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Gober Previews FSU!

When Leonard Hamilton became the Coach of the Florida State Seminoles (-1.4 ppg, -1.4 rpg, -0.3 apg, 3.2 bpg, 45.2% fg, 35.9% 3-fg, 6.5 3-fg made/g, 66.5% ft, -41 ft attempts, +3 blocks, +0.1 b/g, -35 steals, -1.1 s/g, -1.4 to/g, 0.8 a/t, opponents: 43% fg, 33.8% 3-fg, 7.4 3-fg made/g, 0.9 a/t)at the start of the 2002-2003 season, he inherited a floundering basketball program that could be described as genuinely awful by ACC standards. Perhaps not since Chief Osceola himself led the war machine of the Seminole people of Florida, however, was there someone better suited to lead the tribe into ACC roundball battles.

If anyone is qualified to develop college hoops interest and optimism among fans at a school renowned for its football, baseball and hot co-eds, Coach Hamilton certainly seems to be the guy.

Hamilton’s resumé includes an NCAA title at the expense of Duke while an Assistant Coach at Kentucky in 1978, the honor of becoming the first Associate Head Coach at Kentucky, being the leader of the revival of the Oklahoma State program which achieved the Cowboys’ first consecutive post-season appearances in 35 years, selection as the National Coach of the Year and two-time Big East Coach of the Year while at Miami, a top-10 national ranking at Miami for the first time since Rick Barry played for the Hurricanes 38 years previously and averaged 29.8 ppg, consecutive 20-win seasons at Miami for the first time in 35 years, 3 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the Canes, including Miami’s only Sweet 16 appearance, and NBA experience, though awful, as Coach of the Washington Wizards.

In the three seasons before Coach Hamilton arrived in Tallahassee, the Seminoles posted a pitiful 14-34 record in conference play under Hamilton’s predecessor, Steve Robinson. The Paul Harvey
rest of the story though is that the Seminoles have finished the exact same pitiful 14-34 in conference play in the three seasons since Coach Hamilton became Robinson’s successor. “And the last time I walked in the swamp, I sat upon a Cypress stump, I listened close and I heard the ghost, of Osceola cry.” (John Anderson, “Seminole Wind” 1992).

Coach Leonard Hamilton has continued his historically outstanding work as a recruiter of blue chip basketball talent, but FSU continues to struggle to get into the ACC’s competitive mix of teams fighting for position in the middle of the conference standings.

Meanwhile, Steve Robinson landed a job as Assistant Coach at a different sort of ACC school, where excellence in college hoops is the standard and football takes a back seat, and Robinson now has as many NCAA Champion rings as an Assistant Coach as Hamilton following the 2005 title game won by Robinson’s Tar Heels.

As the 2005-2006 season approaches, Florida State’s roster contains a full complement of freshmen through seniors recruited by Hamilton. As always though, the roster also includes 6-6 6th-year senior and double-redshirt WF Andrew Wilson (3.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.8 a/t, 35.4% fg, 35.5% 3-fg, 73.7% ft), a marginal starter who apparently will never leave FSU.

Given his other statistics, Wilson would not see much playing time, but his 1.8 assists-to-turnovers ratio led the Noles by a wide margin last season. That particular statistic suggests excellence in ball-handling and passing that
indicates that Wilson has a better understanding of the game than his more talented teammates.

When the Noles’ roster is compared with the rosters of other ACC schools, any doubt about whether Coach
Hamilton can recruit ACC-caliber players to a football, baseball and hot co-eds school is erased completely. Entering his fourth season, Hamilton has brought in 5 prospects ranked in the top-50 by Prep Stars in addition to some highly regarded JUCO talent.

Even though Hamilton’s only McDonald’s All-American, Vakeaton “Von” Wafer (12.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1 spg, 1.0 a/t, 43.7% fg, 39.6% 3-fg, 72.1% ft, NBA Draft Pick # 39), has departed for the NBA, leaving FSU with 4 top-50 ranked recruits on its roster, only Maryland, which lost John Gilchrist to the NBA Draft, and NC State, with their 4 players each, can match FSU’s 4 top-50 rated recruits on their 2005-2006 rosters.

Of course, Duke, with 14 top-50 recruits in the past 4 seasons and UNC with 12 are in a league of their own when it comes to recruiting. Duke and UNC have retained 9 and 6 players, respectively, for their 2005-2006 rosters. The remaining 7 ACC schools have recruited 4 (Georgia Tech), 2 (Wake Forest), 1 (Virginia and VA Tech), or 0 (Clemson, Miami and Boston College) top-50 prospects in the past four seasons. Georgia Tech will have 2 remaining top-50 recruits on its roster, and Wake and Virginia will have 1 each next season, but VA Tech’s only top-50 recruit has departed.

For the Seminoles, there is plenty of talent to put together a competitive ACC team and challenge for a place in the upper half of the ACC standings in 2005-2006. The jury is still out though on whether the musical chairs system utilized at FSU to determine who takes the seats on the bench from game to game will ever result in the development of a reasonably cohesive ACC team.

Since Coach Hamilton’s greatest success has come when his teams played great defense, as in 1997-98 when Miami ranked No. 1 in the nation in field goal percentage defense, it is easy to imagine that the FSU lineup changes reflect performances by players on defense. Defensively, the Seminoles appear to have the greatest potential for improvement in the frontcourt.

6-8 freshman PF Uche Echefu (Prep Stars # 46) and 6-8 freshman PF Ryan Reid (Prep Stars # 156) are known for toughness, aggressiveness and rebounding. Though Echefu has played only three seasons of organized basketball, the Lagos, Nigeria native will provide something FSU did not have last season, i.e. quickness, speed and agility in a post player. Echefu also is reputed to have a nice shot away from the basket and his potential is outstanding.

The loss of 6-8 senior PF Adam Waleskowski (8.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.4 a/t, 49.2% fg, 42% 3-fg, 74.4% ft) may be most notable in terms of perimeter shooting, since he led FSU in shooting percentage from beyond the 3-point arc, but there are players available to replace Waleskowski inside.

6-10 rising junior C Alexander Johnson (6.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.2 a/t, 45.5% fg, 33.3% 3-fg, 57.5% ft) appeared to be hampered last season by a self-inflicted lack of conditioning, and 6-10 senior JUCO transfer PF Diego Romero (3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.5 a/t, 48.2% fg, 35.3% 3-fg, 56.4% ft) from Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, appeared extremely sloth-like while suffering through tendinitis in his right knee that prevented him too from getting in playing shape.

If everyone is healthy and well-conditioned, Johnson and Romero are likely to start at C and PF for FSU. Still, Echefu will get plenty of minutes though and have the opportunity to take lots of their playing time and perhaps even a starting spot if Johnson and Romero do not show marked improvement in their mobility and fitness. Reid will provide needed depth to an ACC frontcourt that compares favorably in most respects with the better frontcourts in the ACC when fit and healthy.

In the backcourt, FSU appears to be stronger than it is at the big guy positions. Even with the loss of its top scorer, Vakeaton “Von” Wafer, the sophomore class provides the backcourt of the future in 6-3 2G Jason Rich (5.4 ppg, 1.5 apg, 1.3 a/t, 41% fg, 22.2% 3-fg, 70.7% ft) and 6-1 2G Isaiah “Zeke” Swann (5.2 ppg, 2.0 apg, 0.8 a/t, 41.7% fg, 33.3% 3-fg, 75.7% ft), both of whom showed decent potential in their first season against a tough lineup of ACC guards.

5-11 senior PG Todd Galloway (6.1 ppg, 3 apg, 1.3 a/t, 43% fg, 35.8% 3-fg, 66% ft) appears to hold down the starting PG position for the Noles due in part to the fact that neither Rich nor Swann is a true PG. Rich is the most likely candidate to be the starting 2G, but his outside shooting must improve to keep others from taking many of his 2G minutes.

6-4 junior 2G JUCO recruit Jerel Allen has been described as an outside scoring threat and strong perimeter defender, and 6-2 soph Ralph Mims (2.8 ppg, 1.4 a/t, 34.8% fg, 25% 3-fg, 85.3% ft) was recognized as a solid defender in his initial season at FSU. Mims’ shooting from the foul line suggests that he may be able to help with the Noles’ weak outside shooting, but Rich and Swann got far more of the minutes played by FSU’s three freshman guards last season.

Given that defense is a key to playing time for Coach Hamilton, Allen and Mims may see their fair share of action, especially if Rich and Swann do not significantly increase their offensive contributions as expected. Though Galloway should retain his role as the starter for the Noles at PG, Swann and Rich are likely to see increased playing time and be the key to the Seminoles’ ability to compete against the top ACC backcourts.

On the wing, 6-7 junior WF Al Thornton (9.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.5 a/t, 54.3% fg, 28.6% 3-fg, 53.8% ft) showed the potential to be a solid ACC player if he can play consistently well on both ends of the court and improve his outside shooting.

In Thornton’s final six games last season, the quick and skilled WF averaged 14 ppg while playing only 18 minute per game. Though Thornton played with far more flair and caused much more offensive excitement, Andrew Wilson got far more starting assignments due to his willingness to play tough defense and his grasp of the team’s offensive and defensive systems.

6-6 senior JUCO recruit WF Antonio Griffin (3.1 ppg, 50 min, 50% fg, 60% 3-fg (3 for 5), 33.3% ft) never worked his way into the mix at WF and proved to be a disappointing JUCO recruit before his transfer from FSU following last season.

6-7 freshman WF Cassan Breeden (Prep Stars # 114) may have the ability to challenge Wilson and Thornton for playing time at WF right away. In any event, Breeden is likely to get the opportunity to contribute during his freshman season.

Unless Jerel Allen is another JUCO surprise for FSU in the Tim Pickett mold, the most talented lineup for the Seminoles will include Johnson, Echefu, Thornton, Rich and Swann. The likely starting lineup, however, will have Romero, Wilson and Galloway joining Johnson and Rich.

Given the liberal way Hamilton employs his bench players though, all of these players plus Allen and Breeden should see significant minutes, and Mims and Reid will play some.

Even though the Seminoles may have lost marginally more talent from last season’s team than they have coming in next season, the extra year of experience for returning players and a down year in the overall talent level of the ACC spell the opportunity for Coach Hamilton to give the Ghost of Chief Osceola one less reason to cry about the state of the FSU basketball program. Given the favorable blend of talented players at FSU, and the yet to be established in the ACC but well-known fact that Leonard Hamilton can coach, FSU is more likely to climb into the mix of teams just below the middle of the conference than to remain at or near the bottom.

Indeed, this coming season presents the best opportunity, and perhaps the last opportunity for some time, for the Noles of successor Coach Hamilton to finish ahead of the Heels of predecessor Coach Robinson. With a six-year average of fewer that 5 wins per season, however, it is most unlikely that FSU will rise much above the middle of the tight pack of teams competing for the upper division of the ACC or achieve a winning conference record next season.