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ACC Preview #3 - Florida State

When Leonard Hamilton came to coach Florida State, we said it was striking
just how fast he was picking up talent, and that hasn't really slowed down:
Anthony Richardson, who was a coup for them as a freshman, may see his playing
time fall off sharply. He came in as a McDonald's All-American, for what
that's worth, and now could possibly be pushed down the bench. Who do they
have who is so good? Well, let's take a look.

FSU could be one of the toughest frontcourts around. Adam Walekowski
has proven himself as a genuine tough guy, and he'll get minutes because he
plays defense and rebounds. Alexander Johnson has the potential to be a
major force down low. As a freshman, he averaged 9.5 ppg and 4.2 rpg.
He'll likely get better fast. Diego Romero, a 6-10 native of Argentina,
was not allowed to play last year, but reportedly has a pretty complete package
of skills, with the international emphasis on total game skills to boot.
Andrew Wilson has struggled through injuries, but when he's healthy, he's a
really good shooter. Six-foot-seven soph Al Thornton will compete for minutes,
too. And Antonio Griffin may or may not turn out to be a great player, but
he comes with a 40" vertical, and that's not something you can pick up.

We're not saying Richardson will get screwed on minutes, but he's going to
have to earn everything he gets.

In the backcourt, at times last year, we were really impressed with Todd
Galloway and thought he could make an argument for starting. He'll continue to
improve. Ralph Mims, who played in Maine, has to step up a
competitive level (or two), but he's said to be a good combo guard. His
high school coach, Todd Hanson, said "In Ralph Mims, Florida State is
getting an extraordinary player. He has the ability and size to be successful at
Florida State - he is big, strong and quick. I believe he can be a prototypical
ACC point guard who is going to fit in well with what Coach Hamilton and his
staff are accomplishing at Florida State."

And then there's Isaiah Swann, who comes out of Hargrove. His coach,
Kevin Keatts, offers some extravagant praise: "Isaiah has the full package as a guard. He can do several things well on the court. He can shoot the ball well. He can pass the ball. He can run the
fast break. He's a lot like Steve Francis, who used to play for Maryland. He's a good combo guard who can do a lot of things on the
floor." FSU beat out Arizona and UConn to get him, which says a lot
about where the program stands.

Hopefully, he's a little sharper than Steve Francis, who got totally derailed
in his one visit to Cameron, where the crowd got in his head, and after refusing
to play in Vancouver, said "if the Lord wanted me in Vancouver, he'd put me
in Vancouver." But players
like Francis are rare, so even if he's an approximation, they have a pretty
tough trio, and we haven't even mentioned Von Wafer, who's going to be a serious
pain in the ass. A 6-5 guard, he's a legitimate talent with a possible NBA
future. He could be very, very dangerous.

Finally, there's freshman Jason Rich, whose high school coach, Anthony
Long, also has some nice things to say: "Jason Rich is the most
gifted basketball player I have ever coached. He has no weaknesses. What
separates him from others is that he can create his own shot at any time and he
has a mid-range game. He is very good shooting off the dribble and he has a good
pull-up jumper. He is such a good penetrator and has an explosive first step. He
is also a good defender. Jason will go down as the best player in school

So the talent level at FSU is sharply higher. The big question is how
to replace Tim Pickett, who was one of our favorite ACC players of recent years.

Pickett was a dynamic player, an emotional explosion waiting to happen.
When we think of FSU players we really admire, we think of Charlie Ward
first. There have been a couple of others, but no one who really stands
out, until Pickett. He's the player, in a sense, Rashad McCants should be.

It goes without saying that Leonard Hamilton's teams play tough defense, and
as long as everyone buys in, the talent is there to be a stifling defensive
group. If it's a traditional approach, Johnson is big and strong enough to
control a fair amount of territory inside, and Griffin, with a 40"
vertical, could obviously help out. Richardson has become a solid defender,
too, and if they get good work out of Thornton and Romero, they are going to be
extremely tough to score against.

Offensively, they could opt to run Rivera and Johnson in a high-low double
post, and both players are pretty well suited to their respective roles.
With Wafer, Galloway, Swann, Mims, Rich, Wilson, Thornton, Waleskowski, and
Richardson as options (and let's assume that Mims and Rich need a bit of
seasoning), Hamilton has a lot of elements to play with, and a lot of talent,

The biggest questions we have, aside from replacing the intangibles Pickett
brought to the table, are the inexperience of the team and how they'll
mesh. Richardson and Walekowski are the only seniors. Andrew Wilson and
Todd Galloway are natural juniors, though Wilson has been injury-prone. Griffin
and Romero are JUCO transfers, juniors who haven't played ACC ball.

So three freshmen and two JUCOs have no experience at all in the
conference, three sophomores have one year, one junior has been a gimp,
and only one of the four experienced players has started much in his career, and
that may run out now. That's a problem, but when most of them are highly
regarded, it's not a bad problem.

Expect this team to build around defense, as Hamilton always does, and wait
for a couple of months for the offensive parts to come together. But this
could be, potentially, the best team Florida State has put on the floor since
they went to the Final Four. Could they do it now? You can't bet on
it - if you did, you ought to be shot - but you could see this group getting hot
at the right time and making a deep run, and once that starts, after a tough
season in a hyper-competitive conference, you never know.