TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton has clout in a muted kind of way.
He took the Seminoles to the NCAA tournament four years in a row, including a spot in the round of 16 in 2011. Michael Jordan hired Hamilton to coach the Washington Wizards for a year. He’s also sitting comfortable on an offseason extension that will pay $2.25 million annually through the 2016-17.
That may not be the strongest resume in the world — or in the Atlantic Coast Conference that now features Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim, or a state that includes Billy Donovan. But Hamilton has security at a program that’s part of one of the strongest basketball conferences in the country.
Hamilton wants — and expects — more.
“In a conference like the ACC, you have short (term) objectives and you have long (term) objectives, and you have to be prepared for the unexpected,” Hamilton said. “You always have to anticipate those basketball demons that raise their ugly heads.
“Our goal is to become, not just a good basketball program, but an elite basketball program. In other words, cracking into the hierarchy is a challenge that you have to be on 24-7.”
That hierarchy always included taking shots at Duke and North Carolina, but now Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are in the mix. Louisville replaces Maryland in 2014-15. Hamilton has always taken pride in his team’s defense, and that’s the primary focus after the Seminoles ranked No. 223 in scoring defense during last year’s 18-16 campaign that ended in a NIT loss in the first round. The 12th-year coach, however, knows things don’t get any easier down the road.
“Over the last eight years, there’s only two teams that have won more games than we have in our league – Duke and Carolina,” Hamilton said. “But we’re not satisfied with being third. We want to see if we can be the top team in the conference.
“That challenge has just gotten tougher with the addition of the other teams. Yes, we’re concerned about this season, but as a staff we’re looking toward the future.”
Five ACC teams were in the final 2012-13 Top 25 poll, not including National Champion Louisville. Syracuse advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. Duke lost in the regional finals. Miami reached the round of 16.
Florida State can’t compete with those teams allowing opponents to score 68.6 points per game and shoot 43.7 percent from the floor. That defensive field goal percentage ranked No. 221 in Division I last seasons.
“The drop-off was definitely noticeable,” senior forward Okaro White said. “My first two years, that’s what I was used to – great defense. I’m glad we’re trying to get back to it. … It’s not going to be easy.”
Last year “was a bad feeling. … We were blessed to play in the NIT, but we weren’t used to it,” White said. “We weren’t really very happy to play in the NIT because we were used to playing in the tournament.”
Florida State will hold its Seminole Madness event on Oct. 11 at Donald L. Tucker Center. The season begins Nov. 8 with a visit from Jacksonville.