New FIU men’s basketball coach Jeremy Ballard is set to open training camp this week and will make his official Panthers debut at home Nov. 7 against Webber International.
Speaking with the Miami Herald on Monday, Ballard said that while there are many highlights to his first FIU schedule, the Dec. 1 trip to play the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks figures to be special.
Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, who led the Razorbacks from 1985 to 2002, coined the phrase “40 Minutes of Hell” for the full-court defensive style that terrorized opponents for years.
Current Arkansas coach Mike Anderson served under Richardson for 17 years, and Ballard said the Razorbacks style is still relentless, which is how he wants FIU to play as well.
“That game will be a track meet,” Ballard said. “And Arkansas also has a likely lottery pick at center.”
Ballard was referring to 6-11, 235-pound sophomore Daniel Gafford, who made the SEC All-Freshman team last season. Early projections indeed have him as a top-six pick, according to NBADraft.net.
Another highlight to the upcoming schedule is the three games in three days that FIU will play in New York, Nov. 16-18. The Panthers will have their depth and conditioning tested in those three games against host Fordham as well as Columbia and Youngstown State.
FIU will travel to Fort Myers on Nov. 28 to play Florida Gulf Coast, which last season made the NCAA Tournament.
On Dec. 18, FIU will play perhaps its most high-profile home game of the season when it plays host to the American Athletic Conference’s South Florida Bulls.
Facing that schedule is a 13-player roster that includes three returning starters: 5-10 senior point guard Brian Beard, 6-5 junior shooting guard Trejon Jacob and 6-11 senior center Elhadji Dieng.
Beard, who averaged 16.4 points and was fifth in the nation in steals (2.9), is the headliner. He was also fifth in Conference USA in assists (5.7). He set school records for total steals and assists and made third-team All-C-USA.
Jacob started 29 games and finished second on the team in scoring (14.5) and rebounds (5.0).
“Those numbers should go up,” said Ballard, referencing Beard and Jacob getting more shots in FIU’s new fast-paced offense.
Dieng, who started 19 games last season, averaged just 1.2 points and 2.1 rebounds, and it remains to be seen if a post player will get much run in a guard-oriented system.
The No. 1 newcomer to watch for FIU this season appears to be Marcus Burwell, a 6-2 junior-college transfer who should put up points.
“He’s a versatile and exciting player who can score at all three levels,” Ballard said. “He has a great feel for the game, and he can pressure the ball, which is imperative for how we want to play.”
A late addition to the roster is 6-5 shooting guard Devon Andrews, who signed with Kent State out of high school and joins FIU from a junior college.
Cameron Corcoran, a 6-1 guard from Arkansas-Little Rock, also has potential but has to sit out this season as per NCAA transfer rules.
However, two freshmen — 6-1 point guard Antonio Daye and 6-4 wing Phillip Smith — will get their chances to contribute immediately.
“They are our first two freshmen signings,” Ballard said. “They are the bedrock of what we’re trying to build here.”
FIU’s men’s soccer team traveled to Jacksonville Sunday night and beat North Florida 5-3. It was just the sixth time in the past 10 years that FIU (3-5) has scored five or more goals in a match.
Santiago Patino, the reigning Conference USA Player of the Year, scored twice and has six goals this season. Joris Ahlinvi scored his fourth goal of the year, and the big surprise was junior Andrew Booth, who scored his first career goal and added three assists.