TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – The Florida State men’s basketball team has earned a great deal of national preseason publicity heading in to the 2016-17 season. The Seminoles are ranked among the nation’s top 25 teams in nearly every poll and are picked to be among the top teams in the ACC – a league that has placed nearly half of its programs along with the Seminoles in the top-25 of those national polls.
The Seminoles are ranked 20th nationally by Blue Ribbon Magazine, 21st by Sporting News and 22nd by USA Today among the national preseason polls. The national landscape, which favorably includes the Seminoles, is populated by six teams in the ACC illustrating the incredible strength and depth of the nation’s toughest basketball conference. The Seminoles, who won the ACC Championship in 2012, will be among the favorites in the league along with Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and Miami.
While head coach Leonard Hamilton is aware of the praise his team has earned, he issued a challenge to his players as they began practice on Monday at the FSU Basketball Training Center.
“We have to go out an earn the right to be in this position and then move up higher,” said Hamilton. “We are in a position but we have not necessarily done anything on the court to show that we deserve it. Our job now is not to allow ourselves to fell any sense of accomplishment because people are giving us respect in the preseason. We have to now go out and prove to people … we have to go out and earn the respect that people have given us.
That’s what I’m challenging our players with.”
Florida State returns two of its top three scorers, its top rebounder and its leader in assists while welcoming back two frontcourt contributors who played a total of 11 combined games last season as well as its second consecutive top-10 ranked recruiting class for Hamilton’s 15th season in Tallahassee.
Florida State will be led by returning veterans and All-America candidates Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes who both entered their names for the 2016 NBA Draft but decided to return to Tallahassee to form one of the top backcourt tandems in the ACC. Bacon and Rathan-Mayes combined to average 27.2 points per game and make 71 3-point field goals last season. Bacon scored a Florida State freshman record 536 points and averaged a Seminole freshman record 15.6 points scored per game. Rathan-Mayes, who earned All-ACC Freshman Team honors in 2015, averaged 11.8 points per game as a sophomore and needs only 134 points to become only the 45th player in school history to score 1,000 or more career points.
In addition to being Florida State’s leading returning scorer, Bacon is also the Seminoles’ leading returning rebounder (5.6 rpg) while Rathan-Mayes is the Seminoles’ returning assists leader (4.4 apg).
The biggest boost to the roster will be in the Seminoles’ frontcourt as Michael Ojo (who missed the entire 2015-16 season) and Phil Cofer (who played in only 11 games as a sophomore) are healthy and will be major contributors to Florida State’s success. Ojo, who will play as a graduate student, has played in 96 career games and his return to the Seminoles’ lineup gives them a much needed presence in the paint. Cofer is one of the most athletic power forwards in college basketball. His return gives Florida State a presence near the basket and an athletic forward who can play on the perimeter.
Florida State continues to stockpile talent and welcomes a recruiting class of six to its roster. Included in the six-member class are: Jonathan Isaac (No. 9 overall high school player), Trent Forrest (the No. 48 overall player in the nation), CJ Walker (the No. 87 ranked player entering college for the 2016-17 season), Mfiondu Kabegnele (the No. 65 overall high school player), Braian Angola-Rodas (who earned All-American First Team Junior College Honors at North Idaho College in 2016) and PJ Savoy (who averaged 16.8 points per game as a junior college standout in 2016).
Isaac is the crown jewel of the Seminoles’ very impressive recruiting class, and by all reports, could be one of the top players in college basketball. He is a versatile combination forward who possesses an incredible blend of quickness and ball-handling skills. Isaac was the No. 3 overall ranked power forward in the Class of 2016, was the No. 1 ranked small forward in the south, the No. 1 ranked small forward and the No. 1 player in the state of Florida, the No. 3 small forward and the No. 12 overall recruit by 247Sports.com.
“I don’t want the fact that we have gotten that recognition early to be something that takes away from our focus,” said Hamilton. “It’s not how you start a season; it’s how you finish it. We have to look down the road to see how we can put ourselves in the best position to get back to the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis. We can’t worry about where we are ranked in the beginning – let’s worry about where we want to be at the end.”
The Seminoles will host their annual Jam with Ham dunkfest and 3-point shooting contest on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. Friday night (Oct. 7) at Tully Gymnasium on the FSU campus. They will host a pair of exhibitions (Nov. 27 against Southeastern University and Nov. 3 against Valdosta State) before opening their season on Nov. 12 against Charleston Southern at 1:00 p.m. Florida State’s opener comes the day after the Seminoles play host to Boston College on a rare Friday night game in Doak Campbell Stadium.
Florida State plays its first four games at home in the Donald L. Tucker Center beginning with its season-opener against Charleston Southern on Nov. 12. The Seminoles will also play host to Iona (Nov. 15) and two games in the NIT Season Tip-Off (against Winthrop Nov. 18 and Detroit Nov. 20) before travelling to New York to play in the championship rounds of the event.
Season tickets for the Seminoles’ 18-game home schedule can be purchased by logging on to www.seminoles.com by calling the FSU Ticket Office at 1-888-FSU NOLE.