”
And that’s exactly what the FIU women’s basketball team craves — something “fresh,” starting with Friday’s season-opener against visiting Central Florida.
The “old and spoiled” situation the Panthers want to put in everyone’s rear-view mirror is the scandal that rocked the program last season — coach Marlin Chinn was fired after one of his players, who is no longer on the team, accused him of sexual harassment.
New coach Tiara Malcolm, one of Chinn’s assistants last year, retained FIU assistant Keuntal Miles. Malcolm also hired assistants Joe Silvestri and LaSondra Barrett from outside the program.
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It’s a young staff — all four coaches graduated college within the past 11 years.
Malcolm, who played at Delaware and was later an assistant at her alma mater, coaching superstar Elena Delle Donne among others, said keeping Miles on staff was key.
“Her and I built a friendship outside of everything that occurred [last season],” Malcolm said. “She was my main priority when I went for this job. If I got it, I needed her by my side. She stuck around, and I respect her so much for that.”
Now they will try to rebuild a program that once had a proud tradition under former coach Cindy Russo. The Panthers made 10 postseason tournament appearances in a 12-year span from 1992 to 2003, including six NCAA Tournament bids.
But FIU hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2002. Russo built her program mostly by finding gems in Europe — players such as star guard Andrea Nagy — but that pipeline began to dry when other colleges caught on and beat FIU at its own game.
The Panthers, who enjoyed 20 consecutive winning seasons under Russo, haven’t been over .500 since moving to Conference USA for the 2013-14 season. They have won only 27.8 percent of their league games (20-52).
FIU finished last season — the only one under Chinn — 5-26 overall and 2-16 in the league.
This season’s Panthers lack size but will rely instead on 5-5 sophomore point guard Kristian Hudson, who averaged 9.9 points and ranked seventh in the league with 4.0 assists; and 5-9 senior shooting guard Tianah Alvarado, who is the top returning scorer (12.6). She ranked sixth in the league with 63 steals.
Janka Hegedus, a 6-1 senior from Hungary who averaged 10.3 points, is the third returning starter. She is a natural wing but may have to defend centers because of the team’s size issues.
Kiandre’a Pound, a 6-0 sophomore wing, is likely to start. She was away from the game last season but was 11th in the league in scoring (14.8) during the 2014-15 season.
Finding a reliable fifth starter could be a task for Malcolm. She could opt for 6-1 senior and Australian native Soraya Page, a defensive-minded player; or Nikolina Todorovic, a 5-7 senior guard from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who made 15 starts last season.
The three freshmen all have a shot at extensive playing time: 6-1 wing Sydney Fields and 5-8 guards Kayla Rogers and Alexis Gordon.
“This is a new team,” Malcolm said. “These girls can create their legacy. Our conversations are always current and forward-thinking rather than in the past.”