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Big Shoes to Fill

Michael Snaer had played in 101 consecutive basketball games as a Seminole, starting in most of those. That streak ended last night against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks as the senior sat for what Coach Hamilton described as a “discipline issue.” That left freshman Aaron Thomas with some pretty big shoes to fill. And while he wasn’t perfect, Thomas seemed to wear them well.

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As noted in the player previews, Aaron Thomas, like Snaer, came to FSU with lofty praise. However, up until last night the most minutes he had seen was 24—and that came in the previous game against Maine. Prior to that, the most time he spent on the court was 17 minutes against Buffalo in the second game of the season. However, Michael Rogner noted in the pre-game write-up that Thomas had quietly been the team’s most efficient player over the last few games and personal observations confirmed that the former Brewster Academy star was beginning to find his groove.

Which brings us to last night. With Snaer out for the game and junior guard Ian Miller out for the near future with a bone bruise, minutes were there for the taking and Thomas obliged. Not only did he get his first start of his young career, but he rose to the occasion finishing second on the team—behind Okaro White in all three categories—in minutes (32), points (17), and rebounds (6); all of which were career highs.

After the game, Coach Hamilton had a lot to say about the freshman. “He’s a guy that’s just starting now to feel comfortable,” remarked Ham. “As well as he played, he still hasn’t shown us what he’s really capable of doing. But he’s making progress.”

Indeed, the progress—on both ends of the court—was evident against ULM. Offensively, Aaron displayed why he was such a highly touted recruit coming in, showcasing an array of ways to do something FSU often struggles to do; put the ball in the basket. Some of the ways in which he scored were offensive tip-ins, two dribble, pull-up jumpers, a vicious dunk in transition, driving the lane and finishing with circus shots around the basket, and going 5-5 from the charity stripe. Defensively I don’t have the efficiency numbers that Michael has been tracking, but he looked to be doing a much better job of shuffling his feet out on the perimeter, allowing him to play pressure defense while only picking up one foul.

Still, as any good coach should do with freshman, it wasn’t all positive for Thomas. “There were moments where he didn’t contest shots or fight through screens the way he should have,” Ham said of Thomas. Coach also noted that this problem wasn’t just limited to Thomas, but was rather a larger, fundamental issue that all the young guys are working through. “I thought we were late on the screens…sometimes we went under them when we should have been going over…sometimes we trailed. We had inexperienced guys out there trying to execute and we didn’t do a very good job.”

While Thomas stepped up to fill the role temporarily vacated by Snaer, there was someone else on the court filling even bigger shoes. Size 21 shoes to be exact. For the first time in his life, Michael Ojo—the 7’1 center from Nigeria—played basketball with a pair of shoes that actually fit his feet. Not only must this be a tremendous pain relief for the big fella, this is potentially a huge step in the right direction for an FSU basketball team that is desperately in need of an inside presence.

“We have not been able to run him from a conditioning standpoint because he needed the orthotics to help with his arch support. But the orthotics would not fit in the smaller shoes,” commented Hamilton, who spent much of the post-game gushing about the strides Ojo has made in practice. “I’ve been really really impressed with Ojo. He’s made such significant progress,” noted Ham.

Asked why Ojo is still seeing limited action (only saw 3 minutes against ULM), Ham commented that the big guy was still working on getting his confidence up enough to transfer what he’s shown in practice into the games. Coach further noted that he still hasn’t even played a full year of organized basketball in the states, but that he feels the light is close to coming on.

“I actually have been very pleased with our practices…[but] a lot of our progress we are showing in practice, we are not showing in games…tomorrow we’ll go back to work.”

Other Game Notes and Quotes:

Okaro White (apparently reading Rogner’s columns) did a fantastic job of being aggressive and looking for his shot. He didn’t shoot it well from the field, but his 12-13 from the free throw line was huge, as were his 4 offensive rebounds. After the game, Hamilton had this to say about the junior: “Later on in the year we will probably start running some plays to get [Okaro] some looks on the perimeter.”

ULM led 18-13 at the under 8 minute timeout. Over the next 4 minutes, FSU went on a 13-2 run to take the lead for good at the under 4 minute timeout. Much of this run occurred with Montay Brandon and Devon Bookert on the court together, pushing the tempo.

Terrance Shannon was back in action after missing the last game with an injury. He played 20 minutes, finishing with 3 points, 5 rebounds (his aggression underneath was the best part of his game), and 4 turnovers—3 of which came in the first half. Said Hamilton, “Terrance obviously showed a tremendous amount of rust.”

Robert Gilchrist, who did not play, but Ham continued to praise for his improvements of late, is questionable for the game against Charlotte this weekend.

During the game, Ojo received a beautiful entry pass from Aaron Thomas, proceeded to pump fake the invisible man guarding him, and then try to make a soft, two-handed layup…which he ended up missing. While discussing Ojo’s adjustment to the States, Ham digressed into a little story about how the area where Ojo grew up only had one basketball hoop for the boys to play on, so dunking was forbidden. Ham cracked a rare smile and joked, “I’m gonna tell him that we have extra rims.”