Oct. 30, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- After clawing its way to the upper echelon of the basketball powerhouse that is the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Florida State men's basketball team is out to prove that last season's subpar showing was simply an anomaly and not the new norm.
And improving on the 18-16 overall record with a 9-9 conference mark that resulted in a trip to the NIT in 2012-13 means doing so with a nucleus of Ian Miller, Okaro White, Devon Bookert, Aaron Thomas and a trio of seven-footers.
Without Mr. Game-Winner himself, Michael Snaer, the onus is on FSU's returning players to step up, make an impact and help guide the Seminoles back into contention in the ACC and back into a pair of dancing shoes come March.
"Our coaches believe in us and now it's just time for us to take it upon ourselves to step up and lead this team," Miller said.
The 'Noles will miss Snaer and his late-game heroics, for sure, but White enters his final year in Tallahassee with All-America hype and the opportunity to expand his on-court repertoire.
Undersized but aggressive and opportunistic as a power forward, the makeup of this year's 'Noles team could result in White being given increased opportunities on the wing as a small forward. It's on the outside where White could potentially provide a spark that FSU lost with Snaer's graduation.
"I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised that he's a lot further along when you put him on the perimeter -- offensively and defensively," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "His ball handling has gotten so much better."
Florida State wouldn't have the luxury of utilizing White more at the "3" position and taking advantage of his athleticism if rising senior Robert Gilchrist wasn’t ready to see his role increase. True freshman Jarquez Smith also gives the Seminoles some nice athleticism and potential there as well.
While Gilchrist used last season to grow and learn within the system as a junior-college transfer, Smith comes to FSU as an underrated but supremely talented youngster.
"Robert is such a good athlete and he runs the floor so well and he has a good standing jump shot," Hamilton said. "Robert gives us a lot by just running the floor and sucking the defense in and can help open outside shots. The fact that he's an inside player with a pretty good jump shot kind of stretches the floor a little bit, which gives us an opportunity.
"And Jarquez, I think you'll be plenty surprised."
Fans and opponents may be surprised by what they see out of Miller as well – specifically his physical change.
Miller has slimmed down and worked on being better conditioned for a long and grueling season. In addition to being built a little different, he's also healthy -- something he wasn't last season when he missed six games and quite a bit of valuable practice time.
"I feel good and I know the coaches are pleased with the progress I have made," Miller said. "It's just a blessing to be back and I want to make the most of my last year."
Miller will get that chance as an off-ball scorer and occasional ball handler behind Bookert, who is coming off a breakout freshman season in which the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder seized control of the Seminoles' starting point guard position in mid-February and never looked back.
Bookert's ability to hit 3-pointers -- he shot 52.5 percent from long range as a rookie -- gives the Seminoles a legitimate playmaker in the backcourt. As his game continues to evolve and he becomes more improved at facilitating the basketball, he'll not only have Miller and White to look for but he also has Thomas and Montay Brandon, who are both rising sophomores with tremendous upside and ability at the shooting guard position.
Down low, FSU boasts one of the most impressive three-man center rotations in all of college basketball with Michael Ojo (7-foot-1), Boris Bojanovsky (7-foot-3) and Kiel Turpin all around the rim. Turpin is still rehabilitating an injured knee, though.
“Ojo has gotten to the point now of having a clear understanding of what we need from him,” Hamilton said. “Even when he's not scoring, he's creating opportunities because he's locking people up with his body. Boris has really good moments so I am pleased with our [center position]."