Coach Hamilton, Florida State look to contend for ACC title

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Leonard Hamilton is known for taking on a fixer upper, rebuilding programs at Oklahoma State, Miami and now Florida State. He is in his 19th season at Florida State and enjoying sustained excellence.

But with a new roster, Leonard and the No. 21 Seminoles face a stiff challenge to once again claim the top spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It’s familiar situation for players and coaches who have stated the Seminoles can’t compete with the decades of tradition of the “blue bloods” of college basketball, and that Florida State is instead the “new bloods.”

Hamilton has guided the Seminoles to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances and an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title in 2019-20 as part of a 26-5 season. Florida State had hoped to show off its athleticism and depth in March before the pandemic halted the college basketball season. ESPN analyst Dick Vitale picked Florida State as the national champion in his what-if book, “The Lost Season,” on the 2020 NCAA Tournament.

“This team had potential to make a lot of noise,” Vitale said. “They won a very difficult ACC regular season. It wasn’t a team that just got hot for two three games in the tournament. They had been tested all year long. Leonard had them performing all year long. Against really special, special teams.”

Florida State coaches look for length, athleticism and players who are dedicated to learning Hamilton’s defensive principles. Assistant coach Charlton Young describes them as “high character gym rats.” The staff focuses on building deep rosters by recruiting unselfish players but also those with the right skill set and fit.

“I’ve got three things we require, that are non-negotiable: You have to play hard, defend and play unselfish,” Hamilton said. “If we’re doing it on a consistent basis, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Some other things to watch with Florida State this season:

ON POINT

The big question is who will start at point guard after Trent Forrest’s graduation. Forrest was the team’s top defensive player and led Florida State with 4.0 assists per game. The Seminoles will likely lean on 6-4 senior RayQuan Evans and 6-6 redshirt junior Anthony Polite.

I don’t think you’ve seen the real RayQuan Evans,” Hamilton said. “He made major contributions to our team last year. He made big plays. He played with a tremendous amount of confidence. He played like he’s ready.”

SHARP SHOOTER

MJ Walker averaged 10.6 points per game last season and made 44 three-pointers, shooting 36.1% from beyond the arc. The 6-5 senior guard has consistently improved as a defender and just needs to be a consistent scoring threat.

UP FRONT

Florida State has some talented big men. Malik Osborne, a 6-9 forward, averaged 6.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and should see an expanded role.

“Malik Osborne has really, really made the biggest jump, I think, of all our kids,” Hamilton said. Balsa Koprivica (4.7 points, 2.4 rebounds) made a big step forward in his freshman season and the 7-1, 260-pound center has a variety of post moves.

TALENTED SIGNEES

The coaches landed five-star guard/forward Scottie Barnes, three-star guard Sardaar Calhoun, three-star center Quincy Ballard and transfer center Tanor Gnom from Ryerson University in Canada. (Gnom will be a senior.) Barnes was named the ACC’s preseason freshman of the year.

“I really, really like Scottie Barnes and Sardaar Calhoun,” Hamilton said. “Physically, I think we brought in some guys that can fit our system.”

CHALLENGING SCHEDULE

Florida State will play host to No. 4 Virginia, No. 9 Duke and No. 16 North Carolina as part of a 25-game schedule, 15 of which will be in Tallahassee. Among the other home games will be December matchups with Florida and Indiana, both of which received votes in the preseason Top 25 poll.

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