TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Maybe it’s the squeak of a new pair of Nike’s on a freshly varnished court. Or the thump-thump-thump of a brand new basketball on the hardwood. Or the feel of a crisp new uniform pulled on for the first time.
It’s certainly all three of those and much more as the Florida State Men’s Basketball team begins its 74th season of intercollegiate basketball when it plays host to Stetson on Monday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Donald L. Tucker Center. The Seminoles take to the court under the watchful eye of Leonard Hamilton — the winningest coach in school history who is only five wins shy of 600 for his career and a sure-bet Hall of Famer.
“We are anxious to get started,” said Hamilton on the eve of his 21st-season at Florida State. “I like our team. I’m looking forward to getting started, and I’m excited. We will be a long and athletic team, and we should be able to continue playing the style that works for our culture.”
Florida State will be led during the upcoming season by a core group of returning guards in Matthew Cleveland, and his back court running mates Caleb Mills and Jalen Warley. Mills and Cleveland finished one-two in scoring for the Seminoles during the 2021-22 season. The Seminoles also welcome back Cam’Ron Fletcher and center Naheem McLeod while adding transfer Darin Green, Jr., from UCF and an exciting and highly-ranked group of freshmen.
Stetson, meanwhile, returns nine players for second-year coach Donnie Jones. The Hatters finished with a 14-19 overall record and a 5-11 mark in Atlantic Sun play last season.
Florida State’s game against Stetson marks the first time in school history the Seminoles will open a season against the Hatters, and the third time since the 2013-14 season the Seminoles have played a team from the state of Florida in its season opener. Florida State is 26-4 (.867 winning percentage) al-time in season openers when they are against teams from the state of Florida.
The Seminoles’ game against Stetson will test their success against opponents from the state of Florida in the last eight years. Florida State is 31-6 overall (.838 winning percentage) versus schools from the Sunshine State and 19-2 at home (.905 winning percentage) against schools from the state at the Tucker Center since the start of the 2014-15 season.
Picked to finish fifth in the ACC race by the attending media at the 2022 ACC Operation Basketball event, Florida State faces Stetson of the Atlantic Sun for the 53rd time in school history. The Seminoles have won 18 straight games in the series and 24 straight games that have been contested in Tallahassee. The Seminoles have not lost to the Hatters in a game played on Florida State’s campus since 1953.
Additionally, the Seminoles have won more than 90 percent of their games at the Tucker Center (88-8, .917 winning percentage) since the end of the 2015-16 season – an average of more than 14 wins per season at home in front of some of the most passionate fans in the nation.
The Seminoles’ home court advantage has helped the Seminoles to a 36-1 overall mark against non-conference opponents since the start of the 2016-17 season. Florida State was 4-0 in The Tuck last season and has defeated more than 97 percent (36 of 37) of their non-ACC opponents in the last six years.
“It’s been since March that we have played in this building,” said Cleveland. “There is a very good vibe to be back in this building. It’s been a good year so far. I’m really ready to play with all of my teammates. I’m looking forward to having fun this season.”
Cleveland, who averaged 11.5 points per game in 2021, returns for this second season as one of the top players in the ACC. Earlier this month he was named as one of three players in the nation’s top basketball conference to the Julius Erving Award Watch List as the nation’s top small forward in all of college basketball.
“For me, to have my name associated with Julius Erving is about the environment of this program,” said Cleveland. “The confidence and the level of energy our coaches provide to me, and their desire to help me get better and develop, is what I take from every aspect of this program. Everything is about our team, not just one single player.”
For Cleveland, it’s the second consecutive season the reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year has been named preseason watch list for the Erving award.
Cleveland, who scored nine points in Florida State’s season-opening victory over Penn last year, has helped Hamilton find his share of success in openers throughout his career.
The Seminoles are 18-2 in season openers (.900 winning percentage) under Hamilton. He is Florida State’s winningest coach in season openers. Under Hamilton, the Seminoles are 18-1 against non-conference opponents in tip-off games.
“Everybody who plays college basketball is excited to start the season,” said Hamilton. “Our guys are just like everyone else. They are tired of practicing against one another. Everybody is just ready to get started. We are excited and we are ready to go. I’m sure every school in the country feels the same way.”
Seminole fans interested in purchasing season tickets for Monday’s game against Stetson, and for all home regular season games at the Donald L. Tucker Center can learn more here, or are encouraged to call the Florida State Ticket Office at 1-888-FSU-NOLE. Single game tickets for home games in November and December are currently on sale. January and February game tickets will go on sale at a later date.