MIAMI (AP) " Isiah Thomas sat in his new gym for an hour, at one point turning his gaze toward the Florida International players he'll now coach.
"There'll be a lot of ups," Thomas said, almost in a cautionary tone. "There'll be a lot of downs."
He's experienced plenty of both, of course.
Without the ups, FIU wouldn't have wanted Thomas.
Without the downs, Thomas wouldn't have needed FIU.
And so begins a surprising basketball marriage that got under way Wednesday when Thomas was introduced as FIU's new coach, three days shy of the 1-year anniversary of his firing as coach of the New York Knicks. Thomas will not accept a salary in his first season, instead donating that money back to FIU, and will earn somewhere around $275,000 in the final four years of his deal.
That doesn't count the $12 million or so the Knicks will continue paying him over the next two years.
"I did not come here for the money," Thomas said.
Instead, he'll have a chance to rebuild his tarnished Hall of Fame image.
Thomas wants to move past the problems that marred his tenure with the Knicks, such as being the central figure in a sexual harassment lawsuit and, according to authorities, being found unconscious in his New York-area home last fall after someone at the residence called 911 to report someone overdosed on sleeping pills.
He was asked more than once about those events, never offering specific details on either.
Instead, he said few people in the sports and entertainment world stay on the mountaintop for long, even citing Prince and Michael Jackson as examples.
"When you rise all the way to the top of your profession, no matter who you are, the journey to the top is great," Thomas said. "And then you've got to come down."
So he came down to FIU and a program that went 13-20 this past season, has lost 20 games in three of its last four years, and made its lone appearance in the NCAA tournament 14 years ago. There's 42 banners swaying in FIU's gymnasium and only two have anything to do with men's basketball.
"I like taking something from the bottom and trying to build it to the top," Thomas said. "There's a lot of risk in that and there is a lot of reward in that."
Thomas, a Hall of Fame inductee after a stellar playing career with the Detroit Pistons, coached the Indiana Pacers for three seasons, making the playoffs each time. He had two losing seasons in New York, and his career record in the NBA is 187-223.
"I've had three successful seasons and two losing seasons," Thomas said. "So I would say that I'm up."
Still, he acknowledged disappointment with his time in New York.
The Knicks never won a playoff game in his tenure as president or coach, and some of his personnel moves were disasterous.
"My regret is that I wasn't able to deliver what the people in New York wanted, and they want a championship," Thomas said. "A lot of us have tried. ... I couldn't get it done."
FIU has "no doubt," athletic director Pete Garcia said, that Thomas can get it done now.
Thomas arrived outside FIU's basketball arena at 10:25 a.m. Wednesday, about an hour before his introductory news conference began, riding passenger in a sleek black Mercedes. Even before he could get out of the car, three well-wishers couldn't wait to greet him.
"Hey! There he is!" shouted one of the men, all of whom got handshakes from Thomas before the car pulled into a parking space.
"It's a landmark day in our history," Garcia said.
Nonetheless, Garcia was dogged by questions about Thomas' history, specifically the 2007 case where a jury ordered Knicks owner Madison Square Garden to pay $11.6 million to a former team executive who alleged she was sexually harassed by Thomas, who continually maintained his innocence and was never found personally liable.
"It's safe to say the last two years have definitely taken a toll on my family," Thomas said. "Again, I'm extremely comfortable, and I think the university is comfortable in their findings and what were the facts of the case. It was two years ago. It was a heavy toll and price on my family. But I think all of us are comfortable with the people we are and what we stand for."
Garcia said FIU investigated Thomas, but would not say what he found or who he spoke with.
"I know Isiah Thomas," Garcia said. "And I guarantee you one thing, we are getting a great human being."
Garcia also denied that FIU targeted Thomas just to make a splash.
FIU, which plays in the Sun Belt Conference, last saw its athletic department in this sort of national spotlight three years ago, when the Golden Panthers were involved in an on-field football melee with crosstown rival Miami.
But this attention, Garcia acknowledged, is a nice perk.
"I know for a fact that FIU has been talked about more in the last 48 hours than it has in the last 30 years," Garcia said.
Thomas will face some immediate challenges.
The spring Division I signing period started Wednesday, and FIU will face a daunting task in trying to find players to fill roster holes right away. Thomas also will have to hire a staff " former Miami Heat guard Tim Hardaway is expected to be a candidate for an assistant-coach job " and get to know his new team, all in a relatively short amount of time.
"I've had my ups and downs," Thomas said. "But don't expect me to just stay down, because that's not happening."