Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
As Men’s Basketball prepares for the Atlantic 10 tournament this weekend, there is a team in the Conference USA tournament this week that has many faces that Ram fans will recognize roaming the bench — Florida International.
FIU is headed by Jeremy Ballard, a former VCU assistant coach that served under both Shaka Smart and coach Mike Rhoades, in his first year at the helm of the Panthers.
Ballard’s staff includes four former Rams assistants: David Cason, Joey Rodriguez, Jesse Bopp and Zavier Anderson.
“We really brought that VCU flavor down here and that speaks to our love of the place and our love for the people that we worked with there,” Ballard said. “Joey [Rodriguez] and I, we both were there with coach Smart and with coach Rhoades as head coaches so we really got the whole gamut of experience of being at VCU.”
Rodriguez played at VCU from 2007-2011 starring on the team that made the run to the Final Four in 2011. He was VCU’s director of player development before leaving for FIU this season.
Cason was an assistant at VCU during the 2014-2015 season with Ballard and then followed Smart to Texas, where Cason coached for two years. Bopp coached on Broad Street from 2013-2015 alongside Ballard as well. Anderson was a graduate assistant from 2011-2013 for the Rams.
“My time at VCU was a formative time for me, and I really loved the things that I did in my two different stints at VCU,” Ballard said. “I loved what VCU was about and we are our own place down here. We’re FIU we’re not VCU, but we definitely VCU inspired in a lot of the ways that we do things here.”
The VCU-littered coaching staff used the Rams defense as an inspiration for the Panthers’ defense.
“Our full court pressure is something that we’ve certainly taken,” Ballard said. “We need to make some steals and turnovers for us, so we definitely brought the HAVOC full court pressure and trapping with us.”
The Panthers lead the C-USA this season in steals and turnovers at 10.6 and 19.7 a game, respectively.
Ballard improved FIU’s program in his first season as the Panthers logged their second winning season in the last 20 years and the third most wins in program history at 19.
FIU plays in the first round of the C-USA tournament March 13 at 9:30 p.m. against North Texas in Frisco, Texas.