TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s been more than two years since Braian Angola left North Idaho College, but his presence still lingers throughout the school’s basketball program.
Memories of Angola’s career with the Cardinals, in which he earned JUCO player of the year honors and led NIC to a 30-0 record as a sophomore, are still strong, and current players make it a point to catch his games with Florida State on T.V. whenever they can.
So when two of Angola’s coaches at NIC, Corey Symons and George Swanson, saw a brief break in their schedule – a break which happened to coincide with Angola’s final regular season game at FSU – they knew that they had to make a trip to Tallahassee.
“We weren’t going to miss this one,” said Swanson, just moments before FSU’s final practice ahead of Saturday’s crucial home finale against Boston College (2 p.m., ACC Network).
“We knew he was special when we had him.”
Angola, forward Phil Cofer and guard Brandon Allen will each take part in pre-game Senior Day ceremonies before the Seminoles (19-10, 8-9 ACC) look to atone for an earlier loss to BC and perhaps even seal a second straight NCAA tournament bid.
“It’s going to be a very, very special occasion,” Angola said.
“It’s definitely crazy,” Cofer said, “to think now how old I am and the progress that I’ve made.”
While Angola and Cofer took different roads to this point, each has helped the Seminoles by stepping into expanded roles throughout the season.
Angola, a Colombia native, arrived in Tallahassee with a scorer’s reputation, built during a sophomore year at NIC in which he scored 21.4 points per game.
But as a newcomer on a roster that featured future pros Johnathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Angola was instead asked to do something different: come off the bench to provide extra energy and defense.
Angola finished the season averaging just 4.6 point per game, but there were positive signs of things to come – his .420 mark from the 3-point line was the best on the team, and his .780 percentage at the free-throw line wasn’t far behind.
“He had to come in and find his role on a very talented team,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He took the role of being a defensive stopper and an energy guy and never complained. His attitude was always great.”
Cofer, meanwhile, is enjoying the fruits of a senior season that he sometimes thought might never come. A decorated center from Fayetteville, Ga., Cofer got off to a fine start and as a freshman finished among the Seminoles’ top five in scoring, rebounding and blocks.
His progress, though, was derailed by injuries to both his ankle and his back.
The ankle ailment cost Cofer all but 11 games of his sophomore season. And while he was available for most of his junior campaign, Cofer never quite felt like himself. He averaged only 12.5 minutes per game and endured career lows on the stat sheet.
But whereas another player might have lost his determination after so much time away, Cofer’s instead grew.
So, too, did his versatility. A switch in Florida State’s philosophies required Cofer to expand his presence outside the post, and he responded by becoming both a better ball-handler and shooter.
Having enjoyed a full, healthy season for the first time in three years, Cofer has emerged as one of FSU’s most dependable scorers (13.4 points per game), as well as one of its top perimeter shooters. His .394 percentage from 3-point range is best among Seminoles with at least 100 attempts.
“The character that he’s shown with how he’s conducted his business is just phenomenal,” Hamilton said. “(From) the injuries that he’s had to overcome, (to) the transition from being a center in high school, to adjusting to the system that we’re utilizing now, where we’re spreading the floor and doing things that he had to work and improve on.”
Cofer’s breakout year has coincided with a big step forward from Angola. With Isaac, Bacon and Rathan-Mayes all gone from last year’s team, Angola has filled FSU’s scoring void with 12.7 points per game while also contributing team-bests in assists (83) and steals (40).
He’s reached double figures in 19 games this season, including 20 in a one-point win against North Carolina and a career-best 24 in an overtime victory over Syracuse.
“You have to take your hat off to him,” Hamilton said. “I’m very proud of him and what he’s been able to accomplish. He’s a special guy.”
While both players are looking forward to the pre-game festivities (Cofer will participate, although he plans to apply for a medical redshirt for next season), each said he’s more focused on beating Boston College and extending the season as long as possible.
The Eagles (17-13, 7-10) are one of the ACC’s most improved teams, having won seven ACC games after combining to go 2-34 in league play over the last two seasons.
That’s thanks in large part to the guard combo of Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman, which together averages nearly 40 points per game.
Robinson, a 6-6, 191-pound junior, leads the ACC with 24.8 points per game in league play.
“That speaks for itself,” Hamilton said. “I mean, can you imagine? Every game that he’s played, he’s been the point of interest of every team that he’s played against, and he’s gotten 25 points, easy.
“It’s almost like a videogame. He just scores at will.”