Heading into the summer, the Florida State Seminoles had all of the pieces needed to be optimistic that they’d have a more successful season in 2013-14 than they did a year ago.
They have the senior leaders – from both a production and effort standpoint – in Okaro White (who may wind up on the Naismith Watch list) and Ian Miller (who also fills the veteran point guard with a chip on his shoulder role). Enforcers, and two seven-footers in senior Kiel Turpin and sophomore Boris Bojanovsky. A bevy of young, but incredibly talented wing players in sophomores Aaron Thomas, Montay Brandon, and Devon Bookert. And of course, the freshman who may already be the most talented player on the team in Xavier Rathan-Mayes.
And don’t forget about the coach who demands discipline and respect, and has found himself as one of the most successful coaches in the program’s history in Leonard Hamilton.
I wouldn’t have started the article with “heading into the summer” if the entire equation was still in tact, as unfortunately, Rathan-Mayes was declared ineligible (academic reasons) about six weeks ago. The talented freshman’s impact was still relatively unknown, but being a proven scorer in high school with scary speed and a great looking jumper, this was a dynamic that really could have added to an offense that finished ninth in the ACC in points per game, and then lost their leading scorer.
But being that we haven’t even witnessed Midnight Madness yet, it’s still “Glass Half Empty Season.” And with a trio of very talented sophomore wing players, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that (at least) one of them steps up and solves the scoring problem that Rathan-Mayes was supposed to be the answer to.
I’ll start with Bookert, who more than likely won’t lead the team in scoring, but will probably have the ball in his hands more than any other Seminole. A combo guard who really played a lot of point guard as a freshman due to Miller being plagued by injuries last season, Bookert is a favorite of Hamilton because he’s a great decision maker. However, making good decisions can only be reflected through the proper skillset. And while Bookert allows the game to come to him, he’s also a fantastic shooter, having shot 49% from the field, and a blistering 53% from three.
I fully expect Bookert to be joined in the starting lineup by the 6-foot-7 Brandon, who started 22-of-33 games for FSU as a freshman. Brandon is a defensive-minded, incredibly athletic wing, who really looked like a freshman on the offensive end at times last season. He can’t get much worse from three or at the free-throw line, but his ability to create his own shot and really get to the basket despite being a threat from the perimeter speaks volumes as to how talented of an athlete he is. After being asked to run the offense for a good chunk of the beginning of last season, Brandon finished the season playing off of the ball – where he’s clearly more fit to play – and guarding opposing teams best perimeter players. Expect great defense, and improved offense from Brandon in his second season.
The last of the three sophomore wings is Thomas, who is also one of Hamilton’s favorite players, and one of the team’s most admired leaders. One of the more vocal – and confident – players on the team, Thomas will more than likely be the first player off of the bench, mainly because he’s great at following Coach’s orders. Much like Brandon, Thomas is a tenacious defender with a jumper that really needs fine tuning, but gets by on being an above average slasher and knowing how to finish around the rim.
While the three sophomores probably aren’t Michael Snaer or even Rathan-Mayes level scorers, they’re all elite defenders, and they’re all building on impressive freshman seasons. Whether or not they can average double figures each, they’ll do a great job returning Florida State to the elite level of defensive teams in the country, which should make their coach a very happy man.
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