By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — For the first time in three weeks, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton should have another player on his roster at his disposal.
And just in time, too. The Seminoles are in for a challenge Saturday when they visit No. 25 Notre Dame (8 p.m., ESPN2) in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for each team.
Hamilton said he expects junior guard Devon Bookert, who has missed five games with a foot injury, to be available.
Bookert, one of the team’s best 3-point shooters in each of his first two seasons, might be limited. But his return in any capacity is good news for a team looking for a fast start in conference play.
“Devon has kind of integrated himself back into practice,” Hamilton said. “We evaluated him yesterday … I think, at first glance, I expect him to be able to play on Saturday.”
The absence of veterans has forced Hamilton to employ a few different rotations while giving extended minutes to underclassmen.
That’s worked out well at times – redshirt freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes (12.3 PPG, 28 assists) has a emerged as one of the team’s most dynamic players while Jarquez Smith, Phil Cofer and Robbie Berwick have shown promising flashes.
But missing Bookert also robbed those young players of an experienced presence on the floor, a problem which seemed to manifest itself in a few early-season losses.
“Those (young) guys get experience, but they don’t have the leaders out there leading by example,” Hamilton said. “And, in basketball, that might be more important than in some of the other sports.
“There’s so much reaction, so many reads and decisions to make every time the ball moves. When you have somebody who is doing it the right way, it might be easier to catch on.”
Which is why having a full complement of players will be so valuable come Saturday.
The Fighting Irish are 9-1, boast an overtime win over Michigan State, and their lone setback was a one-point defeat against Providence.
They’re led by senior guard Jerian Grant, an All-America candidate who returned this year after missing most of last season due to an academic matter.
Grant’s 19.0 points per game are the tops in the ACC and among the best in the nation. He also adds more than six assists and three rebounds per contest.
“Their guards are outstanding,” FSU junior Montay Brandon said. “Grant is a very good player. He makes them go.”
Added Hamilton: “Notre Dame is just more of what we’ve already faced: rich tradition basketball programs with tremendous history and success. Thousands of fans. Well coached.”
The Seminoles expect a test, but they also look at the matchup as an opportunity.
A win would give them their first victory over a Top-25 team this season and a 1-0 mark in ACC play. FSU then doesn’t play another league game until Jan. 6, meaning that whatever tone is set in Saturday’s contest could linger for a while.
There’s still a long road ahead, but it would still be a welcome momentum boost.
“For a game this far along in the season, we know this would be a big-time win for us,” Brandon said.