FIU to play UNC as scheduled

MIAMI -- Isiah Thomas' last game as a college player was against North Carolina, when he and the Indiana Hoosiers won the 1981 national championship.

A week of uncertainty now over, his first game as a college coach will be against the Tar Heels as well.

FIU decided Tuesday to play North Carolina as scheduled Nov. 9 in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament, ending several uneasy days where the Golden Panthers were so displeased with the matchup that they considered pulling out of the event entirely. For months, FIU worked under the assumption that it would play Ohio State in the opening round.

Instead, Thomas' FIU debut comes against the defending national champion Tar Heels. The Hall of Fame player still isn't sure how many players he'll have on the roster and might not have anyone over 6-foot-7, but called the chance to help raise money for cancer research "the greater good."

"Now we can respond in a more sensible way that says this is something that can benefit all of us," Thomas said. "So we're really looking forward to that night. We want to teach our students and our student-athletes that it's not always going to be an easy walk. Sometimes you have to take some painful steps."

FIU signed a contract last November, five months before hiring Thomas, saying it would play Ohio State or North Carolina in the first game, at the Gazelle Group's discretion. Still, FIU was taken aback when the schedule saying it would play the Tar Heels was released last week.

The Gazelle Group, which operates the event, said it was pleased to see the chapter closed.

"Everyone involved looks forward to a great game," Gazelle Group president Rick Giles said. "Initially there was a misunderstanding that created some confusion but after some review, everyone realized FIU's important role."

For several days, the Gazelle Group and FIU discussed most possible scenarios, including removing the Golden Panthers from the field. Several schools expressed interest in replacing FIU, but the fact that the Golden Panthers are a subregional tournament host -- James Madison, Murray State and North Carolina Central each coming to Miami to play three games from Nov. 20-23 -- added another layer of difficulty.

In the end, FIU agreed to drop its objections to the schedule switch.

"We're proud to be invited," Thomas said.