Florida State looks to guard Thomas for leadership
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Aaron Thomas led Florida State in scoring last season as a sophomore. But after losing two seniors, the Seminoles are now looking for Thomas to also be a leader.
A versatile 6-foot-5 guard, Thomas has shown the ability to drive to the basket and consistently knock down jump shots. Though he came off the bench until mid-January last season, Thomas averaged a team-leading 14.5 points per game. He had six 20-point games in his 16 starts down the stretch.
''I'm always challenging him to constantly try to become the most complete player that he can become,'' FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. ''I want him to use all his skills offensively and defensively. Sometimes when you're a freshman you're just kind of feeling your way, trying to learn the system, how to utilize your skills.
''When you get to your junior year, you should be more reacting and not doing as much thinking. Not only do you find a way to be productive you find a way to create opportunities for your teammates. That's moving in the direction of becoming a more complete player.''
If Thomas becomes a more complete player, he could lead FSU to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012. The Seminoles missed out on the NCAA tournament last season but won three games to reach the NIT final four and finished 22-14.
There are plenty of challenges awaiting FSU this season. The roster includes just one senior, center Kiel Turpin, and he missed all of 2013-14 with a knee injury. FSU also lost two of its top players (forward Okaro White and guard Ian Miller) to graduation. And Hamilton is also looking for two centers, juniors Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo, to develop into consistent players on both ends of the floor.
But there are signs that FSU could be better.
The Seminoles have added a dynamic shooting guard in freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes. Point guard Devon Bookert has worked this offseason on limiting his turnovers. And Turpin provides another veteran big man for a team that lost the rebounding battle in 13 of 20 games against the ACC last season.
Turpin applied for a medical redshirt so that he could return to FSU with the goal of helping the team return to the NCAA tournament.
''That's how I want to end my career - end it on the highest note possible,'' Turpin said.
Here are four things to watch for FSU, which opens the 2014-15 season at home on Nov. 15 against Manhattan.
THE X-FACTOR: Rathan-Mayes was academically ineligible to play last season, but he will provide FSU an additional scoring option on the perimeter. The 6-foot-4 Mayes, who was considered the No. 8 shooting guard in the 2013 class by Rivals.com, averaged 13 points, 6.7 assists and 5 rebounds for Huntington (West Virginia) Prep, where he was teammates with future No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. ''Xavier is a gym rat,'' Hamilton said. ''He's one of those guys that goes to bed early, gets up early and he loves being in the gym working on his game.''
ON THE MARK: Point guard Devon Bookert has exceptional vision and creates plays in transition and in the half-court offense. But he needs to cut down on his turnovers (72 last season) while increasing his assists (102). Bookert averaged 8.5 points last season and has a smooth jump shot. The junior has made 46.6 percent of his shots from beyond the 3-point arc, the highest percentage in school history.
SAND TIME: FSU's roster features three 7-footers with Turpin, Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo. Turpin missed last season with a knee injury, and Bojanovsky (5.9 points, team-leading 67 blocks) and Ojo (2.5 points) were pressed into action and split minutes at center. Hamilton wanted all three big men to be in better condition this season, so they have taken part in grueling 6:30 a.m. workouts in sand pits on FSU's campus. ''That has been challenging for them from a cardiovascular standpoint,'' Hamilton said.
CHALLENGING SCHEDULE: FSU faces a daunting schedule that includes 11 opponents that played in the NCAA tournament in March. In the first two months, FSU will face a non-conference schedule that includes Florida, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Providence and Manhattan.