Florida International U

FIU men’s basketball preview: Panthers hope for successful retooling of frontcourt

Anthony Evans spent his first season as FIU men’s basketball coach trying to install his kind of culture, as most new coaches do. Now, Evans hopes that installation survives a frontcourt overhaul from last year’s 15-16 season.

Starting forwards and top two scorers Tymell Murphy and Rakeem Buckles graduated. Murphy’s now with the NBA Developmental League’s Canton franchise. Forward Jerome Frink and his 6-9 height transferred to Long Island University-Brooklyn. In Frink’s place, in a few games if not immediately, will be 6-11 former Hialeah-Miami Lakes High star Adrian Diaz, who transferred from Kansas State.

“He gives us a low-post presence, offensively and defensively,” Evans said. “When we can get him the ball, we’ll do that. But him sitting out a year, obviously, he’s going to get back in game shape because we’ve had only a couple of game-like situations for him. That’s going to be the biggest part of him getting back into a rhythm. He’s a talented kid, and he’ll be able to help us.”

Diaz said he returned home because, “I was homesick. I just wanted to come back to play a bigger role.”

The starting backcourt of senior shooting guard Dennis Mavin and either junior Cody Mann or sophomore Jason Boswell at point guard remains. Also, Tashawn Desir, a 5-10 junior college All-American guard from Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, should get into the playing-time mix.

“We’re deeper than last year,” said Mavin, who averaged 11.8 points per game and led the team in free throws with 198. “Last year, I feel like we had six or seven strong. This year, we can go more eight or nine guys deep. That’ll help a lot.”

As for whether or not that’ll permit the Panthers to play the high tempo, ball-pressuring defense Evans prefers, the coach said, “I’m hoping it allows that. And at least keep guys a little fresher so when we need certain things done offensively and defensively, we can do that. Last year, there were times we had lineups in for an extended period of time because we didn’t have the depth.”

“Obviously losing Rakeem and Tymell are huge losses for us, but hopefully with the collection of guys, we can make up for that production.”

Evans got, essentially, a coaching redshirt season his first year at FIU. NCAA sanctions banned FIU from all postseason play.

So, Evans tried “to establish a culture of things that we’re going to do to be successful. How we practice, how we prepare were what I tried to implement last year to help us now. We always talk about ‘the process.’ The process of how we do things, not just doing them. Coming to practice, giving 100 percent every single day, even if you’re tired. Going to class, doing the things that are necessary to be successful on and off the floor.”

He thinks he accomplished that.

“I think the APR would be an indication of that,” Evans said. “We were successful in improving that. Everybody we had as a senior graduated. So we want to continue those things. The younger guys knowing that will help. Dennis being there last year he saw some success and he’ll help to carry that over to this year.”

Still, Mavin said knowing the Conference USA tournament’s in their future, “We know we get to play for something, so it’s more meaningful this time around. Last year, after the season, that was just it. It inspires the guys to go that much harder because we’ve got something to play for.”

FIU men’s basketball

Coach: Anthony Evans.

Last season: 15-16 overall, 7-9 in Conference USA

Top players: Dennis Mavin, (6-3, Sr., SG); Cody Mann (6-0, Jr., PG), Adrian Diaz (6-11, Jr., F) Noteworthy: The Panthers averaged 7.1 steals per game last season, a number that should increase this season. Expect FIU to play a high tempo, pressure-heavy defense.

Friday: Florida College vs. FIU

When/where: 7:30 p.m., FIU Arena.

TV: PantherVision at http://www.fiusports.com

Records: Florida College is 0-1. FIU is 0-0.

Of note: For the second year in a row, FIU opens at home against Florida College, a United States College Athletic Association Division II school in sports. The Panthers rolled 85-39 last year.