Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
On a chilly, February day in Tallahassee, FSU simply could not afford a cold start against the visiting Eagles from Boston College. The Noles have a made a habit of falling behind early this season, and against a team ranked 269th in tempo and 55th in turnover ratio another slow start would likely mean a loss for this young Florida State team. And a loss would make even the NIT seem like a long shot. Fortunately for Florida State, Devon Bookert is just getting warmed up.
To better understand this story, we actually need to go back to pre-season practices. By all accounts (mind you, getting preseason camp reports out of a Leonard Hamilton coached team can be a black-ops type endeavor) Bookert, a freshman from Anchorage, Alaska—via prep school in Nevada—was looking like an instant impact player. Then, on the third day of fall camp, Bookert hurt his knee in what Coach Hamilton referred to as his "infamous moped injury."
This injury not only caused Bookert to miss every practice for the rest of the preseason—a crucial period of time for learning Hamilton’s intricate help-man defense—but it has also left a good amount of scarred tissue in the point guard’s knee. Scarred tissue that makes Bookert’s knee quite stiff.
"Even though it’s healed, so to speak, the scarred tissue under there creates a lot of discomfort," said Coach Hamilton. "We can’t stretch it…he gets stiff. So when he goes in the game he doesn’t quite have his legs under him, it takes him a while to get warm," Ham continued.
However, if the last couple games are any indication, it seems a solution may have been found. One he’s warmed up, don’t let him get cold.
"By starting him—warming up and starting him—it’s been a little better for him," noted Ham. "It’s allowing him to play a little [more free] and not as inhibited."
Bookert himself also commented on his new warm-up routine.
"I’ve warmed up better before the games, so I feel like I’m more loose from the start of it…like it’s not hard to move," said the freshman. "It’s a huge difference."
Indeed it has been a huge difference, not just with Devon’s comfort on the court, but also in the effectiveness of the offense. Earlier this week against Miami, making the first start of his career, Bookert finished 5-7 from the floor and was FSU’s second leading scorer with 12 points. Additionally, the Seminole offense scored a point per possession—no small task against the elite defense of the Hurricanes.
Yesterday, the results were even better. Bookert recorded eight assists against zero turnovers—something no Nole had accomplished since Delvon Arrington—and FSU’s offense played its most efficient game of the year against a high-major opponent. After the game, his teammates offered plenty of praise for Bookert.
"He just showed what he was showing all summer,’ said Okaro White. "He stepped up and played today."
"I’m a big Devon Bookert fan," gushed Michael Snaer. "Not only getting us in out of our offense, but he controls the team so well. Controls the tempo… doesn’t let nobody speed him up," continued the senior guard. "He makes the right reads, makes the right passes, and gets guys open looks, and that’s something we need."
Speaking of Snaer, the senior had by far his best game in ACC play this year finishing with an incredibly efficient 21 points on 8-10 shooting. It’s no surprise that Snaer, a guy who is at his best when he is able to play off the ball, blossomed with Bookert running the show. However, his contributions weren’t limited to just scoring on Saturday. The clear leader of the team also finished with six rebounds—three on the offensive glass—two assists, and a block.
"I’m just focused on playing like a senior and taking what the defense gives me," said Snaer. "Playing smart and moving without the ball…just being in the right place at the right time."
All in all, Snaer’s 21 points, Bookert’s 8 assists, and White’s team leading 8 rebounds added up to a much needed 69-66 victory over Boston College. The win brings FSU’s ACC record back to .500 and keeps them in striking distance for earning a coveted top four finish and the first round ACC Tournament bye that come with it. Now, the Seminoles next game, against the NC State Wolfpack on Tuesday, looms large. NC State is currently a game ahead of FSU in the ACC standings and this is the first of two meetings between the schools over the last six games of the season.
"This game at NC State is going to be a really really big game for us," said Snaer. "If we can win this game it puts us right back in position to be where we want to be, and same thing for them."
Hopefully Bookert’s knee—and the team—can stay loose up in Raleigh.
Other Quotes and Notes:
Not only did Devon Bookert get better warmed up yesterday, Coach Hamilton said the entire team got an earlier than normal wake up call.
- "I didn’t think we played that well in our last Noon game, we didn’t have the same level of energy. This morning we got them over here at 7:30 and maybe that’s the trick."
- · "I got here this morning at about 6:30am [and] Okaro was already here."
- · "They responded real well, wasn’t laying around, we didn’t let them go back to sleep…I think that’s what happened to us last week: we never woke up."
Hamilton commented that despite Bookert’s increased minutes, he still wants to get Montay Brandon into the rotation more—even if it means playing other positions.
- · "We’re going to have to find a way to get him back in the rotation a little bit more…probably play him at all three perimeter positions—including the 1, 2, and 3—to work Montay back into the rotation a little bit more as we continue to move through the remainder of the season."
Asked if he considered fouling with the Noles up 3 and only 5 seconds to go, Hamilton said yes.
- · "Yes I normally would have, but I didn’t want to call a timeout to give them an opportunity to set up a play. But I do believe in a situation like that it’s not bad to foul." Hamilton then smiled and said with a laugh, "But it was a great decision today."
Coach Hamilton said they made the decision to switch to a much less aggressive defense than normal yesterday:
- · "I thought that they were a little further along with their execution of their offensive system than maybe our defensive system was."
- · They have done a great job all year long…of creating high percentage shots for their team. A lot of back doors, a lot of slot passes."
- · "We kind of changed our defensive scheme just out of respect for their ability to execute."
- · "I thought our players adjusted well…but then we had difficulty getting over their ball screens and they hit nine threes."
The players also commented about the less aggressive, more "contain defense." Okaro White thought it helped him stay out of foul trouble and Snaer said although he played 38 minutes, he didn’t feel near as tired at the end as he did against Miami. Of course the trade off was how effective BC was on offense.
Asked about what percentage he feels his knee is at, Devon Bookert said "80%." He also said it definitely still limits him some, especially his "quickness and change of direction."
Snaer raved about Bookert after the game (if you couldn’t tell already), saying "He’s one of the few point guards in practice that I haven’t been able to just turn over at will."
The late game missed free throw by Terry Whisnant was the sophomore’s first miss from the charity stripe all season. He is now 18-19.
Coach Hamilton heaped heavy praise onto Whisnant’s defense, particularly in the second half. Said it was huge in allowing us to build a lead down the stretch.