Florida State won a program record 32 games and finished with a lofty #7 ranking in both polls. The team was two possessions away from the first Final Four in program history. The Noles served notice to the college basketball world that they were for real by finishing second in the very competitive ACC. FSU could really use a productive offseason to keep the team on track to their goal of a first ever Final Four.
Florida State's current roster is loaded with talent. However, recruiting is the life blood of any program and FSU's competitors in the ACC are cleaning up on the recruiting trail. According to HoopGurlz, Duke (1), Louisville (2), Notre Dame (5), North Carolina (7), NC State (16), and Virginia Tech (19) all have top 20 classes. FSU needs to keep pace with this tough competition.
FSU's Spanish Connection has borne fruit again as the Noles have signed Spanish forward Maria Conde. Conde follows fellow Spanish nationals Leonor Rodriguez and future teammate Leticia Romero to Tallahassee. Conde will enter Florida State as a freshman next year and will have four years of eligibility remaining. Conde is a versatile 6'1 wing who led her Spanish League team Los Estudiantes in scoring (15.8ppg) and rebounding (6.7rpg). FSU has exceptional talent at forward with projected starters Ivey Slaughter and Shakayla Thomas returning. However, with Morgan Jones leaving the program (more on that later) the Seminoles may need Conde to step up sooner than expected. Hopefully it won't take Conde long to learn the Seminole system and get acclimated to the American style of play.
Florida State looked abroad for talent once again and found Australian Rachel Antoniadou. Antoniadou is a 5'9 guard who is known as a very good passer with 3 point range. She figures to fit right into a Seminole offense that prizes good spacing and players who can hit the open jumper. Antoniadou fits that profile perfectly. She will be the first Australian to ever play for FSU women's basketball and will enter school as a freshman with four years of eligibility.
Unfortunately everything didn't come up roses for FSU on the recruiting trail. Florida State was heavily involved in recruiting JUCO Player of the Year, Evelyn Akhator of Chipola but Akhator signed with Kentucky. Akhator is a powerful presence inside who averaged 14.3 points and 14.5 rebounds per game last year. Akhator is 6'3 forward/center who would have challenged for a starting spot and at the very least would have provided valuable depth for the Noles. FSU is blessed with talented returnees in the front court while the Wildcats are not. Playing time likely played a role in Akhator's decision to go to Lexington.
In recruiting every year is important but FSU really needs to score with the 2016 class. Adut Bulgak and Emiah Bingley will graduate and there is no guarantee that Leticia Romero will return. That is a lot of talent that FSU needs to replace not to mention the players who have transferred out this summer. Fortunately the Seminoles are off to a good start. The Noles have secured a commitment from top 50 overall player 5'7 PG A'Tyanna Gaulden. They are also heavily in the mix for the best player in Florida and top 25 overall player 5'10 guard Jazmine Jones from FAMU High in Tallahassee. Hopefully for Florida State they can land these two players and keep the ball rolling.
Anyone who has followed FSU basketball recently knows how important transfers have been to the recent success of the team. Two of those recent success stories have decided to leave the team. Reserve wing Morgan Jones and backup point guard Shakena Richardson from Neptune, New Jersey have decided to transfer. Richardson is going to home state school Seton Hall. Richardson has graduated from FSU and will therefore be immediately eligible to play her final year for the Pirates.
Richardson played 34 games for the Noles last year averaging 3 points and 2.57 assists per game. Those may not seem like lofty numbers but Richardson was a talented player with exceptional quickness who FSU could turn to when the starter needed a break and not suffer much of a drop off. With the graduation of Maegan Conwright FSU now only has one proven point guard on the roster in Leticia Romero. The good news is that Romero is one of the best point guards in the nation. The bad news is that there is only one of her.
Richardson's return to New Jersey creates an interesting dilemma for Head Coach Sue Semrau because Romero cannot play the entire game. When she leaves the game who will FSU turn to at the point? If Antoniadou is ready immediately she can fill that role. In the more likely event that she is not FSU will likely turn to Brittany Brown or Emiah Bingley. My early guess would be Bingley partially because offensive rebounding is one of Brown's greatest strengths and playing point guard would not give her many chances to hit the offensive boards. However, she would only be playing the point for a few minutes a game so Semrau might consider the tradeoff to be worthwhile. We'll see.
Jones spent two years in Tallahassee and was a part time starter for FSU averaging 6.5pts and 3.7rebs per game last year. She has decided to forego her senior year at FSU. Jones was a versatile player capable of playing all four positions except center.
The loss of Jones leaves Florida State without her versatility and creates a major depth issue. FSU was blessed with exceptional health last season. None of the top 10 players missed significant time with injury. Romero sat out the first 13 games but that was due to NCAA transfer rules. If FSU has great injury luck again the Noles will be largely fine because their first seven players are proven. However, if someone gets hurt (or in foul trouble) Florida State will need someone who is largely unproven to step up. That person will have to be one of the freshmen or rising sophomore Ama Degbeon.
Several Seminoles are using the summer months to improve their games. Shakayla Thomas (Weapon X) will represent Florida State on the United States under 19 national team. Thomas will compete for the U.S. at the FIBA U19 Worlds in Chekhov, Russia that start on July 18 and end with the medal games on July 26.
Ivey Slaughter was invited to compete for a spot to represent the United States in both the Pan American Games and the World University Games. Although she didn't make the team the rising junior forward gained valuable experience playing against the best players in the nation.
Adut Bulgak is currently competing for a spot on the Canadian Women's National Basketball team. Training camp ended on May 24. If Bulgak makes the team she will represent Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.
Leticia Romero is playing with the Spanish Women's Senior National Basketball team at the EuroBasket in Hungary and Romania.
Opportunities to compete against the highest level of competition are rare and FSU is fortunate to have several players with such a great opportunity to improve their games playing against the best. In the past several accomplished players like Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Klay Thompson have credited international play with improving their games and helping them have breakout seasons. FSU fans can only hope that it works the same way for Thomas, Slaughter, Romero and Bulgak.
ACC/BIG 10 Challenge
The ACC has announced that Florida State will host Rutgers in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge on Thursday Dec 3rd. Rutgers finished last season 23-10 losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to eventual national champion UCONN. This will be the first ever meeting between the two programs.
Rutgers is led by Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer. Stringer was inducted in the same class as David Robinson, John Stockton and some dude named Michael Jordan. Stringer is known for her uptempo style of play, particularly the "55" full court press defense. Rutgers likes to speed you up and try to force you into mistakes. FSU is not scared to play uptempo so this could turn into a track meet.
This is a good matchup for both teams. Rutgers gets the opportunity to play a top 10 team on the road. In other words a win would be a huge resume builder for the Scarlet Knights while a loss won't hurt the RPI at all. FSU gets the opportunity for a good non-conference win because Rutgers will likely be ranked in the 20-30 range. FSU will probably be the favorite in this early season matchup.
Around the ACC
We discussed Florida State's transfer situation above but several ACC teams have seen their rosters impacted by transfers this summer. Sarah Imovbioh is transferring from Virginia. Imovbioh averaged 12.6 pts and a team leading 10.8 rebounds per game. The Cavaliers do have a highly regarded post player coming in next year (6'3 Mone' Jones #58 overall) but they will struggle mightily to replace Imovbioh's production.
Kaela Davis is transferring to South Carolina from Georgia Tech. Davis, the daughter of former NBA all-star and current ESPN analyst Antonio Davis, was a first team All-ACC performer last year. She led the yellow jackets in scoring at 19.6 points per game. She will sit out the 2015-16 season and have two years of eligibility remaining. Her loss is devastating to Tech as she was easily their best player. She stated that she left in order to join a program with a better chance to win.
Lexie Brown is leaving Maryland to join the Duke Blue Devils. Brown, the daughter of former NBA slam dunk champion Dee Brown, was a first team All-Big Ten player last year. She averaged 13.3 points per game last year. Brown will miss the 2015-16 season and have two years of eligibility remaining. Brown stated that she wanted to play more games closer to her family in Georgia. She also had a strong desire to play in the ACC. When she returns to the court for Duke she will team with incoming freshman Angela Salvadores to form one of the best backcourts in the nation.
And then there was North Carolina. In 2013 UNC signed the best recruiting class in the nation. It featured Diamond DeShields (#3 overall recruit according to HoopGurlz), Allisha Gray (#7), Jessica Washington (#14), and Stephanie Mavunga (#23). This is the type of class that is supposed to put you in the thick of the national championship race. Instead everything has fallen apart for the Heels. Every single player in that celebrated class has either transferred or announced plans to transfer. DeShields transferred to Tennessee last year. She sat out last season and will have three years remaining starting in the 2015-16 season. Gray (15.8 pts 7.6 rebs) was UNC's best player last year. She announced that she is transferring to South Carolina - what a scout team they will have next year! She will miss next year and have two years remaining for the Gamecocks. Washington and Mavunga (14.4 pts 9.8 rebs) have announced that they both plan to transfer but have not decided on a destination yet.
Obviously UNC is going to struggle mightily next year and the sanctions haven't even hit yet. Sylvia Hatchell has been in Chapel Hill for 29 years. You have to wonder if she will want to stick around for what will almost certainly be a painful rebuild.
SB Nation site Swish Appeal has just finished a three part series on FSU point guard Leticia Romero. For those of you not familiar with the story of how she came to FSU (or who want to hear it again from a different perspective) this is a great read. Check it out here.
(Some information for this article was provided by the Florida State University Sports Information Department)