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Paradise Lost - Where the Rebuild Went Wrong

Part II of the longform covering Leonard Hamilton's tenure at Florida State

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

If you didn't read part I, do yourself a favor. Matt did a fantastic job.

Part II: Paradise Lost - Where the Rebuild Went Wrong

They didn't come here to play in the NIT, or to struggle to middle-of-the-pack ACC finishes. They came here to be the class that elevated FSU from a program which had to continually rebuild into one that could just reload.

The class of Aaron Thomas, Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon, Michael Ojo, Boris Bojanovsky, and Robert Gilchrist had to be excited watching FSU cut down the nets at the ACC Tournament, knowing that they'd be next in line. In fact, Aaron Thomas could have been there with them cutting nets, but he'd had to go the post-grad route when he didn't qualify. Looking at how that first season would play out, it would have been nice to have Aaron Thomas as a system-savvy sophomore rather than a freshman learning the ropes. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

There was an experienced upper class in place, with senior Michael Snaer, and juniors Okaro White, Terrance Shannon, and Ian Miller. There were promising sophomores in Terry Whisnant and Antwan Space. Kiel Turpin had redshirted, getting ready for the year, so FSU didn't even need to ask too much from the six new players.

Everything was in place for FSU to reload.

A month after FSU won the ACCT, this plan began to unravel. Antwan Space, the 4* top-100 small forward, announced that he was transferring back home to Texas A&M. This left a hole in the lineup that the new guys weren't prepared to fill.

To counter this, Coach Hamilton went to a 3-guard lineup. It got off to a rough start when the Noles dropped the season opener, but then two games later, in Brooklyn, FSU blew the doors off of a very good BYU team. The next day they knocked off St. Joe's, for another resume building road win.

Against St. Joe's, Ian Miller had six assists and four steals. What we didn't know at the time is that this would be the last game he would play completely healthy for the next two years.

Miller had hurt his foot, and the Noles dropped three straight. The injury was so significant that for the rest of the year Miller couldn't even practice. He just rode the stationary bike and tried to glean what he could from the workouts. In games, he moved gingerly and often came up lame. But even at 70% he was too valuable to sit. Surgery would have to wait.

FSU was able to right the ship, winning two straight road games at Clemson and Maryland to begin ACC play.

Then, against Virginia, Terrance Shannon crashed his head into a Virginia player's hip, and he dropped. He was motionless on the court for several minutes before finally being taken off on a stretcher. He wouldn't play again for nearly two months.

The team—now left with just two healthy, non-first year players—battled, led mostly by Michael Snaer's late game heroics, but finished at 9-9 in the ACC.

The 4-year streak of dancing was over.

A one-year absence was nothing to be ashamed about. Michael Snaer was graduating, but a talent infusion was on its way.

Elite point guard (and FSU legacy) Xavier Rathan-Mayes had already committed to FSU, along with 4* PF Jarquez Smith.

All that was left after the season ended was the announcement of the No. 1 player in the nation - Andrew Wiggins. The staff had been recruiting Wiggins, another FSU legacy, for years. And everything looked great for FSU. Every expert in the country was predicting him to Florida State over Kentucky and others.

We were all so confident that two blows to the program didn't even seem like a big deal at the time. Two transfers happened in the week leading up to Wiggins' announcement - first Terrance Shannon to VCU and then Terry Whisnant to East Carolina. In fact, the transfers just added more confidence, as FSU needed to clear at least one spot for Wiggins.

But a few hours before Wiggins was set to announce, something changed. Later, Kansas coach Bill Self admitted even he had been shocked when Wiggins leaned in to a bank of microphones and told the world he'd be attending KU.

As FSU fans recovered, the news kept getting worse. In August, it was announced that Xavier Rathan-Mayes was ineligible to compete during his freshman year.

Years earlier (when FSU was just becoming a tourney program), XRM's family - along with the families of several other top Canadian players, including Wiggins - had sent him to an academy in North Carolina. Only it turned out the academy was run by a scammer, who defrauded the families out of money and ran what was basically a fake school. It became such a big deal that Canada's news magazine the Fifth Estate profiled the story in a 1-hour prime-time special.

FSU fans wouldn't realize the player they were missing until XRM finally took the court a year later.

In the meantime, the short-handed Noles got off to a great start in year-2 of the "reload." FSU easily won the first three games, and then in game four completely dismantled  No. 10 VCU in Puerto Rico.

The following night, against No. 14 Michigan, Florida State again played great and led the Wolverines by 8 with less than 3-minutes to play.

FSU seemed to be back among the nation's top teams.

Little did we know that the FSU season had reached its peak. Turnovers doomed FSU down the stretch versus Michigan, and the Wolverines - led by multiple 1st round NBA picks - rallied to win in overtime.

A week later, in the final seconds of a tie game with No. 15 Florida, FSU got the stop they needed only to have a mystery whistle give the Gators free throws. The Noles lost by 1.

What would have happened that season if FSU would have had Xavier Rathan-Mayes? Would that have been enough to beat Michigan or Florida? Or if the Noles hadn't dropped 2 of 3 later in the season when Ian Miller got injured yet again? Or if Terry Whisnant or Terrance Shannon were still on the team to provide a spark off the bench?

In March, the anxious Seminoles sat and watched the Selection Sunday show. Sixty-eight teams were announced and Florida State was not one of them.  CBS listed the Noles as the first team out.

Two years into the "reload." Two straight trips to the NIT.

But with the close of each season, hope rises for the next.

This time Xavier-Rathan Mayes would be eligible. And to cover the graduation of Okaro White, the Noles thought they'd be landing 4* Jakeenan Gant. Only Gant mysteriously committed to Missouri during a weekend visit. But to offset that loss the staff figured out a backup plan and signed the top JUCO player in the nation: Cinmeon Bowers.

Bowers had gotten into a lot of trouble in his youth, but that seemed to be behind him. Coach Hamilton, a noted disciplinarian, showed a lot of faith in Bowers by recruiting him to Florida State. Hamilton had done this with a number of players with troubled pasts - most notably Jon Kreft - and it almost always worked out.


During a traffic stop with non-basketball players, the police reported Cinmeon Bowers eating a bag of marijuana. Had he just accepted the arrest, I wonder if things would have been different. But by trying to deceive the police he'd disregarded the faith Coach Hamilton placed in him, and he was told to move on.

Once again, FSU would be short-handed, and this time it would kill the season.

Things started going bad from opening season tip, when Devon Bookert had a hard time getting around the court. It turned out that the screw implanted in his foot during his freshmen year was out of place, and needed to be removed. So right off the bat, FSU's top shooter was lost.

Then Aaron Thomas - FSU's All Conference guard - was dismissed from the team.

At times FSU played games with just seven healthy scholarship players. When Bookert returned from surgery he had to play 35+ minutes every game. So did Montay Brandon. So did Xavier Rathan-Mayes. To run Hamilton's system effectively, he needs a deep bench so that players can go full effort on every possession.

It was all too much, and FSU suffered through the first losing conference season (8-10) in seven years. This was a flashback to nearly a decade earlier - a series of bad breaks and calculated risks which did not pay off leading to disappointing season and a frustrated fan base.

But yet again, despair for the season quickly gave way to hope for tomorrow, thanks to a nationally ranked recruiting class. Only this time, the recruiting class wasn't snake-bit. They were all good. And they all made it into the program. Dwayne Bacon was a McDonald's All American. Malik Beasley was a top-50 talent. Terance Mann was rated in the top 100. Benji Bell was a JUCO All American, and Chris Koumadje brought tremendous upside with his skinny 7-4 frame.

Was the Long and Winding Championship Road which gave way to the Rebuild that Went Wrong finally ready to move to a new chapter?

Next week we'll wrap up with a look at the present and the future of FSU basketball.