BREAKDOWN No one would blame Leonard Hamilton and his team if they took some time to sit back and enjoy their success last season. The Seminoles staked their claim as the third-best program in the ACC, behind only Duke and North Carolina and they reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1992. Those are significant accomplishments for a program that languished near the ACC cellar for several years before the Hamilton-led resurgence.
Yet, when talk in the Seminoles' practice facility turns to last year, the general feeling is one of disappointment and frustration. "There was a certain amount of pain that these guys felt in the game that we lost," Hamilton says, referring to the Seminoles' Sweet 16 defeat (in overtime) to VCU. "And that seems to be the driving factor."
That motivation, combined with perhaps the most talented and experienced team he has fielded in his 10 years in Tallahassee, has Hamilton and his players believing that the coming season could be their best yet.
"Over the last six years, it's generally accepted that we're the third-winningest program in the ACC," Hamilton says. "That's fine if you are satisfied with being third. ? We see no reason that we can't be No. 1."
As strange as it might sound, the Seminoles' chances for another strong postseason could hinge upon the abilities of a point guard who will be playing for his third college in five years. Former Iowa and Arkansas starter Jeff Peterson, who left each school after coaching changes, will be eligible to play immediately because he already has earned his bachelor's degree. And Peterson will have an opportunity to step right in.
Hamilton will also rely on power forward Bernard James, a high school dropout who developed an affinity for basketball during six years in the Air Force. In only his third year of organized basketball, the junior college transfer finished the season with modest numbers (8.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.4 bpg), but he had some huge games down the stretch, including a double-double in the Seminoles' NCAA tournament upset of Notre Dame. And James' teammates say he has shown even greater progress during offseason workouts and pickup games.
"The leap you're going to see in B.J. next year is gonna be tremendous," senior guard Luke Loucks says. "It's gonna be a whole different ballgame."
The Seminoles also have the benefit of a loaded and experienced backcourt, with senior shooting guard Deividas Dulkys, Loucks, junior Michael Snaer and sophomore Ian Miller all returning. FSU also returns 7-footer Jon Kreft and 6-11 Xavier Gibson at center, as well as several quality forwards, including emerging sophomore Okaro White.
FINAL ANALYSIS As experienced and talented as the Seminoles are, they clearly will have a tough time knocking North Carolina and Duke from their perch atop the ACC. The Tar Heels will be projected by many to win the 2012 national title and the Blue Devils won't be far behind. Yet Hamilton and his players insist they are closing the gap.
"I know a lot of our fans were excited about the Sweet 16," Loucks says. "But we're sitting back looking at it like, 'Man, that could have been an NCAA championship -- not a Sweet 16.' A Sweet 16 is good, but in the end, we still haven't won anything. We want a championship."
NEWCOMERS Jeff Peterson (PG, GS): Transfer from Arkansas will be the first of the newcomers to earn extended playing time.
Antwan Space (F, Fr.): Should contribute as another offensive weapon.
Kiel Turpin (C, Jr.): Junior college big man should help down the road.
Terry Whisnant II (G, Fr.): Sharp-shooter should provide offensive spark.
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