Florida International preview is up.
Florida International coach Sergio Rouco may be the most entertaining figure in the Sun Belt. Standing about 5'7", he is not what you think of when you hear the word basketball. His demeanor changes from game to game...ranging from jacket removing, neck-tie loosening, floor stomping rage to talking to the crowd about what to do after the game complete apathy. His relationship with his players is just as unstable...last year losing two starting guards around Christmas.
PG. Michael James 5'9" 160 Sr.
SG. Kenneth White 6'2" 200 Jr.
SF. Chris Fuller 6'5" 191 Sr.
PF. Alex Galindo 6'7" 220 Jr.
C. Russell Hicks 7'0" 235 Jr.
Frontcourt: Alex Galindo (6'7" 220 Jr.) was a top 50 national recruit out of high school, origanally committing to UTEP, but signing with Kansas in 2004, playing 23 games as a freshman and averaging 4.3 points per contest. In his first season with the Panthers, Galindo lead the team in scoring and rebounding (13.9ppg, 5.9rpg) despite being forced to play frequently out of position at the 4. Galindo also led the team in personal fouls (3.2/game) and fouled out 6 times trying to guard larger and stronger opponents. Galindo was touted as a terrific 3-pt shooter, however he struggled in his first year in Miami, shooting just 35% from the 19'9". FIU's success may hinge on the contribution of some young PFs and Cs, which could free Galindo to play the wing. Russell Hicks (7'0" 235 Jr.) is the only seven footer in the Sun Belt and should slide right into the Panther starting line-up. The Pepperdine transfer made the West Coast Conference all freshman team in 2004-05, and averaged 5.0 points and 1.0 blocks as a sophomore for the Waves. FIU has sorely lacked a post presence during Rouco's tenure, last year starting the departed, perimeter oriented Facundo Georgi (6'8" 230) at the start of last season, before Georgi was knocked out for the season due to injury. Georgi's role fell to two true freshmen, who hope to make larger contributions in the 07-08 campaign. Cedric Essola (6'8" 220), a member of the Cameroon Under-20 team, made nine starts last season, averaging 3.0 points and 2.4 rebounds per contest. Nikola Gacesa (6'9" 230) helps make sure International remain a part of FIU. The Serbian is similar to Georgi in that he prefers to play on the perimeter, but was pressed into a more physical role last season. Gacesa did shoot 45% from 3 last season and will be looking to add to his 4.0 / game scoring average. JUCO transfer Badara N'Diaye (6'11" 230 Jr.) will eat space and minutes at post, and former (current?) walk-ons Marlon Bright (6'5" 225 Jr.) and Brad Larson (6'5" 210 Jr.) provided solid minutes last season in reserve.
Backcourt: In the guard oriented Sun Belt, FIU will be counting on mostly unproven commodities to man their backcourt. 3 of their top for scoring guards are gone. Graduated is Johwen Vilegas (12.9ppg) and Elvis Lora (8.4ppg, 3.1apg) and DeJon Prejan (10.3ppg) left the team around Christmas. Chris Fuller (6'5" 191 Sr.) returns. Fuller led FIU in steals (38) and will be the second leading returning scorer (10.7ppg). Texas A&M transfer Kenneth White (6'2" 200 Jr.), a highly-touted product of Dallas Molina, saw little action in a crowded Aggie backcourt. White is a combo guard who scored in bunches in high school and will be counted on to be a major offensive contributor. Michael James (5'9" 160 Sr.) and Erick Nsangou (5'11" 195 Soph.) shared time at the point last season. James, a product of the storied Oak Hill academy, is a pure point guard who had averaged a solid 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. Nsangou is more of a scorer (5.3ppg, 42% fg) and performed well after being pressed into service following Elvis Lora's departure. The future of the FIU backcourt looks bright with the signings of Tremayne Russell (6'2" 175) and Josou Soto (6'1"165 Soph.). Russell was an all state performer as a senior in Florida in 2005-2006 and prepped last season at the renowned Maine Central Institute. Soto was the 2006 Gatorade Florida player of the year and signed and played with Florida State last season before transferring to FIU in March 2007. Soto saw action in just 13 of the Noles games last season and left the program wanting to find a place he could make a larger contribution. He's being favorably compared to former FIU standout Carlos Arroyo.
Summary: The talent level in Miami is increasing...and the 2008-2009 potential nucleus of Galindo, Hicks, White, Russell and Soto has to have Panther fans excited. If Rouco can find a way to play Galindo on the wing, he should average 20. If Kenneth White reverts to his Dallas Molina form that made him one of the best guard prospects in Texas, he has the chance to be SBC newcomer of the year. FIU is a team full of if's, more than most, and its questionable if Rouco can convert those ifs into wins. FIU will once again be near the basement of a deep SBC East, but if Rouco can maintain his underclassmen, the Panthers have more competitive days ahead of them.