Mon Aug 10 03:18pm EDT
This weekend, while I was in South Carolina celebrating a friend's wedding by golfing, imbibing, and adopting a not-annoying-at-all-I'm-sure faux-Southern accent (d'y'all know that lots of people say y'all in South Carolina?), Isiah Thomas had his best day as a college basketball coach to date. He landed a commitment from Dominque Ferguson, the No. 23-ranked player in the class of 2010 and the No. 6-ranked power forward in that class.
This is a major coup for Thomas, not just because Ferguson is talented but because he's being pursued by other more notable schools. Ferguson had interest, if not always offers, from Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Memphis, and down the line. He'd already committed and decommitted from Kentucky. And while he has his fair share of questionable traits -- "athletic and academic issues" is a nice way of putting it -- there's no question Ferguson is a major talent that could have thrived at places with far higher profiles than Florida International.
So how did Isiah get him? This is where the rumor and innuendo comes in. When Thomas was hired, there was an undercurrent of "how long until Zeke gets investigated by the NCAA" all over the place, and given Thomas's penchant for screwing up just about everything he touches, that makes sense. Now's much the same. Zeke has landed that first big recruit -- a recruit like Ferguson would never think about FIU under any normal circumstances -- and there is a perfectly normal, human impulse to assume that Thomas is already offering more than scholarships to the nation's top talent.
But here's where we should probably draw a line. Here's fairness: Just because Isiah Thomas has been historically aggressively horrendous in his professional life doesn't make him a cheater. It doesn't mean he's going to flout the NCAA rules. It just means he's inept. That ineptitude might lead FIU down a dirty path, but it also might mean that Thomas was just bad at his pro job.
There are other reasons why recruits would be attracted to FIU. Thomas is a high-profile guy. He has NBA connections. He can credibly assert that he knows what it takes to get a recruit to the pros. He an offer a player what so few major programs can: a chance to be the centerpiece in a revival.
There are theoretically lots of reasons why Isiah Thomas can recruit with the big boys. For now, until Thomas gives us reason to think otherwise, we ought to assume he's doing things the "right" way. He may be a dolt, but he deserves that much.
Besides, if Zeke does screw up, it's been proven he's not remotely a criminal or business-cover-up mastermind. We'd find out soon enough. Until then, let's bit our tongues, eh?