It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: Florida State Seminoles.
Dwayne Bacon had a way out, if not an easy one.
He wasn't guaranteed a spot in the first round of June's NBA draft, not by any stretch of the imagination. Yet his talent -- the 6-foot-7 size, the athleticism, the perimeter skill -- gave him a chance. The path was plausible. He was the highest-ranked recruit and the most prolific freshman scorer in Florida State basketball history. A month or two in the process, some hard workouts, eye-popping combine measurements, a few engaging interviews with the right personnel. He could get there. It was a risk, but not a crazy one. Plus, it was his dream.
So, on March 24, Bacon entered his name in the 2016 NBA draft. He didn't hire an agent, so he had two months until May 25's withdrawal date, an eon in NBA mock draft time, to chase that chance at the dream.
Four days later, that was enough of that:
Why so fast? A day after his announcement, in Tallahassee, Florida, Bacon explained he was never sold on the idea of leaving for two reasons. One?
"I'm not going to sit here and lie about it," Bacon told reporters on March 29, one day after he announced his return. "I can't -- I'm not satisfied with the work I've put in all my life to just be a first-round pick. I'm not satisfied with all the work I've put in to just be a second-round pick. I would be satisfied if I'm a top-10 pick, [or a] top-15 pick. That's just me."
"Nobody wants to leave college and not have a tournament appearance. I just think that's crazy."
Fortunately for FSU, these two goals are in direct alignment. And, thanks to Bacon's decision, and yet another elite recruiting class, both are also totally realistic.
If his star frosh's return was a statement of purpose for coach Leonard Hamilton, it also was a welcome stanch of the proverbial roster-turnover bleeding. A week before Bacon's reversal, classmate and fellow 2015 top-30 prospect Malik Beasley left for the NBA, agent and all. Senior guard Devin Bookert is gone. So is quality rim-protecting center and possible Bond villain Boris Bojanovsky, fellow big Montay Brandon and sophomore transfer Robbie Berwick.
Meanwhile, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who magnanimously accepted an off-ball role last season after taking 29 percent of the Noles' shots in 2014-15 (when he was literally the only reason to watch FSU basketball) is testing the draft waters despite bearish projections.
Those are difficult losses -- or in Rathan-Mayes' case, potential losses -- to overcome. Fortunately, Hamilton is following what many called the best recruiting class in FSU hoops history (faint praise, sure, but still) with another legitimately stellar group of freshmen.
The chief name to know is Jonathan Isaac, the No. 4-ranked small forward and 12th-best overall prospect in the 2016 ESPN 100. Isaac's raw, natural gifts are evident: He's 6-foot-9 and long, jumps out of the gym and just looks like he was born to play in the NBA. Maybe he was. In the meantime, though, he's still notoriously raw, his ranking built on potential as much as current productivity. Bringing him up to speed quickly is as much of a priority as integrating four-star guards Trent Forrest and C.J. Walker, both of whom ostensibly play the point, and both of whom could relieve some of the ballhandling pressure Bacon faced as a freshman.
Whether that happens, whether Rathan-Mayes returns, whether newcomer Mfiondu Kabengele (nephew of Dikembe Mutumbo) makes an immediate impact, whether Florida State rediscovers the stifling defense that fueled its four straight tournament appearances from 2009 to 2012 -- these are all crucial factors in whether Florida State finally gets back to the tournament next March.
Yet, somehow, none of them are as big as Bacon's return. The possibility of a more experienced, seasoned, locked-in version of 2015-16's hypertalented, ball-dominant, inconsistent freshman star is tantalizing. If he emerges from this offseason a more well-rounded, efficient offensive threat and a more devoted defender and rebounder, the certain success with which he wants to leave Florida State could be a foregone conclusion.