TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Prior to last week, it had been 11 years since the Florida State men’s basketball team opened its season with two games on the road.
And, with all due respect to Jacksonville and La Salle – the two opponents that FSU faced the last time it happened, in 2008-09 – this year’s Seminoles had a considerably higher degree of difficulty.
Leonard Hamilton’s group navigated perhaps the most challenging first week of his tenure with a 1-1 record that came after a toe-stub at Pittsburgh followed by an emphatic, dominant victory at No. 6 Florida a few days later.
No matter the outcomes, it’s good to be home, which is where the Seminoles will be for their next four games, beginning with Friday’s home opener against Western Carolina (7 p.m., Fox Sports).
“There’s no question that we’re excited about being at home,” Hamilton said. “But the way we look at it, we have to be equally prepared to play on the road as we are at home.”
Particularly when going against teams whose brands perhaps aren’t as established as FSU’s previous opponents.
After Western Carolina, the Seminoles will host Chattanooga, Saint Francis (Pa.) and Chicago State before heading to Destin to play Tennessee.
No, there’s not an ACC-caliber opponent among them.
But if the Seminoles were lacking for motivation of focus, they won’t be after taking a look at this week’s college basketball headlines.
After all, If No. 1 Kentucky can lose at home to Evansville, as it did earlier this week, then there’s no reason for anyone, Seminoles included, to ever think they’re in for a light workload.
“Just watching Kentucky and them losing … we’ve got to come in every game and be ready to play as hard as we can,” FSU sophomore Devin Vassell said.
Added redshirt sophomore RaiQuan Gray: “We’re all competitive. We all want to win. Regardless of who we’re playing, we have that mindset.”
Still, Hamilton would also like to spend the next few games learning a little bit more about his team.
He knows what he has in the likes of Trent Forrest, M.J. Walker and Vassell. But he also feels as though he’s seen a little too much of them – particularly Forrest.
The senior played an average of 34.9 minutes in FSU’s first two games, more than five minutes higher than last year’s average.
Vassell, meanwhile, is up over 24 minutes per game after averaging 10.7 as a freshman. An increased workload was always expected for the talented forward, but, for the Seminoles to reach their potential, Hamilton believes they need to develop some more reliable depth.
“We definitely can’t play Trent 35 minutes (per game),” Hamilton said. “We want very much to start figure out our rotation and who we’re playing.”
Non-conference home games have typically been a good place for the Seminoles to do so.
They’ve won 32 straight in the Donald L. Tucker Center outside of the ACC competition and are 49-3 in their last 52 home games overall.
No wonder, then, that they’re so happy to be on their home floor again.
“I’m very excited,” Vassell said. “I’ve been looking forward to being able to get the feel and atmosphere of playing in ‘The Tuck.’ Just being able to go in front of our home crowd and give them a show.”
The Seminoles could be in for a nice boost, too.
Hamilton said Wednesday that junior college transfer RayQuan Evans, expected to be the team’s top reserve point guard, could make his debut after recovering from a hamstring injury over the last several weeks.
Evans, 6-4, 210 pounds, averaged 18.2 points and seven rebounds per game as a sophomore at North Idaho College, and was named the Northwest Athletic Conference’s male basketball athlete of the year.
“We think that he’s about ready,” Hamilton said. “We thought he could have played at Florida, but we thought that was a tough situation to put him in.
“We definitely need him to get involved with our rotation, so that’s another player that we’ve got to try to integrate back into our system.”