TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On the eve of his fourth season at Florida State, Xavier Rathan-Mayes feels like a different guy.
For one thing, he feels like a 22-year-old man – rather than the 18-year-old kid he was when he arrived in Tallahassee four years ago.
Rathan-Mayes said he feels more mature and more comfortable, and he feels secure with his place in the Florida State locker room after a summer spent building relationships with both his teammates and coaches.
“I’m at peace with myself now,” Rathan-Mayes said. “I think that was the biggest thing. Once I found that, everything started falling into place for me.”
That includes basketball, where Rathan-Mayes, a fourth-year junior guard, is expected to be one of the key figures on an FSU men’s team that enters the season with high hopes.
The Seminoles begin their season Saturday at 1 p.m. against Charleston Southern.
When they do, Rathan-Mayes will be running the point for a team that features two potential first-round picks in next year’s NBA draft – one who might have turned down millions to return for his sophomore season, the other one of the most highly-touted prospects in the history of FSU basketball.
That would be Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac, respectively. And each will play a large part in the fortunes of this year’s Seminoles.
But while Bacon and Isaac may garner the most attention, Rathan-Mayes will be the engine that makes FSU go.
“My job is to look for them and get them involved,” Rathan-Mayes said.
It wasn’t always this way, and the transition wasn’t always easy.
As a freshman, Rathan-Mayes burst on to the scene and led the Seminoles with 14.9 point points per game.
And he provided two signature moments – striking for 35 points, including 11 in the final minute, at North Carolina and later scoring an astonishing 30 points in the span of 4:38 at Miami.
But, a year later, Rathan-Mayes was asked to spread the ball around, especially to two new teammates, Bacon and freshman Malik Beasley.
Which meant learning a different skill set while also moving away from what had come naturally for Rathan-Mayes’ entire life: scoring.
“Playing the point, I was a little uncomfortable,” Rathan-Mayes said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing all the time.”
There were some good times for Rathan-Mayes and the Seminoles, but the season ended in frustration: FSU missed the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year and ended its campaign at Valparaiso in the NIT quarterfinals.
A few weeks later, Rathan-Mayes declared for the NBA draft, saying at the time that he wanted to pursue his dream of “playing the game that I love on the biggest stage.”
Rathan-Mayes, however, didn’t hire an agent, which meant that he could return to FSU within a certain timeframe if he didn’t like the feedback he got from NBA scouts.
And he didn’t.
So on May 2, about a month after declaring, Rathan-Mayes put his NBA dream on hold and announced he would be back for another year.
But rather than approach his junior season with disappointment, Rathan-Mayes instead flipped his perspective and set his sights on improving both on and off the floor.
He spent his summer watching film, better learning the ins and outs of his responsibilities.
And he reached out to his teammates and coaches – especially head coach Leonard Hamilton – in an effort to foster better relationships in the locker room.
“He’s changed a lot,” Bacon said. “He’s definitely a little more relaxed and chilled. He sticks with the things he does – school, work and workouts.”
Added Hamilton, “He’s shown that he’s willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary for the betterment of the team. I think he understands that, like the quarterback on a football team, when you’re the point guard on a basketball team, sometimes you get too much credit, sometimes you get too much blame.”
Rathan-Mayes has also drawn inspiration from FSU’s crop of newcomers, especially the guards.
In Trent Forrest and C.J. Walker, the Seminoles have two freshmen in the backcourt who are long on talent and promise but short on experience.
Rathan-Mayes said the two freshmen are constantly asking him questions, which has led to him feeling a responsibility to have the answers.
“C.J. and Trent really count on me,” Rathan-Mayes said. “So I feel myself really needing to be involved and needing to know the ins and outs of our system just so I’m able to help our younger guys.”
As the saying goes, the best way to learn something is to teach it. And Rathan-Mayes said he feels that taking responsibility for the newcomers’ development has paid big dividends in his own game.
So much so, that, more often than not, Hamilton doesn’t even need to speak his instructions anymore.
A simple look can get his message across.
“I’ve made that step and become a true extension of Coach ‘Ham,’” Rathan-Mayes said. “I know exactly what he wants and exactly what he expects out of me.”
Hamilton has seen a difference in Rathan-Mayes throughout the last few weeks of practice, as well as FSU’s first two exhibition games.
The game, of course, didn’t count, but Rathan-Mayes’ stat line against Southeastern two weeks ago might have been the blueprint for his success this season: only two shots attempted, but with eight assists and only two turnovers.
That’s not to say Rathan-Mayes won’t score – he chipped in 14 a week later against Valdosta State – but the idea this season is for him to find balance as a scorer and a facilitator.
If Rathan-Mayes can distribute the ball to Bacon or Isaac or one FSU’s other options, he’ll do that. If defenses take them away, Rathan-Mayes is more than capable of handling some scoring duties himself.
“I’ve found that happy medium of knowing when to do a little bit of both,” Rathan-Mayes said. “And I’m in a good place right now.”