Snaer’s competitive spirit sets tone for ‘Noles

TALLAHASSEE – Michael Snaer was a McDonald’s All-American in high school with plenty of college choices.

He liked Marquette and Missouri. And as a native of Moreno Valley, Calif., of course UCLA was an attractive option. So was Kansas, and Snaer said he built a good relationship with Jayhawks coach Bill Self.

Those schools had plenty of hoops history. Florida State had just reached the NCAA Tournament in 2009 during Snaer’s senior year of high school – and that was after a decade-long drought. But in the end, Snaer’s heart told him to go across the country to FSU.

“That was probably the biggest thing that helped me make my decision,” Snaer said. “They didn’t have that tradition. It was somewhere you could come in and make your mark. As a competitor, why would you not want to do that? Go somewhere where you can create your own history. I knew I had a chance if I came here to do something really special.”

FSU has had plenty of special moments in basketball the past few seasons, including last year’s Sweet 16 appearance and this year’s regular-season upsets of Duke and North Carolina and an ACC Tournament title.

Snaer led the way for the Seminoles, averaging 18 points per game en route to tournament MVP honors. The junior guard also shot 19 of 32 (59.3 percent) from the floor, but he made an eye-popping 9 of 12 (75 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.

ACC coaches know all about Snaer, and it’s not just because of his buzzer-beating 3-pointers against Duke and Virginia Tech. In a sign of respect, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski found Snaer in the locker room after Saturday’s semifinal game and congratulated him on the win over the Blue Devils.

“He’s just a damn good player,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s an outstanding athlete. I think he’s the best competitor in our league. Snaer is terrific. I love Snaer.”

So do FSU’s fans, who have been applauding Snaer’s performance all year. Now the No. 3 seed Seminoles (24-9) look ahead to the NCAA tournament, where they will play Atlantic-10 champion St. Bonaventure (20-11) on Friday afternoon in Nashville. If the Seminoles win, they will face the Cincinnati-Texas winner on Sunday.

While FSU reached the Sweet 16 last year before falling to VCU, the Seminoles are motivated to go farther this March. Despite losing forward Chris Singleton to the NBA and point guard Derwin Kitchen to graduation (he’s now playing in Israel), FSU coaches felt like the 2011-12 team had a chance to be just as good, and maybe better.

“I’ve been confident all along, from the beginning,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We told our kids at the end of last season, when we came back and did our debrief from the NCAA, that we had a chance to be better and we could be as good as we allowed ourselves to be.”

FSU opened the season 9-6 (including losses to Harvard and Princeton) but has since been on a tear, winning 15 of 18 games.

The Seminoles like to frustrate teams with their defense, they have strength and athleticism inside and are loaded with perimeter shooters like Snaer (14.5 points), Ian Miller (10.9 points), Luke Loucks (11.0 points per game in the ACC tournament) and Deividas Dulkys (37.7 shooter from beyond the 3-point arc).

Snaer is easily the most competitive of the bunch, and there are more than a few stories about his desire to succeed on the court.

He shoots 84.6 percent from the free-throw line, but Hamilton said Snaer is known for punting basketballs across the gym after missing a free throw in practice. Hamilton said Snaer is the first in the gym and the last out the door each day.

“I’ve never seen somebody who works as hard,” Hamilton said. “He’s a gym rat.”

Loucks sees a similar side of Snaer, a guy who wants to win no matter what is being played or who is playing.

“Mike is definitely the most competitive guy I’ve ever met in my life,” Loucks said. “He hates losing more than he likes to win. Whether it’s a drill in practice or video games, this guy just competes his heart out. I’m so glad he’s my teammate, and I think all 14 other guys in our locker room would say the same thing.”

Hamilton likes that this team is unselfish and lacks stars. Snaer has made such a name for himself that he has become a star. But Hamilton said Snaer is still the unselfish, team-first player that he was three years ago.

And Snaer has been a major factor in FSU’s turnaround the past few seasons.

“Some kids like being places where they can be a part of making a difference,” Hamilton said. “Some kids like to go places where they can continue what everyone else has done. Some kids are motivated like that. I think Michael happened to be one of those kids that felt like he would do better if he was out of the area and he could be a factor in making a difference.”