Michael Snaer was the California high school player of the year and a McDonald's All-American who passed up several chances to join any of the nation's traditional powerhouses to make a difference at a school trying to climb into the elite.
Florida State looked good to Snaer, even if it was nearly a couple thousand miles away from home. His goal coincided neatly with coach Leonard Hamilton, who has brought the program from the ashes to an ACC championship. The Seminoles head into the NCAA Tournament as a 3 seed and will meet St. Bonaventure (20-11) on Friday in Nashville, Tennessee.
''He was no secret,'' Hamilton said of Snaer, who was recruited by Kansas, Marquette, Missouri and UCLA, among others. ''He's been playing ball for a long time.''
''He wanted to be part of something,'' said Hamilton, the first African-American coach to win the ACC and who is headed to his fourth straight NCAA appearance. The Seminoles have won 20 or more games in six of the last seven years.
''As a competitor, why would you not want to go somewhere where you can create your own history instead of riding on what's already been done?'' Snaer asked. ''All those other schools that I could've gone to already had that rich tradition. Florida State was somewhere to come in and make your mark.''
And Snaer is doing just that: leaving an impression.
''He's the best competitor in our league,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Snaer led the Seminoles to a 62-59 win over the Blue Devils in the semifinal round of last weekend's ACC tournament.
Snaer's 3-pointer as time expired snapped the Blue Devils' 45-game home court winning streak in January, and he put the Seminoles ahead for good last Saturday in the tournament with another 3-point dagger. Snaer shook off one of his poorest shooting games of the season and drained another game winner from behind the arc to cap a furious rally that carried the Seminoles to a 48-47 win over Virginia Tech last month.
''It doesn't bother him when he's missed several,'' Hamilton marveled. ''He's in the gym so much knocking those shots down that he has confidence.''
The ACC Tournament's most valuable player, Snaer averages 14.5 points per game and shoots 42.1 percent from 3-point distance, leading the 'Noles in both categories. And he might be better on defense. An efficient scorer who averages only 11 shots per game, Snaer's numbers have steadily improved since his arrival in 2009.
He averaged 8.8 points in each of his first two seasons, but his assists, rebounds and steals have climbed in addition to the scoring. Snaer is an 82.1 percent free throw shooter over the past two seasons.
''It's not easy to try to play both ends of the floor and be the best on both ends,'' said Snaer, a first-team pick on the ACC's defensive team.
The Seminoles (24-9) started slow, but a 16-3 finish including a sweep of Miami, Duke and North Carolina to win the school's ACC Tournament has FSU fans believing the team can exceed last year's success.
Hamilton said Snaer's willingness to accept any challenge and his leadership are most noticeable during the Seminoles' practices.
''He's putting as much pressure on whoever he's guarding as if he's in a high-stakes game,'' Hamilton said. ''He's a guy who gives of himself.''
Snaer is a bigger version of Toney Douglas, who led Florida State to the ACC title game three years ago, along with its first NCAA Tournament bid after an 11-year absence. At 6-4, Snaer is three inches taller than Douglas and plays defense just as relentlessly.
Florida State's ''junkyard dog'' defense has ranked at the top or near it in field goal defense for three straight years.
And like virtually every player who has spent three years under Hamilton, Snaer is slated to graduate.
''I've never had one academic issue with him since he's been here,'' Hamilton said ''He's not the only one, but he sets the bar. Younger players come in and see him demonstrating that kind of leadership.''
The second of eight children, Snaer was raised by a single mother, Ann Stephens, and hasn't seen his biological father since he was a fourth grader.
''You can't miss what you really never had,'' said Snaer, who stayed on the straight and narrow with a basketball in his hands and a mother who worked two jobs to provide for the family.
''It's always been tough and stressful for her,'' Snaer said. ''There were times I'm sure she would think about giving up, but she kept going. That's what keeps me going. She always stayed faithful to us.''
Snaer said his mother is also the male figure in his life.
''She taught me how to be a man,'' he said.
And that maturity, Snaer said, figured into his decision to come cross country and join Hamilton at Florida State.
''I knew they could help me develop as a player,'' Snaer said. ''And, more importantly, as a person.''
Californian leading FSU's drive in NCAA
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