Veteran Florida State team setting high goals
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Veteran coach Leonard Hamilton is expecting big things at Florida State this season. Really big things.
Hamilton has coached four decades, but never with an experienced team like he has returning at Florida State season. And there's plenty of size and skill in the group as well.
"We have a chance to be pretty good,'' said Hamilton, with a bit of a gleam in his eye. "We can be as successful as anyone.''
After years of being largely ignored in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Seminoles now have the attention as well of their league brethren. They were the preseason choice to finish third in the league this year behind perennial powers Duke and North Carolina, which is virtually everyone's preseason No. 1 pick.
"We're hoping that they picked us too low again this year,'' said Hamilton, who is starting his 10th season at Florida State.
Nine players are back from a Seminole team that advanced to the NCAA's round of 16 last spring before being eliminated by Virginia Commonweatlh 72-71 in overtime. Florida State finished 23-11 last year and is 70-31 over the past three seasons, trailing only Duke and North Carolina in Atlantic Coast Conference competition.
"After we lost that game to VCU it was like, `OK, now we understand,''' Hamilton said. "I feel like we've grown up a lot.''
And if any of the returning players had any worries about whether they belonged among the elite a year ago, those are now gone.
"We know each other and that gives us an edge,'' said senior wing Deividas Dulkys, who is chasing the school record for 3-point baskets. "We have a lot of guys, upperclassmen, who are stepping up.''
Hamilton, 63, has added a veteran point guard to his returning nine and believes his tall, experienced team will be even better this year. The youngest player in the likely Seminole starting lineup will be 22-year-old junior Michael Snaer, the team's top returning scorer and defender from a year ago.
Hamilton used 11 players on a regular basis last season and expects to have a similar rotation this year with the emphasis on defense and keeping players rested.
"That's who we are,'' Hamilton said. "We can't lose sight of the fact that we have to be a team that defends.''
Florida State has been the toughest team in the country to shoot against for the past two seasons. Opponents made 36.3 percent of its shots a year ago and 37.7 percent a year ago.
The defense is anchored by 6-10 senior center Bernard James, who had 82 blocked shots last year and emerged as a dominant inside force at tournament time, and the 6-3 Snaer, who replaces Chris SIngleton as the key in disrupting the opposition's offense.
"Michael has been just a total trooper with what he has been able to do defensively,'' Hamilton said. "He normally takes the point guard and our philosophy has always been you give attention to the head of the snake.''
James, who spent six years in the U.S. Air Force before college, will most likely be joined on the starting unit by three other seniors in 7-foot Xavier Gibson, Dulkys and point guard Jeff Peterson, a graduate student transfer from Arkansas.
Two other seniors, guard Luke Loucks and 7-foot Jon Kreft, junior Terrance Shannon and sophomores Ian Miller and Okaro White all contributed significantly a year ago and comprise a formidable quintet themselves.
All 10 players have scored in double figures at some point in their career.
"It's not going to be one guy,'' Dulkys said. "It's going to the the team.''
The Seminoles lost two starters from last year's team: Singleton, a first-round NBA draft choice and guard Derwin Kitchen.
Hamilton is confident the Seminoles are mature enough to go deeper into the tournament this year.
"I expect us now to get more out of our physical talents because I think we have a better understanding of what we have to do at this level to be successful,'' he said. "They learned a lot about themselves during the NCAA tournament.''
"It really makes you realize the opportunity that you have and how good you really could be,'' he said.
Florida State begins the season Nov. 11 when it hosts Jacksonville University. The Seminoles' league schedule includes visits from North Carolina and Duke and nonconference trips to Michigan State and Florida in addition to a Thanksgiving tournament in the Bahamas where they could meet UConn's defending national champions.