TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – The last time we saw Head Coach Leonard Hamilton and the Florida State Men’s Basketball team it was March 12, and the Seminoles were accepting the ACC Championship trophy from Commissioner John Swofford on the court at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Seminoles won a school record 16 ACC games, finished the ACC regular season with a 16-4 record and won their first ever ACC regular season championship.
When the coronavirus shut down the world and cancelled every conference tournament in the nation – and soon thereafter the NCAA Tournament – the No. 4 ranked Seminoles were declared the ACC Champions for the second time under Hamilton.
Fast forward to October 18 and the Seminoles officially took to the practice court as the defending ACC Champions for the second time in school history. Florida State returns three starters and a core group of players from a team that many thought was the favorite to win the National Championship had the NCAA Tournament been played.
Florida State begins the new season with five players who have experience as a starters, six players who averaged more than 10 minutes of playing time per game a year ago and 13 players who helped the Seminoles win the 2020 ACC Championship.
“That’s one of the greatest things about college basketball,” said Hamilton. “You get a chance to go prove what you are capable of doing. That’s why it’s the greatest spectator sport ever created because you get to say there is one champion at the end. Unfortunately, we were not able to go for it this year (in 2020), so we are right back to the drawing board, and that’s what our plans are again.”
Hamilton, who spent much of the last seven months reviewing every Florida State game of the 2019-20 season countless times, is more energized than ever to start the 2020-21 season.
If that is even possible.
“I really, really like this team,” said Hamilton who begins his 19th season at Florida State. “I think what has happened over the years is we projected, looked down the road and recruited the kind of guys who would get better and continue to keep improving. I think that’s where we are now.”
Hamilton and his staff have assembled one of the deepest, most talented and experienced teams they have had since their arrival at Florida State in 2002.
Hamilton is extremely impressed with senior guard M.J. Walker, who is a starter and team leader for the Seminoles in his third consecutive season.
“I can’t find words to express to you how proud I am of M.J. Walker,” said Hamilton. “Every year he’s made progress in areas of his game. He plays hard, he’s one of our better defenders. He has that ability that when the game is on the line, the higher the level of pressure, the more efficient and accurate he becomes. It’s amazing when I look back when he was a freshman and sophomore, whenever we needed big buckets, he’s always the guy. He always comes through. He has an uncanny way of playing better in big moments.”
Including Walker, Florida State’s roster is full of household names that are familiar throughout the nation as they have all helped the Seminoles become one of the top and most consistent programs in the nation.
The Seminoles, who finished with a 26-5 overall record last season, are 78-25 in the last three seasons (.757 winning percentage), 166-64 in the last six seasons (.722 winning percentage) and 254-115 in the last 10 seasons (.715 winning percentage).
“People like Malik Osborne, RaiQuan Gray, Wyatt Wilkes and Anthony Polite – those guys have really made tremendous improvement along with Balsa (Koprivica). I also don’t think you had a chance to see what (RayQuan) Evans could do because he was injured in the beginning of the year. I really, really like Scottie Barnes, Sardaar Calhoun and you are going to be surprised with Quincy Ballard.”
Hamilton likes the mixture of the physical improvement of his returning players and the preseason play of his newcomers.
“Physically we brought in some guys who fit our system,” said Hamilton. “Now we need to get together and hopefully we can find a way as a unit to replace what Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams gave us last year.”
A distinct characteristic of Hamilton’s teams are that they continue to improve as each player develops throughout their careers. This team, and its players, are no different.
“RaiQuan Gray is really coming around,” said Hamilton. “He is skilled. He’s big. He’s different. He give us something that other people don’t have – a big strong body who is really, really skilled. He’s improved his perimeter shooting along with Malik (Osborne). Malik has really made the biggest jump of all of our kids this year because he is already an outstanding athlete, a very hard playing guy and I think he has adjusted from going from the five to the four if there is such a thing in our system. He gives us a chance to really be quick defensively, athletic and strong. Those two guys are really coming around.”
Walker and his teammates are looking forward to getting started on the upcoming season.
“It’s truly a blessing to be back,” said Walker. “We all learned that anything can be taken away at any point, especially with the way last season ended. We are super excited to have our first practice. Just hearing everyone’s voices; everyone is excited and ready to get it going. It’s a new start and a different start, but I am ready.
“Every year since I’ve gotten here we’ve gotten better. We have learned from last year. We continue to get better after each team has gotten better from the previous year. I think the sky is the limit for this group. The focus, the dedication and the talent is unmatched.”