Coming off a 26 win season (the second most in school history) and losing two players to the NBA draft, many believe FSU men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton is facing a rebuilding year. I recently had a chance to speak with Coach Ham about the prospects of the 2017-18 edition of the Seminoles and what he’s seen so far in the pre-season.
Q: Talk a little bit about this year’s team.
Hamilton: “I think we have exceptional chemistry and camaraderie. These guys have worked extremely hard...the challenge for us is obvious. We lost four starters—70% of our offense. I think we have one guy returning (Terance Mann) who maybe averaged 8 or 9 points per game. But the attitude is such that they want to overcome all of that with execution, effort, and camaraderie...once again the strength of our team will be in the quality of our depth.”
Q: Are there areas where this team might be better than last year?
Hamilton: “Last year we averaged about 23 free throw attempts a game (during ACC play, FSU was 3rd in the conference in FT Rate), but we were 13th in the league in percentages (the ‘Noles were tied for 14th in ACC play only). We gotta improve on that. I think it’s obvious we are a better shooting team, and we should be a better free throw shooting team. We didn’t shoot very well from the 3-point line last year. I think that’s an area that we’ll be tremendously improved. The guys returning have really improved and all the guys we brought in, basically with the exception of Ikey, they come in with great perimeter shooting skills.
Another area where I felt we needed to improve on was our execution. We were able to score a lot, we were very athletic last year. We had some guys who could get in and attack off the dribble, but this team has worked very hard with making better decisions with the ball...we should be equally as productive on the offense end.
On the defensive end, we felt we came up a little short overall last year with the field goal percentage defense and I think that’s another area we are really working to improve.”
Q: What has been the emphasis so far in practice?
Hamilton: “Execution has been the big emphasis. Executing on the defensive end and executing on the offensive end. Our effort is excellent on the defensive end. No doubt about that. But when you have as many new players [as we do]...first you have to learn the defensive philosophy and principles, then you have to execute the techniques. Our defense has always been effort and technique driven.
We have a ways to go. A lot of things we are doing with our first-year players, they have never been involved in before. But if their attitude stays good and positive, I think we can close that gap, hopefully by the time the season starts.”
Q: Personnel wise, is this team sort of like a longer and deeper version of some of the Jason Rich, Isaiah Swann, Ralph Mims teams that had a lot of interchangeable parts?
Hamilton: “There’s no question that we have interchangeable parts. I think this team is probably deeper and gives us an opportunity to sustain our effort for longer periods of time.
If you look back to last year, we had the Boom Squad. Those guys came in with an infusion of energy and they always gave us something positive. We are gonna need that same type of effort coming from whomever is not starting...I think we have a lot of guys in close proximity [skill wise], once our newer players get integrated into the system, then we will be able to start being able to define roles. This team has, I think, the makings to be better than those teams with Isaiah and Mims and those guys.
Q: How do you cultivate—you talked about the Boom Squad—how do you integrate so many new pieces, but still cultivate that same kind of enthusiasm and generous spirit?
Hamilton: “Well, I think we verbalize it a lot. We talk about it. We’ve discussed it. And I think when you have good chemistry and kids who like each other, they like the system that we are utilizing, they are excited about that. They tasted a little bit of success last year from having that type of attitude and respect for the quality of the depth and everyone sharing the ball, sharing minutes, and sharing playing time. I think they understand that that’s the best way for us to be successful. And I believe the guys have bought in.”
Q: Has Chris Koumadje put on a little weight?
Hamilton: “No doubt that he’s up there to about 250 now. Mfiondu has lost 20 pounds since August. So he’s losing and Koumadje is gaining. Those guys, along with Ikey—Ike is already a big strong guy—and I think Ikey and Koumadje have been good for each other.”
Q: How did the Jamaican trip help the team progress?
Hamilton: “After going over all the films from last year, we really identified the areas where we felt we came up a little short. Number one was execution. We played well together, it’s just that reading and making good decisions with the ball...the whole spring, summer, and into the early part of the fall, that’s all we worked on. Making sure that we made the right reads in our system.
The system that we have moved to the last three or four years is that every time the ball moves you have about three or four decisions you can make. Sometimes you don’t always make the highest percentage decision. So that’s what we worked on all spring, summer, and into that trip.
I started different lineups every quarter. We played 12 minute quarters and I rotated a lot of people in, both in our practices and in our games. So we had an opportunity to narrow the gap on our execution and I’m hopeful that that will make up with some of the lack of experience we have. We didn’t spend a lot of time working on defense. We wanted to get better in certain areas and we did that with our offense. I have no doubt that our defense will come around.”