For once in his post-playing career, Isiah Thomas might actually help a league he's joining.
After running the Continental Basketball Association and two NBA teams into the ground, Thomas accepted the coaching job at Florida International on Tuesday, making him the second big-name coach to join the conference recently.
"He's provided a lot of publicity for the Sun Belt the past couple days, which in this business is helpful. The more people talking about your conference the better," Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis said in a phone interview.
Jarvis would know. After guiding three teams to the NCAA tournament and amassing at least 100 wins at Boston, George Washington and St. John's, he returned to basketball to take the job of putting Florida Atlantic on the map.
When it comes to maps, FAU (Boca Raton) and FIU (west of Miami) are separated by about 50 miles in South Florida and when it comes to divvying up recruiting geography Jarvis says the Zeke Factor is a non-factor.
"Every school is different," he said. "I think schools recruit different kids and every school has different needs. I think the more kids looking at anybody in your conference the better."
The Panthers went 13-20 overall and 8-12 in the Sun Belt last season, including two wins against Jarvis' Owls. Thomas replaces Sergio Rouco, who was reassigned Monday after posting a losing record in each of his five seasons as coach. FIU finished fifth in the six-team Sun Belt East Division this past season, and averaged only 693 fans for its home games, which was one of the lowest totals in Division I.
It's a similar script to the one Jarvis inherited when taking over for Rex Walters, who bailed to San Francisco after two seasons with the Owls. It's not just about coaching and recruiting, it's about program creation. It's about dealing with commercial airline travel, setting up the appropriate "money games" (games in which BCS conference schools solicit smaller schools to come to their campus) and selling a community on attending games.
Those are all things Jarvis has a one-year head start on, and all things that should become easier for the conference now that it has two big-name coaches.
"FIU is in South Florida. That in and of itself, makes it just like us. FIU, like FAU, all the schools in Florida ... this is such a big state. There are so many athletes here. There are enough players for all of us and we don't all need the same players. If they're successful down there it helps us up here."
The AP contributed to this report