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FSU Basketball Preparing for 2015-16 Season

Outside temperatures in Tallahassee are finally, mercifully, starting to cool. But inside the FSU Basketball Training Facility, things are just starting to heat up.

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

With the first exhibition game less than a month away (November 2nd to be precise), Noles basketball will be back in action before you know it. With an intriguing mix of experienced veterans and talented newcomers, head coach Leonard Hamilton has a roster that is generating some preseason buzz. The key will be how well the upperclassmen (plus third-year super sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes) are able to guide the young guns through the rigors of playing in the toughest conference in the country.

I spoke with two of those veterans yesterday.

Senior leader, Montay Brandon, is coming off a breakout junior year in which he led all guards (and all players who played at least 45% of possible minutes) in offensive rating and ranked 39th in the country in FT rate. He offered some good perspective on how to handle preseason hype.

"We were top 25 to start the season [the year we lost the opener to South Alabama], so for all the hype and expectations...every team that come in here is looking to beat us and is gonna give you their best game each and every time. So when we come out here, we come out here ready to play."

He also had some insights with the younger guys. "The are eager to learn," Montay said. "They mess up, they are looking to get it right the second time. They try not to make the same mistake twice."

Montay also mentioned how much more competition there has been in practice and how the increased depth should help everyone keep up the energy on defense for the full 40 minutes.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who drew national acclaim after scoring 30 points in less than 5 minutes against Miami last season, looked noticeably slimmer and more tone after a summer of hard work. "I've been in here three or four times a day," the sophomore from Canada said. "Just making sure my body's right so I can go the whole season and be able to play big minutes."

XRM also spoke about how the new talent will help and the balance between scorer and facilitator he's trying to strike.

"It's good to be able to have guys who can come in and contribute. That's always good for a basketball team...with the group of guys we have now, I feel like we can get [to where we want to be]."

"[Finding a balance between scoring a facilitating] is one of the biggest things I've worked on all last season and leading up to this season. Being able to...know when to get my guys involved, knowing when to get them shots, where to get them shots--spots that they like the ball in...and then knowing when I'm able to take over games...creating trust with all my guys. They know that I'm going to get them the ball when they need to get the ball, and when it's time for me to score and go get a bucket, they trust me to do that as well."

Xavier also mentioned working on less volume and higher efficiency when it comes to his shooting.

After speaking with the guys, I hung around for a bit of practice. Here were some observations:

  • Boris put on some solid weight, particularly in the base.
  • Jarquez has also put on some weight.
  • The young guys are loooong. Jean Marc towers over Ojo. Mann will disrupt passing lanes.
  • There was good energy and lots of talking and communication between the guys.
  • Robbie is 100% free of back pain, after toughing out most of last season with an injury. He looked confident and ready to go.
  • Dwayne Bacon is smooth. I'll be interested to see if he can play with some fire against every opponent, not just the big name ones. But he glides over the court, his shot is smooth, and range is deep.
  • Ojo looked a lot more comfortable at the FT line. Hopefully that can translate over into the games. People need to remember someone like Bacon probably played more minutes last year than Ojo has played in his career.
  • Benji Bell is going to surprise some folks.
  • Malik Beasley is one of those guys who just oozes athleticism. I can't wait to watch him develop.

Speaking of Malik, there is a nice friendly competition between him and Bacon over who will win next week's dunk contest during the Jam with Ham event at the Tucker Center. When a team has the reigning McDonald's All-American dunk contest champion on its roster and there is a legitimate contender to beat him out in the intrasquad contest...that's saying some things.