"It's not where you start, it's where you finish," says two-time ACC Coach of the Year Leonard Hamilton.
In the case of the defending ACC Champion Florida State men's basketball team, Hamilton quickly points to the evidence that supports his claim. During their current run of a school record four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, the Seminoles have far exceeded their preseason expectations.
In 2008/2009 FSU was picked to finish 10th in the league standings; they finished fourth with a 10-6 record in conference play. In 09/10 FSU was picked to finish seventh; they finished third with another 10-6 record in conference play. In 10/11 FSU was picked to finish 5th; FSU finished third with an 11-5 record. And everyone knows the last year's story – FSU was picked to finished third, and went on to win the ACC Championship for the first time in school history.
"When we look at our track record in the past six of seven years, we've been pretty good," Hamilton said. "We think, just like we did last season, that we have a chance to be pretty good again. But, we lost six seniors; teams that normally lose six seniors don't get the same level of recognition the next year."
Although FSU lost six seniors that all played a role on the team, the Seminoles do return four of their top-five scorers, and three of the top-four rebounders.
"I believe that we have a group of guys returning that I think is going to give us some tremendous leadership and stability to keep us moving forward," said Hamilton. "I also think we have an underrated group of youngsters coming in that might be able to contribute right away. We're very excited about this group as a whole, and because we have added some really good players to an already talented group, we feel confident that we will continue to grow as a team."
The Snaer Factor & other Returners
When talking about Florida State you have to start with preseason All-American Michael Snaer. Snaer is one of the best players in the country, and without a doubt the best on-ball defender in the country. If you look up the definition of competitor, you will likely find a picture of Michael Snaer.
Snaer hit one game-winning shot after another last year as FSU went 4-1 against Duke and North Carolina. The ‘Noles also defeated all four Tobacco Road teams in the same season for the first time in school history. In his junior season, Snaer led the team with 14.0 points per game.
"Michael has worked as hard as any player I have ever coached on his development throughout his career," Hamilton said. "He is a relentless worker who doesn't view second best as an option. His motor is always running as he works to get better both offensively and defensively. Michael's continued development as a leader will also play a very important role in the development of the chemistry of our team."
Joining Snaer as a returner who has played significant minutes is junior forward Okaro White. His mix of size and athleticism is unique for someone 6-foot-8, which is a big reason why many feel he could have a breakout year. White is an excellent defender as well, and has started 25 games in his career. He will have a new role and be relied upon in a much larger way this season, but the sky is the limit.
"We feel that Okaro White is getting ready to have a breakout season," said Hamilton. "We are extremely confident in Okaro's ability and we are looking forward to helping him continue his maturation as a basketball player. Even he has no idea how high his ceiling is."
Another player that has seen significant minutes and is returning is Terrance Shannon who was forced to take a medical redshirt last year when he was injured against UCONN in the Atlantis tournament early in the season. Prior to being injured Shannon was averaging eight points and five rebounds per game. Shannon is a very tough player that isn't afraid to do the dirty work down low.
Having Terrance back in the line-up is something that we are really excited about." Hamilton said. "Terrance is such a tremendous competitor with an infectious personality – one that raises the bar for everyone else on our team. His attitude will take us to another level in practice and during games."
Last but not least among the returners is junior guard Ian Miller. Miller has one of the best offensive game's in the ACC, and is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. It will be interesting to see if Hamilton lets him run the point and create for others, which has been talked about. Miller will have much more responsibility this year and need to be a leader on the court.
"Ian is an extremely athletic youngster who has a high basketball IQ," Hamilton said. "We feel that we can utilize his talents as both the shooting and point guard positions because he does so many things well. He plays especially well with the basketball in his hands so we think he can help us at the point this season."
Terry Whisnant, who showed signs of being an explosive player last year, will see a much bigger role. The only thing he lacks is experience, but he has been touted to be FSU's next star. He possesses a great long-range shot along and also has the ability to drive the lane and finish in traffic. FSU's guard combination is something Seminoles fans are not used to seeing as it brings more versatility to the team.Look for a preview on the newcomers and what to expect from them later today or tomorrow.