Driving The Lane

FSU hoops coach Leonard Hamilton is not afraid to speak his mind. In this second of two installments, the personable Hamilton talks about recruiting, rule changes and his Seminoles. "We've got to find a way to maximize what we have. We have to find a way to be efficient, together, and to have that synergy and energy and have all those little things, those intangible things, we've got to bring them to the forefront this year if we're going to make that next step," Hamilton said of his team.

Q: Are you surprised that you've been able to recruit on a national level so quickly after your arrival at FSU?

"I'm not so sure that I really thought about what to expect. I've been doing this a long time. I've been working on the Division I level since 1971, and I've picked up a lot of contacts throughout the country. I also think that you make a lot of mistakes, and you gain experience.

"I also think that the most important factor here is that we're selling an outstanding product. Florida State has good name recognition nationally. When I call people, I don't have to explain who we are, and who we represent. With an outstanding league, and a strong commitment to wanting basketball to be successful – and that's obvious, with the commitment to hire me, improve our facilities, and the fact that our league is as visible as it is – that speaks for itself. I also have a very experienced staff – guys that have been around, and relate, and understand how to teach. We all are committed. We're all singing out of the same hymnbook.

"And I think our players recognize that, and when youngsters come in and visit, they get the feeling from our players of what's actually going on. We have a lot of fun. We enjoy each other, but we work awful hard. They understand exactly what we expect of them. Like for instance, academically, this past spring, we didn't have one kid fail one class, which is good, taking into consideration the travel that we had. They understand – they're taking care of business on the court, off the court, in the classroom, and they understand that that's what is expected of them.

"We're all working with that one single-minded purpose, that we're going to represent Florida State, and we want this to be a special kind of program. I feel all that's coming together, and the kids feel that. I feel that people who know us, who have researched, can look back on our track record, and can see that we're about business, and we treat kids professionally. We're very demanding. We hold them accountable, and that feeling is kind of what you get when you evaluate who we are and what we're doing.

"I think we're selling this product, and we're experienced enough to go out and knock on enough doors. We have had some failures. We've had some youngsters turn us down. We look under every rock, knock on every door, to see whether or not we can find those kind of kids that relate to the situation that we have. Some kids like going places where they've always been successful, where they can just go plug themselves in, and kind of continue doing what everyone has been doing for a number of years. The youngsters who are attracted to our situation are kids who want to be a part of making a difference. Kids who are excited about coming into this program and being a part of helping us make a difference, helping us move on, and accepting the challenge that we have in playing against some of the people that we have to compete against year-in and year-out, game-in and game-out.

"Some kids like that, and those are the kind of kids that we're working hard trying to find, to locate. They already are kind of buying in. We try to eliminate those kids who maybe want to stay close to home, or go somewhere where they are already successful. Hopefully, in a short period of time, people will not put us in that category. Maybe they will be saying, you know, that this is an up-and-coming program that's already alive, and maybe we'll be interested in a program that's already successful. But right now, that's not who we are."

Q: What's Mike Mathews' situation?

"Mike's situation is this. If he graduates, then he gets an extra year of eligibility. And we would welcome him back, and hope that he could graduate, and be a part of this team, because he would give us added depth and strength. He's been in the system for a year, even though he might have struggled somewhat, making that adjustment because of what we were asking him to do.

"Like I said earlier, I like for my big guys maybe to be able to handle, pass, come to the top of the key, reverse the ball, make decisions in a way that he had not been accustomed to making. We were moving him around, whereas maybe before he was a post-up guy, and maybe a turnaround, power-type guy, I'm asking him now to do things that are a little uncomfortable for him – catching the ball, making decisions in different places. Now, I think he's a little more comfortable with what we're asking him. I think we saw he got better as the season progressed. I also think that now we have a system in place, we can make allowances for his limitations a little better, by restricting him within a system that everyone's comfortable with.

"It's kind of hard when you're trying to teach the system, to make those allowances, because you're trying to get sound in what you're trying to do. So much of what we do requires kids to read on the fly. You've got to be able to feel, and just see, that if the ball's in one position, and you're in another position, you've got three things you can do, and you've got to (choose) real quick. If you make the fourth decision, that's wrong, you're in the way. But you've got to make the decision, and you've got one second, and that's not easy for everybody.

"I expect that he would have more of an opportunity to have input, and be a factor, now that he's adjusted. Unfortunately, he's in one of those situations where we've got to move on. We're trying to improve our situation, because we won't know until the end of the summer what his status actually will be. We won't know until August, when he finishes both of his summer terms, as to how we're going to evaluate his situation. We're hoping that he'll be able to graduate. If he's able to graduate, then we're going to welcome him back with open arms, because he's getting bigger and stronger, and more confident. He would really be a great addition to this group that we have."

Q: Because you're currently at the scholarship limit set by the NCAA, would Mike have to return as a non-scholarship player, if he graduates?

"You can't answer that until you know exactly what the situation is going to be at that particular time. We'll have to answer that (later). You know as well as I do – it's not sound for me to start speculating. We have to have plan A, and plan B, and plan C. I would like for him to be around, and I hope that he makes it, and I hope he's part of our program. Now, how we do that, we might have to be creative, or we might have to see how we deal with that. I wish that I could give you an answer, but I'd have to give you plan A, plan B, and plan C, and I think that doesn't make a whole lot of sense right."

Q: Do you have any scheduling announcements? Any nonconference games to announce?

"We're still fixing our schedule. We've got to get ahead of the game. We were a little behind coming in, and those are some areas that we have not gotten ahead on. Obviously we've got the Miami and the Florida game. We've scheduled another game that we're not in a position to announce yet, and we've got some other little things we're trying to work out. Coach (Stan) Jones has been working on the schedule, and hopefully we can pin this down in the next week, so that we can move on to something else. We've got November's recruiting class we've got to work out."

Q: What is your opinion on the moving back of the three-point lane?

"I'm not as opposed to the three-point line as I am to this trapezoid (lane). I'm more disappointed in the process by which we make these changes. If you've got a vote of 55-45, for or against, that means that most of the guys are undecided about whether or not we want to make a change.

"We voted, as coaches, unanimously that we were opposed to the trapezoid lane. So I'm trying to figure out, if all the coaches are opposed to it, how are we getting this rule passed? It's amazing to me how these things happen. … I think it's too big a change all at one time. If we want to change, let's go to the three-point line. Then we'll see whether or not that spreads it out enough, where we've got more room inside. I think it's too drastic a change, to widen the lanes and extend the three-point line to kind of experiment a little bit more with it.

"We (the coaches) are adamantly opposed. We voted against it. We came out with a statement saying that we were opposed to the widening of the lanes and the (extension of) the three-point line at the same time."

Q: The 5/8 rule (which prohibits schools from signing more than eight players over a two-year span, regardless of injuries, transfers, or departures to the NBA) was also approved. How do you feel about that?

"It's disappointing … You have a lot less kids have the opportunity to get scholarships because of certain scenarios. For whatever reason, somebody thought that coaches were running kids off."

Q: Did you welcome Oliver Purnell, the new Clemson coach, as the new kid on the block this year?

"I don't really have the luxury of looking down on anybody, because we're still trying to dig ourselves out of the ditch. (laughs)"

Q: Those are two pretty good additions, in Roy Williams and Purnell.

"You know, when you look back at what I've been involved in: (Lou) Carneseca, Rollie Massimino, John Thompson, P.J. Carlesimo, Rick Barnes, (Jim) Calhoun, Boeheim, and now with Dean (Smith), and all those other guys, and we're coming back with other great coaches. I think that ten years from now, we'll be talking about Skip Prosser, and Paul Hewitt, in the same breath as some of these others. Oliver has done an outstanding job wherever he's been.

"I think his record speaks for itself. Roy went from Carolina to Kansas and back to Carolina (laughs). He's been able to play with some pretty good players. I was looking at their roster this morning, and whew, they've got a nice team coming back. And he's always had a lot of talent. That's the way it's going to be in this league. This league is exciting because it's loaded with talent. And you can't lose sight of that.

"Even though we are excited because we're moving in the right direction, whenever I sit down and look at all the rosters, who's coming back, it brings you back to reality. You say, ‘Look, chief, you've got to get to working every night.' We've got to find a way to maximize what we have. We have to find a way to be efficient, together, and to have that synergy and energy and have all those little things, those intangible things, we've got to bring them to the forefront this year if we're going to make that next step. I mean, we've got to make a long jump to get where we want to go. When you look at the history of basketball, teams just don't stand back and say, ‘OK, come on in.'

"These guys (opponents) are talented, well coached, and you've got to go take it. And that's the exciting part. They're in a position that we're trying to get to. You've got to be a little on edge, and want to go get that. Because they're holding onto it, and they want to protect it. When you go on the road, and you've got to listen to the fans, and the comments they're making, and the way they get behind their team, and support ‘em – all the talent they have, and the parity, it creates this scenario. You can't just have talent and go get it done. You look around the league, and Virginia had great talent. But they were inconsistent. Sometimes that can happen. They're great kids, a good coach, but sometimes it doesn't come together. I'm not singling anybody out. The point is that talent is not what makes this thing always go. You guys can relate to that. Many times you've seen games where the team with the most talent doesn't win. That can be a plus for us. We may not have as much talent as some of the teams in the league, but we've got those other intangible things. We've got to try to develop those, and we can make a bit further jump than where people expect us to."

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