FEATURED IMAGE CREDITS: Mitch White
In one of college basketball’s most bizarre years, many surprise teams rose up the rankings passing the traditional blue blood schools. Without the NCAA tournament, the season feels unfinished without a true champion, but it is important to not forget the great teams that thrived this season. One of the surprising risers from the year being FSU’s Seminoles, a team that came into not even ranked in the AP top 25. With an underrated basketball program, an incredible coach, and a roster as deep and talented as any other, the Noles provided their fans in Tallahassee a season that they won’t forget any time soon.
IMAGE CREDITS: USATSI
When you think of Florida State basketball is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Overshadowed by its storied football program, basketball was a bit of an afterthought in Tallahassee. Even when the program has success it’s team was always overshadowed by its rivals in the conference such as Duke and North Carolina.
When Hamilton took over the basketball program in ’02, the team was a joke. After going (12-17) and (9-21) in previous years, the program had a long way to go to compete in one of the best basketball conferences in the nation. To Hamilton’s credit he turned the program around with consistent toughness and solid recruiting. As the years went by the Noles began producing tournament berths along with attracting future NBA prospects to the program.
The previous two years, the Seminoles had reached the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight. They saw NBA talents such as Johnathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon, and Terrance Mann jump ship early to go pro. Despite the recent success, many felt that FSU was destined for a rough year. Instead, they ended with the greatest regular season in school history.
The Key Players
With the team losing its top two scorers from the previous season, the team had to look for new leaders. Instead of looking outside, they found their leaders within the team, and were able to step up to fill the void left by Terrance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele. It is tough to choose the players with the biggest impacts, as one of FSU’s strengths is how deep their squad was. Despite that, I feel these three had the greatest impact on FSU’s success this season.
Trent Forrest, Senior
30.9 MPG, 11.6 PPG, 4.0 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 STLS, 0.6 BLKs
Forrest was one of two seniors on the roster and was heavily relied upon as the experienced leader for the team. For four years, Forrest has been a key rotation player for the Seminoles and for his senior year, he was able to lead the young team. Whenever the Noles needed a play they could look to their senior guard for plays and could always rely on Forrest to set the tone on defense. Forrest was arguably the most important player to the team, even if he doesn’t receive the same NBA buzz as his teammates.
Devin Vassell, Sophomore
28.8 MPG, 12.7 PPG, 1.6 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.4 STLs, 1.0 BLKs
Vassell seems to embody everything that comes with FSU basketball. A lock-down defender that’s able to guard any position, Vassell never gave up on the play and could be seen all over the court. He had the work ethic and served as a constant motor for the team. Highly coveted by NBA scouts, the second year player grew on offense projecting as high-end 3 and D wing.
Patrick Williams, Freshmen
22.5 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 STLs, 1.0 BLKs
Patrick Williams did not start a single game this season. Despite the lack of starts, Williams still finished in 4th on the team for minutes per game. As the crown jewel of the recruiting class, Williams made an instant impact with his skill and athleticism. Williams could always be relied on to make smart basketball plays whenever the situation called for it and provided a different weapon when he came off the bench.
The Key Moments of the Season
Neither UF, USF, UNF, or Miami were able to defeat the Noles during their magical season. Out of all games, none were more impressive than the early season rout of the Florida Gators. After losing an OT game to Pitt to open the season, the Gators provided a tough challenge for the Noles. After being over ranked in the preseason, UF was at the time seen as a championship contender. The Noles didn’t succumb to the hype and utterly controlled the Gators all game, giving the Noles the confidence they needed to start the year.
Coming into conference play the Seminoles didn’t have a signature win over a legit title contender. Although Florida was thought to be a solid team, it turned out they weren’t as good as predicted. So when FSU came up against the eighth ranked Louisville Cardinals the Noles had a lot to prove. They came into Louisville’s home court and showed that they were a top team in the nation.
The second game against the Cardinals at home was a lot less convincing but showed the confidence that the Noles had gained throughout the year. Late in February, the ACC regular season championship was still up for the air for FSU, Louisville, Duke, or Virginia to grab. The game looked grim after the Noles went down by a deficit as large as 12 early in the second half. However after stifling defensive stops and finally finding their groove on offense the Seminoles were able to turn it around and create an atmosphere unlike no other in the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
Notre Dame Games
Coming into the first Notre Dame game the Seminoles were confident, now sporting a top 5 national ranking. For the first time all year the Noles had sold out their home court and needed to put on a solid performance in front of their fans. After an unlikely star performance from role player Wyatt Wilkes, the Noles were able to hold off Notre Dame for a close one point victory.
In the second match-up against Notre Dame, tensions and stakes were much higher. After an upset against Clemson, the Seminoles needed to win out to claim the ACC championship. Although Notre Dame was having a rough year, the team was still a difficult match, especially at home. It took a heroic performance from guard M.J. Walker and a put-back from senior leader Trent Forrest with 3.8 seconds left for FSU to get out of their with the win. This tough game all but solidified FSU as ACC Champions and the team’s place as one of the greatest in school’s history.
IMAGE CREDITS: AP Photo/Gregory Payan
It’s hard for Florida State fans to be optimistic as they were not able to see possibly one of their best teams compete in the dance in March. However, this year can be used as a precedent to sell the program to possible recruits. After all, they are bringing in a five star recruit in Florida native Scottie Barnes. Although they lose Forrest to graduation and Vassell and Williams to the NBA, Seminole fans should rest easy. Key players such as MJ Walker and Raiquon Gray will return, and as long as they have Leonard Hamilton as head coach, I would count on FSU on having a competitive team with a chance to make some magic in March in the future.