The Florida State men’s basketball program has gotten to a point where it’s expected to reload instead of rebuild.
After four straight NCAA Tournaments, an ACC Championship and three straight Sweet 16 appearances, the Seminoles have become one of the top programs in the country over the last half-decade.
And it’s now just assumed they’ll pick up right where they left off no matter who they lose from the previous year’s team.
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Leonard Hamilton welcomes in a top-rated recruiting class and two big-time transfers to his squad this season. (Melina Vastola/USAToday Sports Images)
This season will put that theory to the test, because the Seminoles lost some serious talent and a whole lot of production from the 2020-21 squad.
With the departure of Scottie Barnes, M.J. Walker, RaiQuan Gray and Balsa Koprivica, the ‘Noles lost four of their top five scorers and their top three rebounders, shot-blockers and assist leaders.
But it’s not like the remaining roster is devoid of talent. Experienced veterans like Anthony Polite, Wyatt Wilkes, RayQuan Evans and Malik Osborne return, and they’ll be playing alongside two big-time transfers in Caleb Mills (Houston) and Cam’Ron Fletcher (Kentucky), to go along with highly touted incoming recruits like Matthew Cleveland, Jalen Warley and John Butler.
The Seminoles start practice on Friday.
“I do like my team,” FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s kind of like a broken record I guess you might say. We have guys who have played well for us move on, and guys who have not necessarily been patiently waiting, but we have guys who have matured and grown into the leadership positions that they’re in.
“We’ve been fortunate enough the last couple of years that when we’ve had guys move on, basically I think in some ways we’ve gotten better each year. And I think that’s the culture of our team, the ability of our guys to stay focused and accept their roles.”
If this team is going to be better than last year’s, it will have to get huge production from the new faces.
Mills is an elite scorer, who was the AAC preseason conference player of the year at Houston before transferring in January of this year. The redshirt sophomore scored 20 or more points eight times in his one season as a starter for the Cougars.
He wasn’t able to practice or play with the Seminoles last season, but he was able to be around the program as it made another run to the second weekend of March Madness.
“From a physical standpoint, he’s starting from scratch,” Hamilton said. “But mentally, he was there at all the meetings, watching, studying. And I think he’s a fairly mature youngster, so I feel very confident his transition will be a lot easier than it would have been.”
Not since Toney Douglas has the FSU basketball team had a transfer who could take over games like Mills. He has a unique ability to score and should be one of the top players in the lineup this season.
So should the other transfer.
Fletcher barely played at Kentucky last season as a freshman, but he should find a much more productive role for the Seminoles as a sophomore. He was ranked the No. 37 player in the country by Rivals.com when he was coming out of high school in St. Louis.
He has little college experience, but a whole lot of upside.
And with the departure of so many contributors from last year’s team, Hamilton knows the transfers will be leaned on quite a bit this season. Especially as those aforementioned freshmen get adjusted to college.
“I think every kid is different,” Hamilton said. “In Caleb’s case, I think the fact that he was here last year, mentally and emotionally he’s relaxed, he gets it, he understands what’s expected of him.
“And Cam Fletcher, his role at Kentucky was not nearly as significant as Mills (at Houston). Plus, Mills is a year older. So, (Fletcher) is more like a real freshman coming in from a learning standpoint. And Caleb is probably a little bit more further along just in terms of understanding college basketball.”
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