Team preview: Florida State Seminoles

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.


It was a long, slow climb, but Florida State finally reached the pinnacle of ACC basketball last March, when it beat Duke and North Carolina in back-to-back games in Atlanta to claim the 2012 ACC championship.

That was a long way from where Florida State's program was when coach Leonard Hamilton took over. Between 1994 and 2005, FSU never won more than six ACC games in a season. The Seminoles played in the NCAA tournament just once in that span. And while Hamilton did improve the situation slightly in his early years, the real breakthrough didn't come until 2009, when FSU won 10 ACC games, 25 overall and played in the ACC championship game.

But Hamilton wanted more. He wasn't content to settle for ACC respectability -- he wanted to achieve parity with the league's two juggernauts, UNC and Duke. For four straight seasons he closed the gap, until finally knocking off both giants in Atlanta to give FSU its first ACC championship.

Unfortunately, four starters and six regulars off that 25-win team graduated, leaving Hamilton just three proven players to rebuild around. After four straight years in the ACC top three, will the Seminoles take a step back?

Florida State Seminoles

"It appears to me that we're caught in a situation where we're still trying to get a breakthrough in public perception about who we are," Hamilton said, pointing out that nobody expects North Carolina to drop back into the pack after losing four NBA first-round draft picks. Why should FSU, which suffered similar losses, be expected to fall?

"We think we're still improving," Hamilton said. "We think we're getting better. In fact, we expect to be better this year."

There is still a lot of talent in Tallahassee, but if Hamilton's optimistic vision is to be realized, quite a few unproven players will have to blossom this season.

Hamilton heads into the new year with three firm building blocks.

The best of them is 6-5 senior Michael Snaer, who very well could be the ACC preseason player of the year.

Snaer is the top vote getter returning from last year's All-ACC team. The powerful, athletic Californian averaged 14.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in 2012, shooting .404 percent from the 3-point stripe and .846 from the free-throw line. He was the top perimeter defender in the ACC, and now that UNC's John Henson has moved on to the NBA, Snaer is projected to be the league's best overall defender this season.

"Michael has been a joy to coach," Hamilton said. "He has been extremely committed. His focus and effort are unmatched. I don't think I've ever been around a player who puts in as many hours in the gym."

The hard work paid off a year ago, when -- despite the plethora of senior talent on the team -- Snaer was FSU's best player. He also proved to be the ACC's best clutch player -- he beat Duke in Durham and Virginia Tech in Tallahassee with buzzer-beating 3-pointers. Snaer also hit a buzzer beater to save the 'Noles at the end of overtime against Princeton and his 3-pointer late in the ACC tournament semifinals erased Duke's last lead and provided the margin of victory in FSU's crucial victory over the Blue Devils.

Snaer and 6-8 junior Okaro White (7.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) will anchor what once again promises to be a smothering defense. Hamilton has made defense into the cornerstone of FSU's revival, and over the last four years, the 'Noles have replaced Duke as the ACC's most consistent defensive team.

White is a versatile defensive forward in the mode of former FSU star Chris Singleton. The quick, athletic veteran can defend smaller players on the wing or bigger players in the post. Hamilton would like to see White's offense reach the same level.

Offense has never been a problem for 6-3 junior Ian Miller (10.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg). Miller got off to a late start last year, playing in just 24 games, but he helped energize the FSU attack when he played. Although he split time at the point and at the wing, Miller didn't display much playmaking ability, averaging just 1.3 assists a game.

"I try not to pigeonhole players," Hamilton said, when asked about Miller's ability to assume more of the playmaking duties this season. Whether he plays point or two guard, we will be sure to utilize his scoring ability."

Hamilton pretty much knows what he's got in Snaer, White and Miller, who all played starter minutes a year ago (even though technically, only Snaer was a starter). He is also convinced he's got another sure thing in 6-7 redshirt junior Terrance Shannon.

The 240-pound strongman has been limited by injuries in each of his three seasons at Florida State. He earned a starting job early his sophomore year in 2011 but suffered a knee injury and played little after that. A year ago, Shannon impressed the FSU coaches early, but in the team's seventh game, he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and he was sidelined for the rest of the year, eventually receiving a hardship year of eligibility from the NCAA.

Nevertheless, Hamilton is convinced that Shannon has star potential.

"He was averaging a double-double in just 17 minutes a game before he was hurt," Hamilton said. "He's one of the hardest workers we've ever had here. He just oozes confidence."

Actually, Shannon was averaging just 10.3 points and 4.4 rebounds when he was sidelined. While that's not a double-double, those are impressive numbers for the 17 minutes a game he did average.

Shannon will have to anchor an all-new post rotation that will also include three unproven 7-footers and a junior college power forward.

Robert Gilchrist, a 6-9, 220-pound native of London, was a defensive dynamo last season at Polk State (Fla.) College, where he averaged 11.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots. With his 7-3 wingspan, Gilchrist plays much taller than his height.

But if Hamilton wants real size, he can choose between 7-0 redshirt junior Kiel Turpin, 7-1, 290-pound freshman Michael Ojo and the tallest of them all -- 7-3, 240-pound freshman Boris Bojanovsky.

Turpin, the son of former Kentucky All-American Mel Turpin, was the MVP of the 2011 Division II Junior College Tournament, leading Lincoln College to the title. But Turpin arrived on FSU's campus too thin to contribute to a team loaded with senior big men.

"Kiel weighed 210 pounds last year," Hamilton said. "He's now 242 pounds. He's gained strength and presence."

Ojo, who boasts a 7-8 wingspan, is a native of Nigeria, but he played his prep basketball at Tennessee Temple in Chattanooga. Bojanovsky is a native of Croatia who played his prep basketball at Oakley College, actu-ally equivalent to an American prep school, in Spain. He's a veteran of European basketball, once scoring 34 points for the Croatian U18 team against Switzerland.

While Hamilton has a lot of options in the post, he's got just as many newcomers to fit in around the perimeter.

Sophomore Terry Whisnant (2.1 ppg, 1.0 rpg) arrived on campus a year ago with a big reputation as a scorer but found little playing time on a team loaded with veterans. Now the 6-3 gunner from Cherryville, N.C., will get a chance to show what he can do.

"He has improved as much as anybody on the team," Hamilton said. "We all know he can shoot, but he's also a very athletic player who has become much stronger."

Another candidate on the wing is 6-5 freshman Aaron Thomas (15.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.0 apg at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire). The 6-5 Cincinnati native led Brewster to the national prep championship and is regarded as an explosive scorer. ESPN rated him a four-star recruit.

Two freshmen will also be vying for playing time in the backcourt -- and both could play point guard or two guard.

Devon Bookert (25.0 ppg, 8.0 apg) is a 6-3 product of the same Alaskan high school that sent Trajan Langdon to Duke more than a decade ago. The 2011 Alaska Mr. Basketball could have enrolled at FSU a year ago but instead elected to spend a year at the Impact Basketball Academy to refine his game.

Montay Brandon (19.0 ppg, 4.0 apg) is a 6-7 combo guard who played his prep basketball in High Point, N.C., for Keith Gatlin, who was an oversized point guard himself when he played at Maryland in the mid-1980s.

Hamilton has to figure out all these new pieces fit with his three veteran anchors. He's got to figure out whether Miller needs to focus on the point or whether Bookert and/or Brandon can handle the playmaking chores, allowing Miller to do what he does best -- score the basketball. He has to figure out a post rotation from among Shannon, Gilchrist and the three seven footers. Or will he have to call on White to shore up the inside game?

Hamilton faces a lot of questions going into the new season. But he believes he'll find the answers.

"I'm as excited as I have been going into a season," he said. "I like our nucleus and I like our young people we have coming in. I expect our team to be somewhat of a surprise."

Hamilton said that while the Seminoles may have made their big breakthrough on the court last spring, there's still one more barrier that must fall before his rebuilding effort is complete.

"We have not yet made the breakthrough in the imagination of the fans and the media and all the people who follow the ACC," he said.






The media has made a habit of underestimating Florida State.

Between 2008 and 2011, FSU exceeded its preseason ACC projections every year. In 2012, the 'Noles did finish third as the media predicted -- but then capped the season by winning the ACC championship in Atlanta.

Hamilton promises another surprise in 2012-13 with a team that is going to be projected to finish fourth or fifth in the ACC preseason rankings.

He will be correct if he can find the right pieces to fit around his big three. It helps that all three of his returning veterans are versatile players, capable of playing two positions.

It also helps that Hamilton has built his program on a firm foundation -- defense. The Seminoles have led the ACC in field-goal percentage defense in each of the last four seasons (an ACC record). Over the last four years, opponents have connected on just .377 from the field against Hamilton's defense.

And with Snaer and White around to anchor the FSU defense, there's no reason to think the 'Noles won't extend that streak.

But as proud as Hamilton is of his team's recent defense, he's also quick to point out that last season -- for the first time -- FSU achieved a measure of offensive efficiency. The 'Noles ranked in the top half of the league in scoring offense, shooting percentage, and 3-point field-goal percentage.

That success is going to be harder to sustain. Hamilton has to find a playmaker and he has to find a dependable insider scorer. He's got to find Snaer and Miller some offensive help on the perimeter.

The newcomers could provide positive answers to all FSU's questions. But keep in mind, Hamilton finally got to the top of the ACC heap last year with the most experienced team in the league. Now, he'll have to try and sustain that success with one of the ACC's least experienced teams.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.