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Thomas ready to roll up his sleeves at FIU

Former New York Knicks head coach Isiah Thomas points to a malfunctioning scoreboard during their NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Oregon, in this February 1, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Richard Clement/Files

MIAMI (Reuters) - Isiah Thomas is relishing the difficult challenge of coaching struggling Florida International University, the 12-times NBA All-Star said on Wednesday.

The Hall of Famer signed a five-year contract to coach Florida International, a mid-major school which has reached the NCAA Tournament only once, in 1995, and lost in the first round.

“I like rolling up my sleeves,” Thomas told a news conference. “I like taking something from the bottom and trying to build it to the top.

“There’s a lot of risk in that. And there a lot of reward in that.”

Thomas was fired a year ago as coach and president of the New York Knicks after four losing seasons during which he failed to re-energize one of the NBA’s marquee teams.

Thomas said he was ready to work hard at Florida International, which has not had a winning season since 1999-2000.

“I grew up on the west side of Chicago,” he said. “And I came from nothing. We were below the poverty line. So I understand what it’s like to work hard and what it feels like not to eat.”

Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Ed Osmond