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Coach Hamilton: An In-Depth Analysis of Recruiting and Player Development


Photo from Tallahassee Democrat

Since Leonard Hamilton's arrival in 2002, the Florida State Seminoles have seen an influx of talent that was never expected at a school whose basketball program lurks in the shadows of its football team.

Today, we take a closer look at Coach Hamilton as well his recruiting history and player development during his tenure at Florida State.

Entering the season, there were a lot of questions surrounding Leonard Hamilton and his future at Florida State. Many wondered how long could he continue to rely on recruiting some of the best talent in the country without any tangible results on the national level? In college basketball, success is determined by wins and losses, conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances. With the help of Toney Douglas, Leonard Hamilton led his team to a 10-6 record in the ACC Tournament, a meeting with Duke in the ACC Championship and Florida States' first NCAA Tournament bid in 11 year. With that resume, Coach Hamilton deservedly earned the ACC Coach of the Year Award.

Before getting into the details of Hamilton's career and his recruiting history, we must consider the definition of a good coach. Is it winning percentage? Is it post-season appearances? Is it recruiting? It is talent development? I found this list of things to consider when evaluating a college coach at LFBall's Blog:

- Does The Coach follow NCAA guidelines and directives?
- Does The Coach follow University guidelines and directives?
- Does The Coach run a clean above board program?
- Does The Coach graduate his players?
- Does The Coach manage his staff well and provide good leadership?
- Does The Coach Manage his players well?
- Does The Coach communicate well with his players?
- Is The Coach a good representative of the university?
- Can The Coach actually Coach on game days?
- Does The Coach develop his talent?
- Does The Coach understand fair discipline?
- Does The Coach treat All The Players fairly?
- Does The Coach allow outsiders to have influence on his program?
- Does The Coach win games he is supposed to win based on budgets, and talent?
- Does The Team Compete Every game?
- Does The Coach exhibit the ability to coach, think fast on his feet, adapt,
and lead?
- Does The Coach have the ability to position the team to make yearly post season tournament runs?

As he points out on his blog, this is not an exhaustive list but certainly a variety of interesting points to consider. We all have different coaching expectations and definitions of good coaches. However, keep in mind that we only get to see a sliver of what coaches actually do on a daily basis. We get to see the poor substitution, the reluctance to call a time out, the poor play calling and we experience the win or loss. Compared to practice time, preparation time, recruiting time and administration time, game time is nothing. We know that Hamilton recruits well. We know that his players like playing for him. We know that he inspires his teams to play defense, which is an incredibly arduous challenge.

Hamilton started at Florida State in the 2002-2003 season, leading the Noles to a 14-15 mark that year. Previously, Hamilton coached at Oklahoma St from 1986 to 1990, going 56-63, and at Miami from 1990-2000, going 144-147. He also had a short tenure in the NBA coaching for the Washington Wizards. In his overall career, he is 328-303. His winning percentage has increased with each team. His worst year, by far was the 1991-1992 Miami team that went 8-24. His best year was the 1998-99 team when he led the Hurricanes to a 23-7 record and a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, losing in the second round to Purdue. During his 21 year tenure, he has made it to the NCAA tournament 3 times and produced 7 NBA draft picks.

Let's take a look at each recruiting class under Coach Hamilton. I will discuss each class here and then comment on specific examples of player development under Hamilton at the end.

Signing Class of 2002

  • Al Thornton
  • Benson Callier

Before Coach Hamilton every coached a game at the Tucker Center, he started on his recruiting career off with a bang. Or did he? Al Thornton was a 6'7 forward out of Perry High School in Perry, Georgia. His RSCI ranking was 100+. Included in that recruiting class were Amare Stoudemire, Carmello Anthony, Raymond Anthony and Chris Bosh to name a few. Al wasn't even ranked at his position by and had a 3-star rating. Thornton was the MVP of the Georgia-Tennessee All-Star game and was Hamilton's first recuit. There wasn't a lot of hype to Thornton entering college. Benson Callier was a 6'5 shooting guard out of Grove City, PA who averaged 18 points per game his senior year. He was first team All-State and was MVP of the PA-OH All Star game. Callier only played two years for the Seminoles before transferring to, believe it or not, Western Kentucky. Benson's Blog is here if you're interested. He played in a total of 20 games with the Noles and had limited minutes. More on Al later...One out of two in your first year before you even start coaching ain't bad.


Signing Class of 2003

  • Alexander Johnson
  • Von Wafer
  • Diego Romero
  • Antonio Griffin

After finishing 14-15 the season before and 4-12 in conference play, Coach Hamilton was able to land a very strong class that included 1 5 star player (Von Wafer) and 2 4-star players (Johnson and Romero). Griffin and Romero were bother Junior College transfers. Von Wafer, a 6'4 guard, out of Heritage Christian Academy in Cleveland, TX led the Noles to have the Number one recruiting class in 2003. He signed before the college basketball season was barely under way and had received offers from the likes of Indiana, LSU, Maryland and Texas to name a few. This was said about the number 1 recruiting ranking at "1. Florida State: It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it. Instead of Bobby Bowden landing top billing in Tallahassee it’s Leonard Hamilton making waves." RSCI had us rated as the 10th best class and stated that Hamilton had picked up two of the highest rated recruits in FSU history (Wafer and Johnson). That high school class included LeBron James, Luol Deng, Shannon Brown, Chris Paul, Charlie Villanueva and Kendrick Perkins. Wafer averaged over 30 points per game for his AAU team and was named to the McDonalds All-American Team. Wafer played for two years before being drafted at the 9th pick in the second round of the 2005 Draft by the LA Lakers.  Alexander Johnson was a 6'10 4-star recruit out of North Bridgton, ME. Yes...Maine, though he was originally from Georgia. Johnson played in 33 games that year and started 16 for the Noles and averaged 9.5 points per game and 4.2 rebounds. He played 3 years for the Noles and averaged 13.2 points his Junior year. He was drafted in the 2006 draft by the Indiana Pacers.  Diego Romero, despite being a highly regarded recruit, orginally from Argentina, only played 2 years for the Noles after transfering from Lon Morris Junior college. Antonio Griffin orginally signed with the Noles in 2003 but did not enroll due to academic reasons, he played at Scottsdale Community College for one year before returning to the Noles. He only played one year with the Noles. 


Signing Class of 2004

  • Ralph Mims
  • Jerome Habel
  • Jason Rich
  • Isaiah Swann
  • Antonio Griffin

In the 2003-04 season, the Noles went 19-14 and only 6-10 in conference play, Hamilton was able to pull in solid class, with Jason Rich being the front runner. Jason was the 7th ranked player by and was a 6'3 Guard from Dr. Phillips HS in Orlando. Rich selected FSU over offers from Florida, GTech, Indiana, Kentucky and USC. Rich was ranked 27th overall by the RSCI in a class that included Dwight Howard, Shaun Livinston, Al Jefferson, Rudy Gay, Glen Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge and many others. Rich played all 4 years at Florida State, averaging only 5.4 points his freshman year to averaging 14.5 points per game in 34 minutes as a senior. Isaiah Swan was also one of the top recruits of the class. Swann was a 6'1 guard out of Rockville, MD and was ranked 40th overall in the RSCI. Swann also played 4 years at FSU. He averaged 5.2ppg his freshman year and average 11.8 his senior year, starting 21 games on a team that included Jason Rich and Toney Douglas. Jerome Habel never played for the Noles. Ralph Mim a 6'3 guard out of Brunswick, Maine was another 4 year player for Leonard Hamilton. He started out averaging 2.8 ppg in 29 appearances as a freshman to averaging over 30 minutes per game and 11 points per game his senior year. As you can see, Mims, Swann and Rich all significantly improved under Hamilton and all played 4 years for the Noles.  The Noles received honorable mention for the recruiting class from the folks at RSCI.


Signing Class of 2005

  • Uche Echefu
  • Toney Douglas
  • Casaan Breeden
  • Ryan Reid
  • Jerel Allen

Ah, familiar names. During the 2004-05 season, the Noles went 12-19 and 4-12 in conference play. Clearly, this has turned out to be an excellent recruiting class for Hamilton. We all know and love Toney. Toney technicaly was in the Class of 2004, but he played his freshman year at Auburn then transferred to FSU, sitting out the 2005-2006 season, and that's why I include him here. Toney was the 100th player in the RSCI that year. At his first season at Auburn, he played in 31 games and averaged 35.6 minutes per game scoring 16.9 points per game. More on Toney later. Uche, until the end of the year, demonstrated that he had matured into an excellent power forward. Uche was a 4 star recruit out of Rockville, Maryland and selected FSU over Kentucky, Maryland and North Carolina. See this piece to learn more about Uche. Ryan "The Big Ticket" Reid was a 4 star player coming out of high school and helped is AAU Team win a national title. He selected the Noles over Florida, Miami, Pittsburgh and South Florida. Ryan was considered one of the top players in the state of Florida while at Lauderdale Lakes. He entered FSU at 215 lbs he is now up to 325 and has seen a marginal improvement in his stats. Granted, he is getting less playing time this year than he did during his sophomore season. Casaan Breeden was a three start recruit and played only two season with the Noles averaging less that 10 minutes per game in 56 game. He now plays for the College of Charleston. Jerel Allen was a JUCO transfer from Mott Community College. He played two seasons with the Noles, playing 65 games and averaging 4.2 points per game.


Signing Class of 2006

  • Josue Soto
  • Aaron Holmes

During the 2005-2006 season, the Noles captured 20 wins and went 9-7 in the ACC led by Al Thornton and his 16 points per game. So only two recruits after a great season? Playing time was going to be a premium. Al Thornton was heading into his senior year and many of the players mentioned above were getting significant minutes. There was little room for a Freshman to make any impact. Josue Soto was a 5'11 guard out of Jacksonville, FL who was a three star recruit. He was in the rivals top 150 that year and selected FSU over Illinois, Indiana and Wake Forest. He only played in 13 games his freshman year for a total of 54 minutes and a total of 11 shots. He quickly transferred to FIU. Aaron Holmes was considered a 3-4 star recruit that was recruited by a huge number of schools, but Stan Jones convinced him to commit to FSU. Holmes was a 6'5 shooting guard out of St. Petersburg, FL. Aaron is now with the USF Bulls. So this was a bust year for Hamilton. He was only able to attract two recruits and did not retain either of them. No points for recruiting nor development in this one.


Signing Class of 2007

  • Solomon Alabi
  • Jordan DeMercy
  • Julian Vaughn
  • Chris Blake

In the 2006-07 season, the Noles went 22-13 and 7-9 in the ACC. Al Thornton had an incredible season averaging 19.7 points per game, 7.2 rebounds and had 40 blocks on the year. He was later drafted by the Clippers as the 14th pick in the NBA draft. Alabi was a 5 star recruit. Demercy, Vaughn and Blake were all three star recruits. We all know what Solomon is developing into: an elite center who will play in the NBA. He has a ways to go but he is clearly on the right trejectory. Vaughn, out of the famous Oak Hill Academy, initially signed with the Noles and is now a member of the Georgetown Hoyas. He was a rivals top 150 player and the 35th best Power Forward. Chris Blake was a 6'4 Guard out of Mobile, Alabama and as far as I can tell in a quick search never played for the Noles. Two of 4 ain't bad and look what you have in Alabi. Demercy had a world of athletic talent and still has time to develop. It will be interesting to see what rotation he and Singleton will have.

Signing Class of 2008

  • Derwin Kitchen
  • Chris Singleton
  • Pierre Jordan
  • Deividas Dulkys
  • Xavier Gibson
  • Luke Loucks

Well...these are the guys you have grown to know and love. Clearly one of the top recruiting classes in the country, Hamilton was able to recruit Singleton a 5-star McDonald's All American, 4 other 4-star players and Pierre Jordan. How this class will develop obviously has yet to be seen. But, we know that Singleton certainly has the talent to be a great player. Dulkys can shoot the long ball in the right offensive scheme. Gibson is secretly developing into an outstanding big man. Loucks is an effective ball-handler. Kitchen was one of the best JUCO players before he transferred. This is a talented team.

Class of 2009

  • Michael Snaer
  • Terrence Shannon

Signing Snaer was huge...and it occurred before we went on our run through the ACC. Terrance Shannon is a 3-star Power Forward out of Georgia. He's a 6'7 190 lbs forward who selected the Noles over Xavier, Georgia, Auburn and Nebraska. Again, he signed before the season started.

Signing Class of 2010

  • Okaro White
  • Ian Miller

I only mention these two to demonstrate that Hamilton is making a serious dentin the recruiting world. Miller is a 6'0 PG out of North Carolina and is already rated a 4-star player. White is a 6'7 Forward out of Clearwater and another 4-star recruit. Both of them expressed interest in the program well before were even close to winning 10 games in the ACC.

Signing Class of 2011

  • Marc Brown

I only learned of this recruit today. I had no idea that we had guys signed this far out. He committed in October of 2007. Marc is a 6'4 185 lbs guard out of Atlanta, GA. I don't know much about him, but he won't be here for a while.


I hope this gives you some sense of Hamilton's recruiting success. He has pulled in players from all over the country and at talent levels that wouldn't be predicted by Florida State's success or lack there of.

What has Hamilton done in terms of player development? He took Al Thornton from a relatively quiet player in the recruiting world to an All-ACC Player, 3rd Team All-American and a Lottery Pick in the NBA draft. Here are some graphs to demonstrate Al's development under Leonard:







(If' those charts are messed up let me know. They are working on one of my browsers and not the other. If they aren't working I'll get in touch with the folks at Statsheet)

What about Von Wafer? Ralph Mims? Jason Rich? Toney Douglas?




Clearly,these are some of the bigger names in the recent history of Florida State. But, look carefully at how these guys were rated coming out of high school. Yes, Von Wafer was a McDonald's All American...Al Thornton was not. With the exception of 2006, Hamilton has been able to recruit and retain some outstanding players. The two graphs above are only a small window into proving that Hamilton has been able to develop talent. I think that it is more than these players simply getting better on their own. Plus, Hamilton gets them to play defense like no other. Playing defense is not the glamorous part of basketball. You must be doing something right to get these kids to buy into a defensive system. He has also sent 4 players to the NBA: Thornton, Wafer, Johnson and Pickett (didn't recruit him but coached his final years)

So what are your thoughts on Hamilton? Is he simply a recruiter? Do these results surprise you or do you need more data? Clearly, our retention of players is not 100%, nor is it 100% anywhere else in the country...but we're not a basketball school...yet. I think the 2006 class was a fluke due to the log jam of players that Hamilton had recruited in the prior year. Why go to a lesser known basketball school if you're not going to play?

Now, do I question some of Hamilton's in game decisions and adjustments? Yes. But I have the luxury of watching the games from my couch with a DVR. Does that mean he's a bad coach? No. It might mean he needs to work on his in game decision making. Do I totally love the offense we run? No. But that could easily be solved with an assistant coach. However, without Hamilton, I don't think we would be where we are today. We already have the makings of an excellent team for the next few years, let's see what Coach Hamilton is able to do with it. If you look at the intangibles of coaching, Hamilton is doing all the right things. Based on recruiting and player development, I think Coach Hamilton is doing just fine and I look forward to what other surprises he has for us in this year's recruiting class.