Oct. 5, 1998
The foundation has been laid. Now the building process begins. That is the approach that Florida State basketball coach Steve Robinson is taking as he begins the second year of his tenure in Tallahassee.
Robinson’s first season at the helm of the Seminole program saw him guide FSU back into national prominence. His first Florida State team returned to the NCAA Tournament after a five-year absence and won its first round game over Texas Christian before falling in overtime to Valparaiso in the second round. Robinson also oversaw the Tribe’s climb back into the Associated Press Top 25, peaking with a No. 13 ranking.
A solid foundation was put in place, indeed. Now Robinson’s challenge is to build upon that foundation during his second season.
“I think we continued to grow last season despite hitting some bumps at times,” said Robinson. “We need to build off of last season and again show signs of growth. I think people were excited about how hard we played last season and we will play just as hard again in year two.”
Robinson’s troops may play hard again but it will be with many new, young faces as Florida State lost four starters and five letterwinners off of last season’s 18-14 club.
Senior shooting guard Terrell Baker, who led FSU in scoring for most of last season before finishing second on the club at 12.0 points per game, is the Seminoles’ lone returning starter. Along with being able to put the ball in the basket, Baker, at 6-5, provides the Seminoles with a defensive stopper who can shut down the opposition’s top perimeter player. Arizona’s Mike Bibby, Khalid El-Amin of Connecticut, Duke’s Trajan Langdon and Deon Glover of Georgia Tech were some of the players Baker held in check a year ago. He will also be counted on to provide leadership on a youthful team.
“Terrell has an extremely competitive nature,” said Robinson. “He is the kind of player that will drag the other guys along if he has to. I look for him to improve his consistency this season.”
Baker hit 48.7 percent from the field (153-of-314) last season and led FSU in three-point (33.7 percent, 33-of-98) and free throw percentage (79.8 percent, 99-of-124) percentage. He is also a good rebounder from the backcourt, averaging 4.3 caroms per game and ranked fifth in the ACC in steals at 1.9 per game.
The race to join Baker in the backcourt as Florida State’s starting point guard will be open when practice begins in October, but Robinson feels that either sophomore Delvon Arrington or classmate Adrian Crawford can get the job done.
“They both are outstanding workers on and off the court,” Robinson said of his potential point guards. “Delvon is a true point guard that likes to get everyone involved and is your stereotypical gym rat. Adrian has a great feel for and understanding of the game and is versatile enough to play off the ball.”
Both players sat out last season. Arrington, a product of national prep power St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, NJ, missed the 1997-98 campaign in accordance with NCAA initial eligibility regulations. While at St. Anthony’s, the 5-10 Arrington was a three-year starter who led his team to an 81-1 record and three state championships. His team also won the USA Today national championship after his junior season.
Crawford, who stands 6-5, transferred into the Seminole program after his freshman season at Tulsa, where he was named to the Western Athletic Conference’s all-newcomer team in 1996-97 under Robinson at Tulsa. He appeared in all 34 games that season and averaged 4.3 points and 2.1 assists while making 35.1 percent (26-of-74) from three-point range as the Golden Hurricane advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Crawford could also see minutes at shooting guard.
Emanuel Mathis, a 6-3 freshman from Atlanta, is regarded as a pure shooter and could help in his first season at FSU. His biggest challenge will be adjusting from playing at a small high school to competition in the ACC. His transition to the college level will determine his playing time. Walk-on Matt Chlebek, who appeared in 16 games last season as a freshman, will also vie for playing time at the point.
Up front, the Seminoles appear to have depth at small forward and a potential anchor at center but will need someone to step up at the power forward position.
Junior Ron Hale will try to use an outstanding performance in the NCAA Tournament last year as a springboard to a breakout season in 1998-99. Hale averaged 5.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game last season but upped those numbers 14.5 points and 4.5 rebounds on 11-of-15 shooting from the floor in the NCAAs.
“Ron has the potential to be a complete player,” Robinson said. “He has really worked on in the summer to take his game to the next level. He is an excellent shooter and has worked to improve his strength because he may play some at the four (power forward) spot this year.”
Hale averaged nearly 10 points per game over the season’s final seven contests. The highlight of that run was a 15-point, six-rebound performance in 21 minutes of Florida State’s 96-87 first round NCAA Tournament win over Texas Christian. The 6-8 native of Largo, FL hit 20 of his final 31 shots from the field and 11 of his last 19 three-point attempts last year. Robinson also considered him the team’s best pure rebounder.
Sophomore Ronald Thompson and 6-5 Antwaun Dixon, a freshman from Marietta, GA, will also compete for minutes at small forward. Thompson saw action in 16 games in a reserve role last season. The 6-7 native of Savannah, GA showed flashes of athletic ability while averaging 1.4 points in 4.8 minutes per game.
Dixon was a second team all-Georgia selection as a prep senior. He is an explosive athlete with great leaping ability who can slash his way to the basket from the wing.
Which leads to who will play power forward. That is the mystery of the frontline. Junior Oliver Simmons and junior college transfer Justin Mott have the size needed to play the position. Meanwhile, Thompson and Hale are considered versatile enough to log minutes at both forward spots.
“Their is a great window of opportunity for all of our forwards,” said Robinson. “The door is wide open. Simmons and Mott could play there or we could go with a smaller, quicker unit and use Thompson there. Ron Hale could also see some minutes there.”
Simmons played in 24 games a year ago but did not totally distinguish himself as the front runner for the job. The 6-8 Nashville, TN native averaged 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds in 7.4 minutes per game but saw his playing time decrease as the season wound down.
Mott has solid rebounding and defensive skills. He played his freshman season at Washington State before transfering to Barton County (Kan.) Community College. At 6-10, he can also provide minutes as a reserve at center.
Karim Shabazz, who participated in USA Basketball’s National Team Trials over the summer, returns for his sophomore season and inherits the starting center spot. The tallest player in Florida State history at 7-2, Shabazz gives the Seminoles an intimidating presence in the paint who can block shots and rebound. He averaged 5.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and blocked 37 shots as a freshman and should improve greatly on those numbers this year.
“Karim has great work habits and will only continue to get better as his college career continues,” commented Robinson. “He will be our anchor in the post and he will be tougher to push around his year because he has added a lot of weight and strength.”
“Two big keys for us will be how Simmons and Thompson develop,” Robinson said. “They are guys that have some experience and will have to contribute positively.”
Florida State’s schedule features the premiere lineup of Atlantic Coast Conference members along with non-conference dates with arch-rival Florida, Auburn and trips to Temple and the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu in December.
“I think we have put together a good schedule,” Robinson said. “This is something that our fans should get accustomed to because we are going to play good competition each and every year.”
Despite his teams inexperience, Robinson is upbeat about the season ahead.
“We will have to do the little things,” said Robinson, “like boxout, hit our free throws and get to loose balls. We will have to scrap and fight. But I like the chemistry and versatility of this group.”