Aug. 27, 1997
The excitement surrounding the upcoming Florida State basketball season is as high as it has been in recent memory.
A new coaching staff is eager to begin teaching. The players are anxious to get to work. And Seminole fans have been talking FSU basketball throughout the summer.
And there is good reason for the excitement. One of the top young coaches in the nation, Steve Robinson, takes over the program in 1997-98. Florida State returns four starters and seven regulars, from last year's 20-win team. And the schedule - featuring back-to-back home games with Final Four teams in December and the Preseason NIT - is stronger than it has been in recent years.
Robinson was hired as the Florida State program's sixth head coach on July 1. And while most of his summer as a resident of Tallahassee has been spent on the road during the July recruiting period, he will hit the ground running with a veteran squad for the 1997-98 campaign.
Leading the way for Florida State on the floor this season will be senior point guard Kerry Thompson. Thompson emerged as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's top newcomers and a go-to man for the Tribe last season. The New York City native, who spent his first two years at nearby Tallahassee Community College, won a pair of games with last-second shots and sent a third into overtime (which the Seminoles eventually won) with a buzzer-beating three-pointer. He finished second in the ACC in assists and steals and his assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 2-to-1 was also among the league's best.
Thompson, who averaged 8.8 points per game last season, should evolve into more a scorer this season with the departure of backcourt mate James Collins, who led FSU in scoring at 16.6 points per game last year.
Florida State will welcome the return of three starters, senior LaMarr Greer and Corey Louis and junior Randell Jackson, back on the frontline
Greer, who started at point guard during his first two seasons at FSU, adjusted well to his transition to the wing last season. He averaged 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while starting 20 games at small forward. The Cape May, NJ native took his game to another level over the final third of the season when he averaged 10.0 points, including a career-high 23 points in a loss to Duke. Greer also starred in Florida State's run to the NIT Championship game, averaging 11.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and hitting 41 percent from three-point range in the postseason.
Louis is also a vital cog in Coach Robinson's first year plans. Louis was plagued by injuries throughout the 1996-97 campaign but still managed to average 11.0 points and a team-leading 6.8 rebounds per game. The Miami native missed seven games during the season, four after left knee surgery and three with a plantar fascitis injury, and was never really at 100 percent during the ACC portion of the schedule.
Joining Louis in the frontcourt and giving the Seminoles one of the league's better big man combinations is Jackson. Jackson tied Louis for second on the team in scoring last season at 11.0 points per game and added 6.3 rebounds per contest. He is another player on the Florida State roster that took his game to another level in the postseason. Jackson averaged 14.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots in FSU's five NIT games. The Boston native also posted four double-doubles in the final seven games of the season.
Also returning after contributing regularly in 1996-97 are junior Geoff Brower and sophomores Ron Hale and Devonaire Deas.
Brower's early season time will be limited after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Florida State's second round NIT win over Michigan State. His rehabilitation is proceeding well and he may be available as early as December. When healthy, Brower can provide scoring punch and three-point shooting off the bench. He matched a career-high with 17 points in last year's season-opening win against Southwestern Louisiana and scored 15 points off the bench twice a year ago.
Hale started 10 games during the middle portion of the season last year at small forward and has a variety of skills. He can put the ball on the floor, is a solid rebounder and may be the team's best shooter. A thin frame that needs more bulk is Hale's only drawback. In his first collegiate start, Hale responded with 10 points and seven rebounds at Seton Hale and three games later, he scored a season-high tying 17 points in a 74-70 win over No. 5 Maryland.
Deas started the first three games at point guard last year before moving into a reserve role behind Kerry Thompson. Deas is academically ineligible to play until the end of the first semester.
The loss of Collins, a second round pick in last June's NBA Draft and Florida State's third all-time leading scorer, leaves a scoring void in the backcourt. While Thompson is expected to shoulder more of the scoring load in his senior season, it is 6-6 junior college transfer Terrell Baker who may replace Collins in the starting lineup. Baker comes to FSU with impressive credentials from Champlain College in Burlington, VT. He was regarded as one of the nation's top junior college players in both his seasons there and earned third-team All-American honors after both his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Last year, Baker led his team to a 31-2 record and an eighth place finish at the national junior college tournament while averaging 21.0 points per game and hitting 41.4 percent from three-point range.
Another backcourt newcomer, point guard Delvon Arrington from St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City, NJ, did not qualify academically and will sit out his first season at FSU. He will practice with the team, however.
Three frontcourt newcomers - sophomore transfer Oliver Simmons, redshirt freshman Ronald Thompson and true freshman Karim Shabazz - are expected to contribute along the frontline in their first year at FSU.
Simmons, a 6-8 forward, transferred into the Seminole program from Kentucky last January and will be eligible to play at Florida State at the end of the fall semester. He was a member of the Wildcats' 1995-96 national championship team and should provide some depth at power forward.
Thompson sat out last season as a redshirt and will be in the mix for playing time at small forward. The 6-7 Savannah, GA native is an excellent athlete and has shooting range beyond the three-point line.
Shabazz is a highly acclaimed 7-2 center who prepped at Lawrence Woodmere Academy on Long Island, NY. Shabazz was regarded as one of the nation's top 10 centers and top 50 players a year ago. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the Coca-Cola All-American Game in Indianapolis, IN last April after scoring 27 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He could spell Louis and Jackson down low.
Florida State's 1997-98 schedule should be its most challenging in years. Along with the always tough ACC slate, which opens at home with 1997 Final Four participant North Carolina on December 20, the Seminoles will host defending national champion Arizona on December 23. Minnesota, another Final Four team from a year ago, is a possible second round opponent in the Preseason NIT. That means FSU could play three of last year's Final Four teams prior to January.