Noles hope last season's youth leads this year's turnaround
Florida State Facts & Figures
Last season: 18-16 (9-9 ACC)
Postseason: NIT first round
Coach: Leonard Hamilton (219-143 at Florida State)
ACC projection: Sixth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
There’s plenty of reason for all that faith — and for renewed expectations. Nine scholarship players return, seven of whom saw their first action in the ACC last season. That group also includes senior Okaro White, one of the top small forwards in the ACC.
Hamilton is counting on all that possible depth to make up for the loss of the only starter, guard Michael Snaer, a terrific defender with a remarkable knack for hitting big shots.
“I thought the learning experiences our players went through were valuable,” says Hamilton, who enters his 12th season in Tallahassee, making him the second-longest tenured coach in the ACC behind only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. “I can see the scenario setting up, and we’re preparing ourselves to keep our program moving in the direction we’ve been moving the last number of years.”
For the first time in his career, White will likely be the primary option on offense. But, it’s the veteran’s ability to help in virtually every area that makes him so valuable to this team. A good outside shooter who gets to the free throw line frequently, White is also the Noles’ best rebounder, and he can guard multiple positions.
“I don’t believe you can replace any one player, but with the players we have we are going to be a well-rounded team,” White says. “I still think it’s about defense for us though. It always is.”
What kind of production the Noles will get from their big men remains uncertain. The roster boasts three raw 7-footers — senior Kiel Turpin (7-0) and sophomores Boris Bojanovsky (7-3), who added a much-needed 15 pounds this offseason, and Michael Ojo (7-1) — along with 6-9 power forward Robert Gilchrist, a junior college transfer who has played sparingly.
“Boris is holding his ground better and Michael has really made big improvements too,” White says. “All our big guys are going to contribute this year. It’s early, but I really believe we will be better offensively.”
The emergence of sophomore Devon Bookert last season finally gives the program a true point guard — a rarity in the Hamilton era — to build around. An Alaska native, Bookert adds a new dimension with his decision-making and pass-first mentality. Bookert can’t be left open, either. He knocked down an impressive 53 percent of his 3-point attempts (32-of-61) last season.
“Devon was a steal for us,” White says. “You don’t see too many true point guards these days. He’s very smart with the ball. With all the playing time he got last year he’s coming into this season with a lot more confidence.”
On the wing, streak-shooting senior Ian Miller might be the key to replacing Snaer’s offense. Hampered by a foot injury last season, Miller is capable of being a major scoring threat. Sophomores Aaron Thomas and Montay Brandon, who can also play point, will add to the rotation again.
Florida State was dealt a major blow when prized recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes was declared academically ineligible. He was expected to be an immediate contributor. Big man Jarquez Smith is a raw prospect with good size. Wing Brandon Allen is a wild card, having spent the last three years playing minor league baseball.
Factoid: Departed senior Michael Snaer made six buzzer-beating, game-winning shots during his career, which is recognized as a NCAA record.
Playing so many young players last season should now pay off. This will be a deep team with lots of improved individuals and plenty of size. White gives the Noles a solid piece to lean on. Bookert will make the offense run smoother. A preseason trip to Greece — where they played against the Greek national team — built more chemistry, too.
Getting more offensive production out of their big men is a big question mark. So is replacing Snaer, whose leadership may be missed the most.
More than anything, getting back to the NCAA Tournament depends on the defense. Hamilton has built this program around stingy, physical defense, and that was missing last season. If the Noles prove to be one of the nation’s toughest teams to score on once again, they’ll grind out an NCAA bid. If not, they’ll have to settle for the NIT again.