TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On the eve of his 16th season-opener at Florida State, Leonard Hamilton sees a lot of questions on a roster that is replacing its top three scorers from a year ago.
He also sees plenty of answers in the form of several key returners and a wave of talented newcomers.
Determining exactly how those questions and answers align – who is best suited for what role, which lineups are most effective and beyond – is the trick. And Hamilton is hoping to get a jump on that process tonight, when the Seminoles begin their 2017-18 campaign at the Tucker Center against George Washington.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on regional sports networks.
“I think we’ve got a lot of unanswered questions,” Hamilton said. “I think that we have some guys with some physical ability. We’ve just got to see how much progress we’ve made in relation to playing with each other, within ourselves. It’s going to be a while before we develop the right rotation.”
Hamilton has some good places to start.
The Seminoles will no doubt miss Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, but they still have a core of players that played significant roles in last season’s run to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
That includes junior Terance Mann (8.4 points, 4.5 rebounds per game in 2016-17), the lone returning starter from a year ago, as well as sophomore guards Trent Forest and C.J. Walker (4.9 PPG each), promising guard Braian Angola (4.6) and shooting specialist P.J. Savoy (5.5, 40-percent from 3-point range).
Throw in a pair of seasoned big men – 7-foot-4 senior Christ Koumadje and 6-9 senior Phil Cofer – and the Seminoles have the makings of an imposing, experienced team.
All told, FSU returns six players that averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season.
“I feel like we’re not missing anything,” Mann said. “We’ve got shooters, low-post scorers, mid-post scorers. We’ve got Christ in the middle for the post hits and stuff like that. I don’t feel like we’re missing anything.”
Hamilton, though, said he intends to continue with the same fast-paced, aggressive style of play that carried the Seminoles to 26 wins last season.
And, to do that, FSU will need more than just a seven- or eight-man rotation.
That’s where the latest crop of new talent comes in.
Hamilton earlier this year signed his fourth consecutive top-12 recruiting class, a group highlighted by McDonald’s All-American M.J. Walker, a shooting guard from Jonesboro, Ga.
Walker, the No. 8 overall prospect in the country per ESPN, may grab most of the headlines, but the Seminoles have high hopes for fellow freshmen Anthony Polite, Ike Obiagu, RaiQuan Gray and Wyatt Wilkes, too.
While Hamilton likes what his freshmen have shown so far, he’s also anxious to see them adjust to new roles and a new level of competition.
The faster they can do that, the faster the Seminoles can reach their potential.
“We think that, once again, the strength of this team will be the quality of our depth, but we have to get that depth cultivated and start defining some roles that all our guys can accept,” Hamilton said.
“There’s no doubt that they’re making progress, but exhibition games and practice are not real games. You need those game experiences. You need to get those butterflies out. And we also need to learn how to play together.”
Hamilton won’t have to wait long for a measuring stick. George Washington won 20 games a year ago and returns second-leading scorer Yuta Watanabe, a senior guard that scored 19 points in the Colonials’ win over Howard on Saturday.
FSU is 3-0 all-time against George Washington, which includes a 67-48 victory in Washington, D.C., last season.
“They know what it’s like to compete at this level,” Hamilton said. “That’s probably the best type of team that we need to play.”