Florida St continues rise with another good season

Leonard Hamilton has achieved in rebuilding Florida State. Now

he’s trying to make the Seminoles a perennial fixture on the

collegiate basketball scene.

The Seminoles have won 20 or more games in five of the last six

years, including the past three seasons. They capped that run by

advancing to the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament before

losing to upstart VCU in overtime last Friday.

”We’re not surprised that we were in a position to go to the

Elite Eight,” Hamilton said in summarizing the season. ”Over the

last six years we’ve consistently gotten better, and that’s one

reason we are where we are.”

During that time, Florida State is 131-69. In the last three

seasons they’re 70-31, including 31-17 in the ACC, trailing only

traditional powerhouses Duke and North Carolina. The Seminoles have

earned a bye in first round ACC tournament in each of the last

three seasons.

It’s paid off in attendance that has swelled by an average of

more than 4,000 fans a game since Steve Robinson’s last season in

2001-02. The average of 9,327 this season also surpassed the

previous high of the 1992-93 team that reached the Elite Eight.

With a veteran team returning, Hamilton is confident that better

times are ahead.

”We’re not going to be satisfied just going to the Sweet 16,”

Hamilton said. ”The future is bright for us.”

And with more fans, expectations are also heightened.

Tallahassee attorney Brian Bibeau, a season ticket-holder since

1979, was thrilled with the season in spite of the heartbreaking

loss to VCU.

”We’re on the way up,” said Bibeau, who noted that it was only

a few years ago when the Seminoles were ”the laughingstock of the

ACC.”

Indeed, Hamilton inherited a program in shambles in 2002. The

Seminoles were 46-72 the previous four years and 21-43 in league

play.

Bibeau, who went to law school at Duke, is rabid about ACC hoops

and glad to see the Seminoles competitive again.

”Those teams don’t want to see us come into their house

anymore,” he said. ”Thy don’t want any part of us. We’ve got a

senior team next year. Let’s lay it on some people.”

The Seminoles lose one senior, Derwin Kitchen, although junior

forward Chris Singleton – the team’s top scorer and rebounder – is

expected to leave early for the NFL draft.

Everyone else returns, starting with a giant front line made up

of 6-foot-10 Bernard James, 6-11 Xavier Gibson and 7-footer Jon

Kreft. They’ll be joined by guards Deividas Dulkys and Luke Loucks

in next season’s senior class.

Rising sophomores Okaro White and Ian Miller, and juniors

Terrance Shannon and Michael Snaer, provide the remainder of the

returning nucleus.

All eight returners played extensively during the season.

Hamilton’s recruiting class includes the North Carolina high

school Player of the Year, Terry Whisnant, an outside shooter who

averaged 31.7 points this season. He also signed forward Antwan

Space from DeSoto, Texas, guard Aaron Thomas from Cincinnati and

junior college center Kiel Turpin, son of the late Kentucky great,

Mel Turpin.

After three straight trips to the NCAA tournament, Hamilton

believes the Seminoles are on the precipice of becoming a perennial

factor in the ACC and nationally.

But it’s getting to that top step that’s difficult.

Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden had good teams

– really good teams – for several years and seemed to fall just

short of winning a national championship before finally breaking

through. Now, Hamilton is in a similar position.

”Our goal is to reach our potential,” he said. ”Then we will

accept what happens.”

Bowden’s patience paid off in 1993 when he won the first of two

national championships in the wake of a half dozen near misses.

That came in his 18th season at Florida State. He added another

national title six years later.

It’ll be 40 years next season since the Seminoles made it to a

Final Four, when they lost to UCLA in the 1972 national

championship game.

Could Florida State do it again?

”We still have a lot more in the tank,” Hamilton said. ”We

can be an improved basketball team.”