A fresh, new start

Leonard Hamilton faces a difficult task. He must resurrect a floundering hoops program that has suffered four consecutive losing seasons and returns just one starter from a year ago. Enough of the negative vibes. Hamilton is raring to go. FSU has an impressive new practice facility and a new attitude under its new coach. "We pretty much have a feel for the kind of system we want to use," Hamilton said. "It's a system that requires youngsters to be versatile and not so one-dimensional."

Leonard Hamilton has 29 seasons of experience as a collegiate and NBA coach. His next challenge is to resurrect a floundering Florida State program that has suffered four consecutive losing seasons and returns just one starter from a year ago.

Still, Hamilton believes the Seminoles have taken a quantum leap in the right direction with the school's state-of-the-art practice facility at the Leon-County Civic Center. Hamilton believes the $10-million facility, which is nearing completion, proves FSU's commitment to basketball and its players.

"I think we all know that youngsters a lot of times buy with their eyes and their hearts," Hamilton said Wednesday.

"Many times they don't necessarily buy with sound judgment and reason. A picture says a thousand words, so I think the quality of the facility and the planning that's gone into making this facility very functional for athletes speaks for itself. I think it makes a very powerful statement to youngsters as they come and evaluate our program. It says that Florida State wants to be in the basketball business in a big way."

Hamilton, 53, has made news in a big way since taking over for Steve Robinson last March. He has signed four recruits in guards Nate Johnson, Benson Callier and Todd Galloway and forward Al Thornton. He also has lost two players from last year's team -- guard Ryan Lowery decided to end his playing career due to chronic knee pain and center Nigel Dixon, a returning starter, plans to transfer to another school.

Additionally, it appears guard J.D. Bracy will be academically dismissed, leaving the Seminoles with nine players on their 2002-03 roster, including Adrian McPherson. McPherson's attempt to play both football and basketball last season failed when he quit after playing just three hoop games.

Also, forward Andrew Wilson returns after suffering a MCL sprain in the season-opener against Florida. He played just seven minutes against Florida and received a redshirt season. Fellow forward Michael Joiner is the lone returning starter, averaging 7.8 points per game.

It also appears FSU is no longer in the running for 19-year-old Christjan Drejer of Denmark. Drejer, a 6-8, 210 guard/forward who averaged 31 points last season for SISU Kopenhagen, is reportedly now considering Gonzaga and Florida as well as playing in Europe. Drejer, considered to be a future first-round lottery pick, recently visited FSU with his father.

While it shouldn't come as a surprise, Hamilton admitted he and his staff have devoted a majority of their time to recruiting the past three months. In fact, Hamilton has had to focus on both the present and future while on the recruiting trail.

"I'd say an awful lot of our time has been devoted to recruiting, because anytime you take over a program as late as we did, we had to try to salvage what part of recruiting we possibly could save at the end of the season, and then you're already behind for the upcoming recruiting class that we have to sign in November," Hamilton said.

"To be very honest, as we looked even farther into the future, we were behind there as well. Two of our coaches were trying to get the juniors and the seniors taken care of, and one of our assistants had the responsibility of looking around at some of the younger players, and a lot of the schools had already been to those places and started developing relationships with coaches and players, even down to ninth and tenth grade. So, we were behind and we're trying to catch up.

"What we're doing now is just looking under every rock and not wanting to allow ourselves to let one opportunity pass where we can improve. At the same time looking towards the future, trying to anticipate where we'll be two, three years down the road. We know where we are now, and we don't like it."

Hamilton also knows what he likes on the court. Prior to his NBA stint with the Washington Wizards, Hamilton accepted the challenge of taking on the Miami Hurricane program, taking them to three straight NCAA Tournaments over his final three seasons and earning UPI Coach of the Year honors (1994-95) in the process. Hamilton likes versatility on offense and passion on defense.

"We pretty much have a feel for the kind of system we want to use," Hamilton said. "It's a system that requires youngsters to be versatile and not so one-dimensional. We're not hung up on whether it's a two-guard or a three-guard or a four-man or five-man. We basically operate with a point guard and four guys that are interchangeable. Guys who are versatile enough to post up, dribble-drive, mid-range game.

"We think that's better suited for the style of ball we want to play. We like for our big guys to be able to run the floor, but also be able to pass, make mid-range shots, and have a post-up game as well. We will try to recruit to our system. We want to have guys that are hard to guard, and we think that if we're one-dimensional and only play you in one position, the guy is easy to defend.

"We're gonna implement our system, and hopefully the players will adjust and adapt. Areas where we might be weak, we're gonna spend a lot of time trying to improve. We want everybody to be dribblers. We want everybody to be passers. We want everybody to be able to make plays and finish. We want guys who can run the floor, guys who can make good decisions."

And Hamilton believes FSU made a good decision with the commitment to the Seminoles' 43,000-square foot practice facility -- Hamilton and staff are currently moving into their new digs, and the media was given a tour Wedneday morning. The gymnasium floor is expected to be completed by August.

"I think what has happened is, Florida State has made a very powerful statement by improving their facilities over the entire athletic department, but I think it's obvious the basketball program probably needed this boost as much as anybody," Hamilton said.


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