December 1, 2000 - by
Basketball Team Looks Forward To Furman

Dec. 1, 2000

A voice from Florida State’s basketball past likes what he sees in the Seminoles’ future. He mentioned FSU’s depth, its athleticism, its personality, its intensity. As a scout for the New York Knicks, Kenny Williamson gets paid to notice details.

Williamson, a one-time assistant at FSU, looked around the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center on Nov. 17 and a smile crept across his face. The joint was sold-out. It was loud. It was fun. It was electric. A good time was had by all, but that era has been mothballed.

“Steve is getting it going,” Williamson said.

Coach Steve Robinson is building a legacy at FSU. While Robinson is the first to admit the expectations of his program “haven’t been skyrocketing high” over the last two seasons, that approach is changing. Fans who wedged into the Civic Center to watch the Seminoles tangle with 11th-ranked Florida had to be pleasantly surprised. FSU did well.

These ‘Noles could be delightfully different.

Williamson, who has charted the Seminoles’ play over the past five years as a scout, noticed the difference immediately when he attended their practice the night before the opener. Juiced newcomers such as Michael Joiner, Monte Cummings and Andrew Wilson represent a banner recruiting haul.

FSU nearly had Gator tail as an appetizer.

UF needed a career-high 27 points from Teddy Dupay and had to fight to the finish for an 85-70 victory over the bullish Seminoles. Despite key losses, UF had reason to believe it might coast through its opener. The Gators were coming off a trip to the NCAA final last season, which they opened with a 35-point laugher over FSU.

By game’s end, one point was obvious:

These surely wasn’t the same Seminoles.

Not until Dupay sandwiched two treys around an inside basket from Udonis Haslem did UF have a lead it could feel comfortable with, 69-56 with five minutes left. Dupay breathed a sigh of relief following the game, saying the final score was not indicative of just how close the game actually was. “Anyone who saw the game knows that,” Dupay said.

In fact, if the Seminoles’ veterans matched the poised play of their youngsters, the outcome may have been different. Still, it was a nice opening-night performance.

“We’ve gotten some things done in practice,” Robinson said. “I just wasn’t sure how we’d respond once they turned the big lights on. I’m certainly happy with the kids’ effort. I think they fought hard. There were just a couple stretches where we didn’t make the plays we needed.”

The challenge has just begun.

Of the Seminoles’ 34 losses over the last two seasons, 31 have come against teams that have advanced to postseason play. FSU will be able to catch its breath in December against the likes of Furman, Cleveland State, Binghamton and Morgan State. It’s part of the growing process. However, whether FSU improves on consecutive 17-loss seasons will largely depend on the collective effort of the entire team.

From Delvon Arrington to “Big Jelly” to Wilson.

While FSU challenged UF, the Seminoles could never quite get over the hump. But it was the stellar play of Joiner which kept the home team within striking distance. This Michael’s got game, too. He’s more workmanlike than high-wire. The freshman forward from Fayetteville, N.C., scored 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting and was easily one of the best players on the floor.

The entire floor.

“Not bad for a freshman,” Robinson mused.

It wasn’t just his smooth stroke either. He swatted away a Justin Hamilton dunk early the second half, a play that left a stunned Hamilton shaking his head. He handled the basketball on the Seminoles’ in-bounds plays and cleared the floor against the Gators’ frenetic press — all with a stoic stare. Even UF coach Billy Donovan departed impressed, saying Joiner was going to be one of the top newcomers in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

FSU also has more live ammo than past years.

There’s Cummings, who played last season for national champion Southeastern (Iowa) Community College. His swagger could be contagious. By no means was Wilson overwhelmed by Gator emotion. Ryan Lowery gave Arrington needed spells at the point. Look for new guys to push old guys.

While the Seminoles probably won’t flourish in the post, they won’t flounder either, thanks to the inspired play of Nigel “Big Jelly” Dixon. The big fella, all 350 pounds, had 11 points in 19 minutes and gobbled up all kinds of loose space in the middle. David Anderson and Mike Mathews remain in the equation, too.

Entering the season, Robinson named Arrington, Adrian Crawford and Antwuan Dixon his tri-captains. He pointed out the trio had worked the hardest and shown the most consistency, saying it was their team. Widely picked to occupy the ACC cellar for another season, the three promised this year would be different.

While the trio pressed badly against the Gators, going a combined 5 for 20 from the floor, their leadership remains the key to the Seminoles’ high hopes. They need to keep the ship steady. But, making matters even more difficult, the ACC appears to be the perfect storm.

For two years the demise of the ACC has been a national story. If there is ever going to be a comeback by the league’s rank and file, this would be the season. Of course, look for mighty Duke to set the tone for the conference’s return to dominance.

FSU’s return to its winning ways is not expected to be as easy. Still, fans will settle for improved and hopeful at the moment. Williamson saw the positives, too. Let’s face it. No one really expected the Seminoles to beat the Gators (in hoops). But it could have happened, and FSU has something to build on.

That bodes well for the future.

By Jim Henry, The Osceola

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