Is he coming back? Through much of the 2015-2016 FSU basketball season, that question applied to Head Coach Leonard Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, was granted a two year extension, putting that query to rest. Now that the Seminoles' season has ended, the question becomes: are they coming back? And it's directed squarely at Florida State's standout freshmen, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. Will they remain in Tallahassee or declare for the NBA Draft? So far, no answers have surfaced. Or have they?
After Florida State's last win of the season, an 84-74 NIT victory over Davidson, we had a chance to talk to Beasley and Bacon. I asked them each the same question: now that the season is almost over, what have you learned that you can take to your sophomore year? I'll be honest: I was just as interested in how they reacted to the question, which assumed their return, as I was in their actual response. That said, the content of their answers may have spoken just as loudly as their reaction to the question itself.
Beasley's response was fairly quotidian-- at least at first glance: "Probably just to treat my body right. It's a long season. Also: compete every night. Every night, every team is going to bring their hardest, just because of who we are, and we've got to make sure we're competing with them." There are three mentions of "we" in there-- do you employ that pronoun, and twice project it into the future, if you're getting ready to take off?
My Tomahawk Nation colleague Matt Minnick doubled down, following up by asking how Beasley thought Florida State could use this year's NIT experience to make the NCAA Tournament next year: "Yeah, just make sure we stay together as a team, that's the main thing. I think against Virginia Tech we kind of splintered apart because we were losing, but we played together as a team today, and that's what we should do for next year, or whenever it happens."
Now to semantics. One could certainly claim that Beasley's comments about "stay[ing] together as a team" refer merely to FSU playing unified team basketball. And maybe they do. However, given the question about making the tourney in the future and the probability that deciding whether to stay at Florida State or declare for the draft has probably been darting through his thoughts more and more as the season has wound down, can it really be seen as a bad thing when he begins his answer by citing the Seminoles' need to keep the band together?
If you're at all buoyed by Beasley's comments, Bacon's may seriously bolster your optimism about this duo sticking around for a minute. To wit: when Bacon was asked about if it would be difficult to watch the NCAA Tourney given the Seminoles' exclusion therefrom, he answered as follows: "It might be painful, but as a freshman, I've got time. I feel like I've got time." Now, the last I checked, there wasn't much that the NBA's Golden State Warriors couldn't do. But one thing that does make that list is securing a spot in the Tourney next year. Translation: if Bacon has time to make the Big Dance, it's going to be right here, as a 'Nole.
When I posed my question about learning for his sophomore campaign, Bacon, like Beasley, didn't flinch:
I learned a lot. Just coming in as a freshman, not knowing a lot of things about college basketball, and learning from the coaching staff. At first, I was like, I already know this, I already know this, but at the end of the day, I really didn't know anything about college basketball, because I'd never done it before. Our coaches always say, you don't know what you don't know, and that's true. You don't know what you really don't know, and I really didn't know a lot, so just listening and learning. It helped me a lot this year, to [get to] where I'm at now, and it'll help me in the future.
Certainly, Bacon's reference to "the future" can be seen as rather ambiguous, but does it really overcome the inherent humility of his response? Again, Minnick followed up by asking Bacon what competing against ACC competition has taught him:
I mean, there's a lot of good players in the ACC, but at the same time, coming in, and only being a freshman and competing with those guys, I feel like I can do that. I can get as well as them over the summer. I mean I'm not trying to say that I'm the best player in the ACC, but, at the same time, I feel that, if I put the work in, I feel that way. It's just that, it's all a worker's mentality.
I'm just not sure you refer to staking your claim as the conference's premier player if you're packing your bags for the NBA.
Again: I was looking mostly at players' reactions, and if you're a Seminole fan who would love to see Beasley and Bacon in garnet and gold for at least one more year, I think you'll be pretty happy to hear that, in addition to the responses given, there was no pause, no shift, and certainly no mention of "if." Both Beasley and Bacon launched into their answers like a return to Florida State was a foregone conclusion.
Whether or not that winds up being the case, we shall soon see.