By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton admitted Tuesday that coaches often like to hide their emotion, especially after tough losses.
They present a calm demeanor while, inside, each defeat feels “gut-wrenching.”
Games are one thing. Players are something else. And Hamilton didn’t even try to hide his disappointment and sadness at losing junior guard Aaron Thomas for the rest of the season.
Thomas was declared ineligible on Friday, just a day before the Seminoles visited Notre Dame. Not only was he FSU’s leading scorer, but he was also a valued teammate who put in three years with the program.
“Losing a guy like that is probably like losing a family member,” Hamilton said. “It’s over and done with, there’s not anything you can do about it, and you’ve got that feeling in your stomach that you have to try to pretend is not there and move on.”
That moving-on process continues Wednesday, when the Seminoles look to bounce back from setback against the Irish with a home contest against North Florida (7 p.m., Fox Sports Florida).
Hamilton allowed that Thomas’ sudden absence sent a shock through the locker room.
“To think it wasn’t affecting the players, that wouldn’t be honest,” he said.
But the season is still in its relative infancy and the Seminoles still have significant goals in front of them.
“You have to turn around and use it as motivation,” Hamilton said. “Now you have to find a way.”
It helps that FSU still features a veteran-heavy roster.
And it’s even better that junior guard Devon Bookert, who played against ND after missing five games due to a foot injury, is feeling no ill effects from his return. He finished with 11 points and eight rebounds Saturday and made three 3-point attempts.
It will fall heavily on upperclassmen like Bookert, junior Montay Brandon and senior Kiel Turpin to lead the team both on the court and in the locker room. Underclassmen Jarquez Smith, Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Phil Cofer will see their roles increase, too.
“It definitely feels like an extra sense of responsibility,” Brandon said. “When we lose a player of (Thomas’) caliber, I definitely feel like everybody needs to step up.
“Especially among this older group.”
Brandon said that the team’s breakdown of the Notre Dame film was “embarrassing,” but that the players feel like it won’t happen again.
He cited better defense and better rebounding as keys to a turnaround. He also suggested that the cure for what’s ailed the Seminoles might come in their mindsets.
“Being tougher, that’s the main thing,” he said. “I think that might be the one thing that’s hurting us right now: Not being tough enough on the floor.”
UNF should provide a nice measuring stick for just how much the Seminoles have grown in the last few days.
The Ospreys are 6-4 and boast a win at Purdue, the last of a five-game winning streak that ended with a loss to Tennessee Tech on Monday.
FSU will finish December with three more in-state opponents, starting with a tilt against South Florida in the Orange Bowl Classic on Saturday. The Seminoles will then host Stetson on Dec. 22 and Florida on Dec. 30.
“Definitely after a game like (Notre Dame) on national TV, you want to come out in the next game and come out as hard as possible,” Brandon said. “Just to show that we’re getting back on the right track and to have a good taste in your mouth going into this weekend.”