MIAMI — Some of Isiah Thomas’ former players at Florida International say they want to play elsewhere because of his firing, and that the school is refusing to release them from their scholarships.
The team sent a letter Wednesday to FIU president Mark Rosenberg and other administrators, asking for help in getting those releases and for an explanation why the Basketball Hall of Fame player was fired.
FIU fired Thomas last week after he went 26-65 in three seasons, saying it wanted to go “in a different direction.” Thomas had two years remaining on his contract.
“We ask that under such circumstances with our mentor being fired you to give us the freedom of choice to ‘move in another direction,’” said the letter, which carried the signature “FIU men’s basketball team” and was e-mailed to Rosenberg and others by DeJuan Wright, who led the Panthers in scoring this past season. “Please help us receive our athletic ‘releases’ so that we can find a coach and program which will be a good fit in our growth.”
The letter continues that while the players still believe FIU is “a fine university,” they chose the school so they could play for Thomas.
FIU did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the letter, a copy of which was also addressed to Pete Garcia, the school’s director of sports and entertainment.
The letter is the second way in which Thomas’ former players have voiced their displeasure with the firing in recent days. Members of the team silently walked out of an athletic department banquet on Monday night immediately before the season’s basketball award winners were to be announced.
Players have drawn a parallel between how Thomas’ situation was handled at FIU and how the school where he played his college basketball, Indiana, handled its recent rebuilding under Tom Crean. In his first three seasons with the Hoosiers, Crean was 28-66 — and then, bolstered by some strong recruiting classes, went 27-9 this season.
Thomas had verbal commitments from four of Florida’s top 50 players, and said he expected next season to be a breakthrough for FIU.
When Thomas was fired last week, police escorted him out of the building not long afterward, something else that resonated with his team.
“We also ask someone to look into why Coach Thomas and his staff had to be humiliated by being told they were fired and to pack their belongings immediately and with no explanation of what was going on in front of our team and other FIU staff members,” the letter said. “It was quite embarrassing for us to witness and hurtful, they deserved a better way to leave, it is already embarrassing being fired.”