The Seminole basketball team reached a new level of popularity during the regular season in 2010-11, finishing 3rd in the ACC and seeing one of the top-5 attendance jumps in the country. Then they capitalized on the momentum by reaching the Sweet 16 for only the 4th time in program history. Leonard Hamilton has mentioned on numerous occasions how having a star like Chris Singleton commit to the Noles makes it possible for other top recruits to come here. So now - due to the most successful season in nearly 20 years - is the time to capitalize on that, and if everything comes together then the 2012 class will be a program changer.
But what about the 2011 class? They've seen Singleton, Michael Snaer and Ian Miller all commit to the Seminoles. They just hadn't - prior to their commitment at least - seen FSU find success in the NCAA Tournament. So they committed with the understanding that they're coming in to push FSU to that next level. Do they have what it takes?
Whisnant comes in with the well-deserved reputation of a shooter. He averaged 32 points, 8 rebounds, 5.2 assists and three steals. Had 61 dunks and hit a school-record 124 3-point shots; scored 40 or more points in three straight games. At the end of the year the 1A player was named Mr. Basketball in North Carolina, and he leaves Gaston County as the all-time leading scorer.
The good news about Whisnant is that he'll be the best shooter on the team from the moment he steps foot on campus. The bad news is that he played high school ball against suspect competition with very few legit college players. However, he has played well in summer leagues against better competition, but transferring his game to the college level will be a challenge. Never in his life has he had to make a jumper with someone like John Henson closing him out. But his mechanics are sound, which is rare for an FSU recruit. He'll just need to work on a quicker release and realize that the open looks he was getting in high school rarely exist in college. He'll also need to tighten his handle, and develop a pull-up game to compliment his shooting.
FSU has desperately needed shooters (211th in 3-pt %) to help open lanes for the likes of Mike Snaer and Okaro White. Whether or not Whisnant will get to be that guy next year depends largely on his ability to pick up the defense. Whisnant has made it known that one of the reasons he chose FSU was to enhance his defense which is currently pretty weak.
Whisnant chose FSU over several mid-major schools.
Antwan Space is the classic Leonard Hamilton recruit - an athletic freak who has a significant flaw. He has point-forward skills in that he can use his size while slashing, has a very good handle for a wing, and has a solid touch out to the 3-pt line. What he lacks is consistent effort, and if that doesn't change don't expect many freshman minutes out of Mr. Space.
Transferring his game to the college level he relies to much on his size to shield defenders from the ball, and doesn't appear prepared for the level of weak-side help he'll face in the ACC. He also has nights where he settles for mid-range jumpers rather than attacking. Still, anytime a player is being recruited by both Mark Few and Billy Donovan, you know the kid has something. He could be another Uche Echefu (minus the injuries), or he could become a more athletic version of Kyle Singler, and that's why he had offers from nearly every major and mid-major conference.
Space's recruitment was filled with rumors at every turn, and at one point Arkansas fans were convinced their class would finish with either Space or a Ohio guard named Aaron Thomas. Which brings us to:
Aaron Thomas might be the most intriguing player coming to FSU next season. He's from a tough neighborhood, in a tough city, and luckily he had a family who kept him focused and away from the bad influences. He comes in with the reputation as a gym rat, and spent 4-years at two different high schools developing from a kid who would get upset whenever another player touched him, to a grinding, slashing guard who's one of the more physical guards in this class. He has NBA size at 2-guard, and is coming to FSU specifically because of Hamilton's tough love approach and his ability to develop players into NBA talents (behind only Duke and UNC in NBA draft picks during his tenure).
Credit the Seminole staff for staying on Thomas when several Big 10 programs walked away due to qualifying issues. Hamilton layed out a plan with a timeline and deliverables, and if he met those than FSU would accept his commitment, if not we'd walk away. And Thomas rose to the challenge.
It's tough to read much out of Thomas's senior season as he was the only player at Withrow capable of generating his own shot, and as such was double teamed every time he touched the ball. Still, he was able to show flashes of why several schools think he has the ability to develop into a bigger version of Miami's Durand Scott.
Note - that along with Whisnant - I have his position listed as "guard." With Leonard Hamilton's refusal to recruit pure point-guards, it's hard to predict exactly how he'll be utilized.
Turpin is another intriguing story. On the one hand he comes from NBA bloodlines in Kentucky star Mel Turpin. On the other hand he was a little used high school player who grew from 6'4" to 6'11" his senior season (at one point he was shorter than his 6'4" sister). He went the JUCO route and ended up across town playing for Lincoln College, where he led them to two consecutive National Championships while earning MVP honors in both Tournaments. For his JUCO career he averaged 15.8 points, 7.5 boards and 3.6 blocks.
Turpin still hasn't filled out his frame, and comes to Tallahassee needing to put on more weight. He's developed a very nice mid-range game, and can be compared to either a more-finesse version of Jon Kreft, or a less athletic but better developed Xavier Gibson.
He arrives on campus this weekend.
One thing you may have noticed is that all three of the high school signees are top-100 ESPN players. FSU now has 7 top-100 players according to ESPN, and 5 of them will be freshmen or sophomores. This is the legacy of Chris Singleton. Without him making the commitment to Leonard Hamilton then FSU would not be as attractive to high level players. Now FSU needs to continue their success in the ACC and translate that into NCAA success. A huge class in 2012 would raise FSU's talent level nearly to that of UNC and Duke, and above everyone else.
If you're interested in what the other 11 team's are bringing in, follow along at Run the Floor where I'll be previewing them all over the next two weeks.