April 23, 2021 - by
Graduation 2021: Basketball With A Home Court Advantage

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – The graduation list under Seminole Head Basketball coach Leonard Hamilton is a who’s who of the Florida State Men’s Basketball program in the last two decades.

Nearly every player who has contributed to the Seminoles’ success on the court has also achieved success in the classroom.

These role players, starters, All-ACC selections, ACC Champions and NCAA Tournament heroes from the Seminole Men’s Basketball program have one thing in common: they have earned their degrees from Florida State University.

A number of things are apparent when you choose to play basketball at Florida State.  One is that you are going to compete for multiple ACC Championships.  Another is that you are going to play in the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis.

Most important to Hamilton and his staff is that you are going to earn your degree.

Having just completed his 19th season as the winningest coach at Florida State basketball history, Hamilton sees to it that his players leave campus with incredible basketball memories and one thing that can never be taken from them – their degrees.  Since the start of the 2003 season, an incredible total of 71 of 73 players (97.3 percent) who have played through their senior seasons under Hamilton have earned their degrees.

As Florida State University hosts 11 different in-person commencement ceremonies this spring, seven Seminoles will earn their undergraduate degrees.  Wyatt Wilkes (Humanities), RayQuan Evans (Social Science), RaiQuan Gray (Social Science), Nathanael Jack (Social Science), Malik Osborne (Criminology), M.J. Walker (Social Science) and Anthony Polite (Finance) will all become graduates of FSU.

Three more Seminoles – Travis Light (Business Management), Justin Lindner (Applied Mathematics) and Will Miles (Finance) – will also earn their graduate degrees.

As the student-athletes cross the stage, it will sound just like the Seminoles’ starting lineup is being introduced prior to a nationally televised game inside the Donald L. Tucker Center.

Call it a home court advantage for Hamilton’s Seminoles who finished the season in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive time in 2021.  Each of the Seminoles honored by University President John Thrasher at graduation played on the Seminoles’ 2020 ACC Championship team and helped advance Florida State’s ‘New Blood’ tradition into the lexicon of college basketball.

“It’s what we expect from all of our players,” said Hamilton.  “It’s at the cornerstone of our entire philosophy as coaches, and of our program.  It’s one of the first things we tell every player when we begin recruiting them long before they arrive on campus.  The most important thing our players will earn when they come to Florida State is their degree.”

As a player, Hamilton earned his undergraduate degree at Tennessee-Martin before becoming a coach at Austin Peay in 1971.  He helped the University of Kentucky win the national championship in 1978 before beginning his head coaching career at Oklahoma State in 1987.  From there he went to the University of Miami before arriving at Florida State in 2002.

At eeach of his coaching positions, wins have coincided with degrees.

At Miami, he took the Hurricanes to the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons (1998, 1999, 2000) including the Sweet 16 in his final season at the school.  Hamilton’s graduation rate at Miami was above 94 percent.

The Seminoles are the second winningest team in the ACC since the start of the 2016-17 season and are one of three teams in the nation who have advanced to the Sweet 16 in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments.  His graduation rate at Florida State is better than 97 percent.

“My biggest reward is when I see them walk across that stage knowing that they are benefitting from the experience just like I did,” said Hamilton.  “If all I have is Coach of the Year awards and victories and newspaper clippings, but my kids haven’t succeeded, then what have I done?”

As Hamilton watches his players walk across the stage in front of their family and friends who supported them throughout their basketball careers, Hamilton will feel an immense sense of pride.

For Evans, it will mean as much to his family as it will mean to him.

“Graduating from Florida State means a lot to me and my family,” said Evans, who plans to return to play for the Seminoles during the 2021-22 season.  “To be able to get an education and play basketball at this level is a dream come true. I am thankful to be able to set an example to all of the kids back home.  They need to know that they can achieve anything they set their mind to and to follow their dreams. Florida State has been amazing, and I’ll forever be grateful to be a part of the Seminole family.”

Polite will become the second member of his family to earn his degree from Florida State.  His father, Michael, earned his degree in Communication and Media Studies in 1993.

“I’m extremely blessed to be able to say I’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in Finance,” said Polite.   “Who would’ve known that a little kid from Switzerland with a dream to play college basketball would be able to tell my family that I made it, I graduated from Florida State. I could have never done it without the help and support of my family.”

Polite, too, will be back to lead the Seminoles next season.

Osborne, a member of the FSU President’s Task Force on Antic-Racism, Equality and Inclusion, will return for his third season in a Florida State uniform during the 2021-22 season.

“Graduating from Florida State means a lot to me because it has been a goal of mine that I worked hard to accomplish,” said Osborne.  “Florida State has helped make me the man I am today. Graduating has always been a priority for my family and me.”

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