TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In recent years, Florida State basketball’s seniors had mostly cemented their legacies by the end of their careers.
The 2009 Seminoles were well on their way to their first NCAA tournament appearance in more than a decade by the time Toney Douglas played his final home game.
Luke Loucks, Deividas Dulkys and Bernard James helped lead the Seminoles to the Sweet 16 before punctuating their careers with an ACC tournament championship in in 2012.
And Michael Snaer had already drained a career’s worth of buzzer-beaters before taking a final bow in Tallahassee in 2013.
This year’s senior class, however, has yet to write its final chapter. At least it hopes so.
For Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon and Boris Bojanovsky, Saturday’s home game against Syracuse is not only the last game they’ll play at the Donald L. Tucker Center. It could also be one of the last games of their careers.
Beyond Saturday and then at least one ACC tournament game next week in Washington, D.C., FSU’s immediate future is uncertain.
But although they’re still on the fringe of the NCAA tournament conversation, FSU’s seniors haven’t given up hope that they can get hot and play their way into the Big Dance.
If last week’s upset win over No. 20 Notre Dame was a great first step, beating the Orange on Senior Day would be a perfect follow-up.
“I still think there’s a chance,” Bojanovsky said.
“Especially with the type of team we have,” Bookert added. “I think we can definitely do that.”
Both acknowledged that they haven’t travelled the smoothest road.
Florida State’s signing class of 2012 came from all over the globe: Bojanovsky from the Slovak Republic and Bookert from Anchorage, Alaska. Even fellow signees Robert Gilchrist (England) and Michael Ojo (Nigeria), hailed from overseas, leaving just two players – Brandon and Aaron Thomas – from the contiguous United States.
(Ojo is still on the roster and in the midst of a redshirt season. Gilchrist, a junior college transfer, graduated after the 2014 season. Thomas was dismissed midway through the 2014-15 season.)
As coach Leonard Hamilton’s first signing class following the ACC title, expectations for this group soared.
And while there have been several highlights over the last four years – a handful of wins over ranked opponents and a trip to the NIT semifinals in 2014 – the senior class still has one blank spot on its resume.
“This team has not participated in the NCAA (tournament),” Hamilton said.
“But,” he quickly added, “in terms of what the student-athlete is about, these guys have represented us in a way that’s been beyond measure.”
It’s that last part that Hamilton feels is most important.
Whether this team makes a surprise run to the NCAA tournament remains to be seen.
But, regardless of how the season plays out, Hamilton is confident that Bookert, Brandon and Bojanovsky will leave FSU as better people than when they arrived.
“You know what kind of lives they’re going to lead when they leave you,” Hamilton said. “You know they’re going to be good leaders in their community. They’re going to be good neighbors, fathers, citizens and husbands.
“So as a coach, that means an awful lot. For me to be comfortable knowing that these guys came in here as teenagers and they’re going out as young men.”
Still, the three seniors are hoping to remain college basketball players for a few more weeks.
That starts on Saturday, when the Seminoles look to even up the season series with the Orange after a lopsided defeat on the road last month.
FSU trailed by just three points at halftime before Syracuse pulled away for an 85-72 victory.
Although the Seminoles went on to lose four straight after that one, the Orange hasn’t fared much better and enters Saturday’s game having lost three of its last four.
FSU, meanwhile, is riding a wave of confidence after thumping Notre Dame, 77-56, a week ago.
It was a startling return to form for the Seminoles, who had won four straight prior to their skid.
And it was enough to make the seniors believe that they can put off writing that final chapter for a little while longer.
“I think it was real important for us because it gave us some momentum going into postseason play, as well as our last game of the season,” Bookert said. “I think if we play that way, then we’re going to be hard to beat.”