Terance Mann couldn’t help but smile.
Prior to Florida State taking the floor for its first official practice of the 2017-18 season on Sunday afternoon, the excitement in the junior’s voice was evident.
“We can score the ball,” Mann said. “People are saying we lost this, this, and that. But you’ll see. It won’t be a problem.”
A year after winning 26 games and reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Seminoles are flying under the radar on the national scene. Much of that can be attributed to losing four starters, three of which are now in NBA training camps in Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic), Dwayne Bacon (Charlotte Hornets) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (New York Knicks).
During the offseason, the Noles tasked themselves with improving areas in which they struggled a year ago, despite the successful campaign. FSU coach Leonard Hamilton pointed to perimeter shooting and free-throw percentage as key concepts that he emphasized this summer, areas in which his players feel they’ll make progress this season.
“I’ve seen the improvement throughout pick-up games and in Jamaica,” Mann said. “I think we attempted 40 threes in one game out there, so it’s just something we do now. It’ll be fun.”
“We have a lot more shooters and guys that can score the ball,” sophomore Trent Forrest added. “But our offense still has the freedom to do what we do, which is play fast and get up and down the court.”
In 2016, the Noles finished in the top 20 of the NCAA and No. 3 in the ACC in points scored per game (82.5 ppg). The success in the transition game helped the team achieve some of its best offensive numbers in Hamilton’s tenure. The squad’s depth played a large role in the attacking success, an area FSU feels it will be strong again this season.
“We still have good depth with a lot players that can do different things,” Forrest said. “I think that’s similar to last year.”
“There are some similarities to last year in that we’ll have a lot of newcomers contributing,” Mann added. “It’s a little different, but we’re deep again, so that’ll be important.”
The Seminoles should also enjoy the fruits of another top recruiting class hauled in by Hamilton and his staff. After finishing with the No. 4-ranked class in 2016 per 247Sports, FSU welcomed the No. 9-ranked class in 2017 per ESPN, a group led by M.J. Walker and Ike Obiagu. The five-man group is being counted on as making the same impact as last season’s batch of newcomers labeled the “Boom Squad.”
“They are an important part of this team and we need them to give us the same boost our newcomers gave us last year,” Hamilton said. “We’re looking for them to bring us that same level of energy and productivity.”
An opportunity to visit Jamaica for a preseason trip gave the Noles 10 extra practices and three games to get a head start on the upcoming campaign. From assessing different personnel groupings to valuable bonding experiences for the players, FSU made the most of its time in the Caribbean.
“I can tell from the first time we got those extra practices everyone has gotten better,” Forrest said. “The freshmen are understanding the offense better and the whole trip was very beneficial.”
“There’s no doubt that was a very valuable experience for our team. We took a different approach there focused on execution,” Hamilton said.
“We started different groups every quarter of every game, mixing the veterans and newcomers so they could learn how to play to each other’s strengths.”
As they hit the hardwood for another season, the Seminoles plan to take the experiences of a successful run last year and apply them to the upcoming campaign. Learning to win is a valuable skill, as the margin between victory and defeat is often razor-thin. The team’s veterans vow to teach their teammates the ways of a successful program.
“The experience of learning how to win, we can explain that to the younger guys of what it takes to get to the NCAA tournament and winning in the ACC,” Forrest said.
“Mentally and emotionally they grew, I think they understand what it takes to be successful,” Hamilton said.
Each season takes on a life of its own.
While players cycle in and out, the attitude remains the same. Reaching the NCAA Tournament is the goal of the program every season and the current roster feels the pieces are there to reach the Big Dance again in 2018.
“We’re a team that’s maybe being overlooked because we’ve lost a lot of starters,” Hamilton said as he finished talking to media at FSU’s Basketball Training Center.
“I think we have some guys that are maturing and are better than people think they are.”