Talking Expansion

Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton met with members of the media Thursday morning to chat about a number of subjects ranging from recruiting to ACC expansion. In this first of two installments, Hamilton talks about his team as well as his thoughts on the ACC's decision to expand to 12 teams, casting an eye specifically on the University of Miami. "There's a lot of issues on the table for a lot of people. But I think it's all good. ..." Hamilton said.

Opening Comments

"We haven't had a chance to meet (with the press) and discuss the season. I kind of wanted, at some point in time, to kind of recap the season, and talk about where I think we are, and where I think we finished up. Obviously, we have some recruiting news that we would like to cover, and answer any questions you guys might have – as much as I can – about what's going on with the (ACC) expansion.

"As we look back on the season, coming into the year, I think a lot of us really didn't know exactly what to expect from a player standpoint, from a coaching standpoint. We realized that we had talent. Our guys seemed a little anxious, didn't quite understand exactly what our approach would be, and how we could relate. I think it was very difficult for our players early. A different system, new coaches, a lot of different things were going on, and it wasn't easy for them. Our practices were very, very long. We recognized that some of the things – we had to make adjustments in our teaching methods, because early on, we actually probably taught too much. We realized that it was going to be difficult for us to pick up our motion offense. So we tried to teach a lot of things offensively that we thought would kind of bridge that gap, until we became more efficient in the style of ball we wanted to play. That kind of – I'm not sure it backfired on us, but we weren't very good at running motion, and we weren't very good at running our sets. So we had to make some adjustments in our teaching. We taught a little less, spent a little more time trying to make sure we did some things well. I thought we continued to make progress. I was pleased with the adjustment we had to make.

"The thing that I was most impressed with this team, as I look back on the season, was that in the last game, as disappointed as we were when we lost to Wake Forest, when I went into the locker room, there were so many guys that had tears in their eyes, and that were so emotional about the loss. Not that they had a defeatist attitude. They were disappointed because they felt that we had a chance to win the game, and were not successful. That was a tremendous accomplishment, from starting off in the beginning of the season, not really knowing what direction we're going in, and then at the end of the year, playing the team that won the regular-season conference (title), and feeling that you very well could have won or should have won the game. That just shows that our guys had bought in; they believe in ourselves, believe in our system. We have a tremendous relationship that seems to be growing. The fact that they're in our offices so much, they come by to see us, and we talk. We can have a relationship that's growing off the court as well as on the court. That's probably the area that I feel we made the most progress in, developing relationships. That's what it's going to take for the upcoming season, more than anything else. As we look at the influx of the new players that we have coming in, we're going to need that type of camaraderie and togetherness and synergy to help us through next season."

Q: You spent some time in the Big East. What happens to the Big East if expansion goes through?

"I think that when you put all these different great minds together, that this thing is going to work itself out. Sometimes people who are resistant to change, especially coaches – I know you all have called us paranoid at some point in time. We are always trying to protect certain positions. I think that just like they've made adjustments in the past, other conferences have made adjustments and moved on, I see no reason why, if the Big East is put in a situation where they have to make an adjustment, they're an outstanding conference. They've got plenty of schools that would like to be a part of it. I'm not real sure that's not going to be something that they can't adjust to."

Q: Some of the ACC coaches were strongly opposed to expansion. What was the mood of the coaches at last week's meetings?

"Let's just be realistic. Regardless of whether you're a basketball coach, or you're in the business world, when you have things pretty well in order, and they're going smooth for you, and they're pretty well in order, then maybe you might be a little more resistant to change. You guys are reporters. If all of a sudden, so-and-so wants to come in and buy your newspaper, you'd get a little unsettled by that, because now you're concerned about what's going to happen. I think that we're somewhat selfish as coaches. If we are comfortable with our status, and our position, we like to protect it. When Miami joined the Big East, I didn't worry about travel. Do you realize how difficult it was for travel, nine times to go back and forth (from Miami to the Northeast)? Whereas now, I'm hearing people saying, ‘Gosh, I've got to go down to North Carolina? I've got to travel?' I'm saying, in my position, not having been affiliated with a conference (at Miami before the Hurricanes joined the Big East), I was looking at that as an opportunity. Now those guys, who are comfortable with getting in a bus and riding an hour and a half and playing a game and getting back tonight, they're sayingt ‘Oh my goodness!' I'm saying, beauty's sometimes in the eyes of the beholder. As I look at this, you have to look at the overall picture. Is this going to be in the best interest of the ACC? I can't speak as much to the Big East as I can the ACC. If this is in the interest of everybody, all sports, to have a potential league (change) to deal with the future, we're going to have to make that adjustment. Now, is that going to be a perfect scenario for everybody? No, it's not. Will some rivals be changed? Yes. For instance, when I went to the Big East, who would have thought that Miami would be the game that CBS wanted for national TV? The Connecticut-Miami game? Who would have thought that the Miami-St. John's game would have been packing Madison Square Garden? At the time, we played our games on St. John's campus and didn't feel it. But once we became more competitive, the competitiveness of the situation created those rivalries. I'm sure right now it's difficult for people to have that kind of vision. Right now, you might not say that Florida State is a rival of certain schools.

"But if we keep improving, and we become more competitive, then we develop those type of rivals. I hope that that's what we're going to do. I don't think it's anything to be overly concerned about, when you have coaches who maybe might have some concern about change. That's only typical. That's just our nature. But in reality, I can't see anything but potential for something good to happen for everyone concerned if this thing does come together."

Q: Do you have any preference as far as a division?

"To be honest with you, if that becomes a sticking point, then we lose sight of the big picture. If I remember correctly, we made two or three changes, in the Big East, to come to something that worked a little better. I think it's going to be very difficult to come in and have a scenario that's going to be perfect for everybody on the first time. We might have to massage it a little bit. What we think might end up being a good situation might end up changing. For instance, let's say that we come to some conclusion about divisions. Then, all of a sudden, the other teams that were not quite as strong become the better teams.

"Now this division becomes stronger than the other. That's something that I don't think is something I've overly concerned about, because it just doesn't matter. It really doesn't. I think that where we are, it doesn't really make any difference who we play. We need to be prepared to play them all. If you're going to be a successful team, you have to compete against everybody. So whether I play you twice or play you once, it doesn't really matter. I'm hoping that our team is good enough that our fans want to come and see us play, and they won't be as concerned about who we're playing against.

"If you look around the country, those are the programs that are most successful. People who build that type of atmosphere with the fans where they want to come and see the home team play, and it doesn't really matter whether it's one team or another. That's the direction we're trying to go."

Q: Paul Hewitt, who coached in the Big East at Villanova, was saying that an 18-game conference schedule is very tough. Would you be opposed to that?

"I'm going to be honest with you. When I was in the Southeastern Conference (at Kentucky), Coach (Joe B.) Hall, they would have liked for it to be fewer games. We made the adjustment in the Big East. You've got to play tough people. I'd just as soon play conference games as have to go schedule another tough game against an outside opponent. Whether it's an SEC team, or a Big Ten team, or whether it's an ACC team, if you lose those games (off the schedule), in order to stay competitive with trying to get to the NCAA tournament, you need to go replace it with other tough games. Whether that is a conference game for me, or a good team out of another conference, what difference does it really make.

"They all are going to be games that are similar. I think that now, what we're doing is allowing our imagination to get carried away unnecessarily. Sometimes, some guys will use travel as an issue. I understand that, if you've always been accustomed to short travel. For me, man, it doesn't matter. It took me seven hours from the time down in Coral Gables to get to Syracuse. Almost six or seven hours. You think I'm going to be worried about going to Boston."

Q: Could expanding the ACC give basketball a boost, giving the conference a chance to have more teams in the NCAA tournament from year-to-year?

"Well, the ACC is in pretty good shape from a basketball standpoint. What does that mean, when this is how it's perceived. It's perceived to be in pretty good shape, from a basketball standpoint. Why is that? You've got Duke, which has been to Final Fours in the last couple of years, Carolina, up until the last couple of years has come along strong, and Maryland's coming on strong, and Wake Forest has been teetering right there, and North Carolina State. That is perceived to be good. But what I'm saying is that I'm not real sure that all nine teams, or all 12 teams being competitive, and knocking each other off, and everybody going into a situation where you don't really know who's winning, I think that's just as good. But I think perception is that if you've got one team dominating, and two teams in the top five, that means your league is strong. I'm not real sure that's all good. I think people don't like the thought of that not being something that consistently can happen. Where I'm coming from, I want to see how soon it can be until we can get into that.

"At Miami, when I was there, at that time when I went in the league, the Big East was dominating. As we got better, are those people who were up there, who we replaced, saying that expansion was good, or were they saying it was bad? I don't think we have a crystal ball. I think potentially, it's going to create parity. It's going to improve recruiting areas, and maybe some of the teams that have not traditionally been at the top might have more of an opportunity, and maybe it might raise their level a little bit. Some people are saying it's going to dilute the rivals, it's going to dilute the competitiveness, it's going to bring more people in, the travel's going to be different.

"I think that's going to be all good. From our perspective, there's a chance that I might not have my little position protected. That's why you've got (Syracuse's Jim) Boeheim concerned, you've got other coaches in the ACC concerned that their fans might not be able to enjoy for the next 50 years those rivals that they have enjoyed. I hope that Florida State can replace some of those rivals, by coming in and being successful. Then all of a sudden, they become just as excited about us playing them as they have been about the teams that were forty or fifty miles from them. That will be taken care of with how competitive some of the teams that were not traditionally competitive may become. I think this whole scenario becomes interesting. But in reality, there's not a clear-cut answer.

"Change creates all these different questions, and in reality, I think if we work on it, it can be all good. There was some resistance in the Big 12. You're hearing them say now that it really, really improved the teams that came from the Southwest Conference. They're saying it didn't really help Kansas, or Oklahoma. But it did help Kansas and Oklahoma, because it means that Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M have gotten better, which has elevated the Big 12 and has made everybody better. But people who are already at the top, they're already there. They don't feel they can go any higher, so they don't move.

"In reality, it helps everybody in the league, and it helps you as an individual. I think that's something that we have lost when we initially have to respond when we think about what we potentially can lose. I think that's a very selfish approach. I say that without being overly critical, because I was in that position in Miami. I was a little resistant, when they started talking about the change from the Big East to the ACC. Because here I was, with one player on my team from Boston, one from New York, one from Philadelphia, one from Baltimore, and so now I'm saying, ‘Man, I'm selling that I can take these kids back home, and their family can see them play at Providence and Boston and Connecticut.'

"But if I'm going to Carolina, I'm not going to recruit I much out of Carolina or South Carolina, but in Miami I can get the third- or fourth-best player to come down from New York or Boston, and I can be more competitive. I'm selfish. I'm a basketball coach that's trying to protect my little niche. In many ways, I was selfish. I'm trying to catch up with those other guys. But deep down inside, I was man enough to admit that I was being selfish. I knew that going into the ACC probably wasn't in the best interests of everybody. Now it's a different scenario, because now Miami can (possibly) have both. They can have the Northeast market as well as the rest of the markets. That makes it more attractive for all of them, when you have a conference that spreads from New York to Miami, and you get coverage, and exposure, and you open up other recruiting areas and TV markets and other things. Also for recruiting students, and all of the above.

"A lot of positive things will be available, if we can get past what might be a little bit of a change out of tradition for some people, out of a short-term basis. It has such potential for growth that's totally off the charts.

"I also think there's potential academically. Miami is a good private school, Boston College is an academic school, Syracuse is a good school, so they all have quality academics as well as successful athletic programs. I just think that there's not really a lot of downside, other than the immediate adjustment that we have to make, to become accustomed to it. I think we're trying to protect something, rather than look at the big picture, looking down the road to see what this can do for us five, ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road. I think this is a unique opportunity that we all should look at."

Q: Do you think it's a done deal?

"No. By no means do I think it's a done deal. I think that it's in the works, but I think there's a lot of work needed. There's a lot of issues on the table for a lot of people. But I think it's all good, because I think that at the end of the day, regardless of what happens in the Big East, it's obvious that this is going to cause some kind of adjustments for somebody."

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