CLEMSON, S.C. – During Florida State’s preseason camp, coach Leonard Hamilton said that sophomore guard Trent Forrest might have emerged as the team’s top performer.
It was a surprising assertion, given that even after losing their top three scorers from a year ago, the Seminoles still had players on the roster with either more experience or more pedigree.
But after four months and a longer-than-expected recovery from an injury, Forrest might just be proving his head coach right after all.
The Chipley, Fla., native is in the midst of perhaps the best stretch of his career, having scored in double-figures in three straight games and topping the Seminoles’ scoresheet for the first time ever in an otherwise forgettable night at North Carolina State on Sunday.
Forrest, who averages nearly 25 minutes per game despite starting just once this season, is averaging 14.7 points per game over those last three contests – more than double his year-long average of 6.9.
“It feels good, just being able to help the team in whichever way I can,” said Forrest, who leads the Seminoles (19-9, 8-8 ACC) into a crucial matchup at No. 18 Clemson on Wednesday (9 p.m., ESPNU). “Whatever it may be, I feel like I’m at a good spot with my body to be able to do that.”
That last point is a fairly recent development.
As Hamilton said, Forrest was enjoying the best preseason of any Seminole, and seemed primed for a breakout sophomore year.
But with one bad step in practice – which resulted in a hyperextended knee and a deep bone bruise – that all fell by the wayside.
For a while, anyway.
The injury wasn’t especially serious – Forrest missed only one game – but it was plenty painful.
And, at least early on, it came with a cumbersome brace that Forrest had to wear for more than a month.
Forrest was a regular in the lineup, but as he rehabilitated the first significant injury of his life, he all of a sudden was walking a frustrating road.
He reached double-digits in just three of his first 21 games and six times scored three points or less.
“Even though he was cleared to play, I think it took another month or so to get the confidence to cut hard and change directions and do some of the things, physically, that we asked him to do,” Hamilton said. “And I think he’s such a caring player that it kind of affected his confidence a little bit – like maybe he (thought he) was letting everybody down and not being who he is.”
As he worked his way back, Forrest found that little things that had come naturally for years – subconscious skills like knowing which leg to push off or land on, or how to change directions on the way to the basket – had to be relearned.
It’s a process, Hamilton said, that virtually every basketball player must go through at one time or another.
“It’s just something where you don’t quite feel yourself,” he said. “And that’s on your mind and it does not give you the ability to go out and play the way you’re accustomed to playing. And then you get to a certain point where it feels OK and you don’t think about it and you respond and react.
“And basketball is such a game of reaction and confidence.”
Forrest knows exactly when he reached that point – Exactly two weeks ago, when the Clemson Tigers visited Tallahassee.
With the Seminoles in an 18-point hole and staring at what would have been a third straight loss, Forrest answered the bell in stunning fashion by scoring 16 points – 12 in the second half or overtime – to go along with four assists and two timely free throws in what turned out to be an 81-79 victory for FSU.
“Around then, I feel like I got my legs back,” Forrest said.
Consider the games the followed as further evidence: Twelve points, five rebounds and four assists in an 88-75 win over Pittsburgh, and then 16 points, six boards and seven assists in a 92-72 setback at NC State.
Forrest was a bright spot in Raleigh. Wednesday in Clemson, he’ll hope to be one of many as the Seminoles look to win their fifth straight game over the Tigers.
Clemson’s loss to FSU was the first of a three-game skid that ended with a win over Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Tigers (21-7, 10-6) are 14-1 at home this season.
FSU, meanwhile, is 4-4 in its last eight games and can lock up a 20th win for the third consecutive season on Wednesday.