Hoop It Up

The Florida State Seminoles, who open practice Saturday morning, feature a new head coach in Leonard Hamilton, a new $10-millon training facility, plenty of new faces and a new outlook. "I think everybody has a new sense of commitment. It's like our freshman year coming in, a brand new start for everybody. It's really exciting," said sophomore forward Andrew Wilson, who returns after missing last season with a knee injury.

A fresh start.

That's how sophomore forward Andrew Wilson describes Florida State's upcoming basketball season. The Seminoles, who open practice Saturday morning at 8, feature a new head coach in Leonard Hamilton, a new $10-millon training facility, plenty of new faces and a new outlook.

"I think everybody has a new sense of commitment, it feels like a new beginning for everybody with the new coaches coming in, we have a ton of new players, new faces, a new facility," Wilson said. "It's like our freshman year coming in, a brand new start for everybody. It's real exciting."

Hamilton, who brings 29 seasons of experience as a collegiate and NBA coach, was named the Seminoles' head coach last March. He replaced Steve Robinson, who was unable to win consistently during his five-year tenure in Tallahassee. Robinson produced one winning season and FSU limped to a 12-17 finish last year.

Enter Hamilton, 53, a noted recruiter and builder. He takes over the Seminole program after coaching the NBA's Washington Wizards most recently and resurrecting the University of Miami program in 10 seasons with the Hurricanes. He directed UM to three consecutive NCAA appearances over his final three seasons and is 200-210 in 14 collegiate seasons overall.

Hamilton will be tested immediately at FSU, welcoming back just one starter – junior forward Michael Joiner -- from last year's team that finished tied for seventh in Atlantic Coast Conference play (4-12) and failed to win a league game on the road. Additonally, fan support has waned terribly over the past few seasons.

While Joiner is the Seminoles' current career leader in seven categories – points per game (8.6 ppg), rebounds per game (5.3), 3-point shots made (45), assists per game (1.4), steals per game (1.0) and minutes played per game (28.1) – Wilson, a 6-6 wing player, also is expected to play a key role in the team's resurgence.

Wilson was injured in the Seminoles' opener last season against Florida. Teammate Adam Waleskowski was pushed into Wilson and caused his knee to buckle awkwardly, straining his MCL. Wilson, who elected to be redshirted, averaged 4.3 points (eighth on the team), 1.7 rebounds (eighth on the team) and was the team's top free-throw shooter (80 percent) while playing in all 30 games as a freshman. He is considered one of FSU's top outside shooters.

"My knee doesn't bother me at all," Wilson said.

"I put on a few pounds of muscle in the weight room (in offseason). Worked on my game a lot – I put up a lot of shots. My mindset was a lot of mental preparation for the season coming up. I think the skills are there for me. I watched a lot of tape, just a lot of things that have to do with the mental aspect of the game. I think I improved in that area a lot. Obviously, I had to put up a lot of shots a day and work on my skills."

Wilson said it was difficult to watch the Seminoles struggle last season. While FSU featured four experienced players in Delvon Arrington, Monte Cummings, Antwuan Dixon and Nigel Dixon, who transferred following the season, FSU was unable to slow its downward spiral under Robinson.

"It was real frustrating, especially at first. I was real upset," Wilson said. "Once I found out I was going to be out all year, that was pretty upsetting as well. Once the season began to wind down, I started to realize that it was a good thing. But it was real frustrating sitting out knowing I could be out there helping the team out."

Wilson and his teammates, however, are not concerned about looking over their shoulder. There's too much optimism surrounding this season.

Key newcomers include freshmen Benson Callier and Todd Galloway and junior-college transfers and Tim Pickett.

Other key returnees include sophomores Anthony Richardson (7.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and Adam Waleskowski (2.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg) and senior centers Mike Mathews (3.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and Trevor Harvey (4.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg). The duo of Mathews (1.2) and Harvey (0.9) were the fifth ranked shot-blocking pair in the ACC last season, combining on 60 blocks.

The team also recently moved into to its new training facility, adjacent to the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center. FSU athletic department has now spent more than $30 million on Civic Center improvements to help make the facility one of the best in the ACC. Of course, now the key for Hamilton and the ‘Noles are to get back on the winning track. FSU last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1998, losing to Valparaiso in the second round.

"I really feel like we are going to surprise a lot of people," Wilson said. "We all have a lot of trust and faith in coach Hamilton. The system he's putting in for us is the right one and can help us win a lot of game. We think we will surprise people and show people how good we can be."

Hamilton's teams are known for its defense and motion offense, where players make reads and set screens to help produce shots. Hamilton's 1997 UM team led the nation in field goal percentage defense. Wilson believes Hamilton's approach, which stresses athleticism and versatility, best suits the Seminoles' talents.

"I think it (system) will be suit me and the rest of the team," Wilson said. "Basically, we are going to play to our strengths. It's a motion offense. We will be running off a lot of screens, looking to get our shots. We are going to be playing to our strengths. I think it will benefit everybody.

"I don't think we necessarily have set positions – the only set position is point guard. I think he's going to put the five guys out there on the court that will give him the best chance of winning. He's not going to necessarily have a set guy at each position. "I think the biggest difference is going to be on the offensive side, where you are not going to see our point guard backing the ball out and calling a play everytime down the court. We will be attacking all the time. Like I said, there's no set plays. It's going to be making reads and complete motion."

Wilson, one of nine underclassmen on the team, also plans to assume more of a leadership role this season.

"We definitely lost a lot of senior leadership last year, and I think that's giving me an opportunity to step in and help out with the younger guys," Wilson said.

"I am one of the more experienced guys on the team this year. I've been here two years and only have played one, but I think I've been thrown into a leadership role just with all of our graduating players. I am doing my best to lead this team. Everyone is excited to get started. Time has just flown by and everybody has worked really hard."

Wilson also is hopeful the Seminoles can gain some early momentum. FSU will play a school-record trying 16 regular season home games beginning with its season opener against Savannah State Nov. 24. In fact, the ‘Noles open with eight consecutive home games, including their ACC opener against North Carolina Sunday, Dec. 22. The Seminoles' first road game is against Boston University in the opening round of the Fiesta Bowl Classic Tournament Dec. 28.

Everywhere Wilson looks, he sees a fresh start for this program.

"Our schedule is pretty intriguing," Wilson said. "We have a few games in there that we should win. But we also have five or six really good out of conference games. Most of them we are playing at home. We have a chance right off the bat to show the nation that we can play with anybody. If we can get a few upsets in there, then we will send a message early. Like I said, this feels like a new beginning for us. We are ready to get going."


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