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FSU basketball offseason update

The games may be over but the season never really ends.

NCAA Basketball: Miami at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida State Seminoles basketball program enjoyed successful seasons in 2016-17 on both the men’s side and the women’s side. We will discuss a little recruiting news on the men’s side in a bit but TN is known as a chivalrous website so we will begin with news about the women’s program.

Women’s Basketball Update

The Florida State women finished the season with a 28-7 (13-3 ACC) record. The Noles earned a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament on the way to their second Elite 8 appearance in three years. The Seminoles will say goodbye to Leticia Romero, Brittany Brown, Ivey Slaughter and Kai James. These four seniors were instrumental in raising FSU’s overall program to elite status. They will obviously be missed.

However, the Seminoles still have talent remaining on the roster for next year. The Noles will welcome back the reigning ACC player of the year in Shakayla Thomas. They also have returning starter Imani Wright as well as post player Chatrice White who will move into the starting lineup.

The big question marks for the Noles will be point guard and whichever front court position White isn’t playing. Florida State went a long way toward answering the later question by securing a commitment from 6’2 forward Hatty Nawezhi from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Nawezhi will be eligible in the fall and will have two years of eligibility in Tallahassee. Nawezhi (13.4pts, 9.7reb) will battle returning forward Ama Degbeon for the starting position but regardless of who wins the job both players will see significant minutes. In addition to Nawezhi in the 2017 class, the Noles will welcome 5* wing Savannah Wilkinson (#52 overall) from London, England and 3* guard Sayawni Lassiter from Dorchester, MA.

FSU landed Nawezhi after she took an official visit to Tallahassee last weekend. Also on that visit was 5’9 guard Amaya Brown from Albuquerque, NM. Brown is a 4* recruit (#28 overall) who is a very important part of FSU’s future plans. She is seen as an FSU lean and some thought that she may commit on the trip last weekend. That didn’t happen but the Noles are still believed to be in the driver’s seat for her services. Brown would be part of the 2018 class. FSU already has a commitment from 2018 5’10 guard Kourtney Weber (#18 overall) from New Orleans. In the 2019 class the Noles have a verbal from 6’5 center River Baldwin (#22 overall) of Andalusia, AL.

The Noles have really improved their depth with Nawezhi’s commitment and that was sorely needed after freshman Jasmine Walker decided to transfer to Alabama. The other question mark that we mentioned was point guard. The last three years that position has been a strength for FSU because of the presence of Romero and Brown but now it is in serious flux. There are reports that freshman point guard A’Tyanna Gaulden intends to transfer.

Gaulden’s decision is curious on its face. As we mentioned the point guard position is a question mark for FSU going into next season. With a strong training camp Gaulden could have conceivably earned the starting spot as soon as next year. Now she may transfer to another team and have to sit out a year in the process. There are a few reasons that players decide to transfer. In no particular order they are:

  1. They want more playing time.
  2. They want to play on a better team.
  3. There are personal reasons (family, homesickness, etc.)
  4. The coach leaves or is fired.
  5. Relationship issues with teammates or the coaching staff.

We don’t know the reason for Gaulden’s decision but it is curious because the playing time was available at FSU, the team will be competitive next year (likely top 15-25 talent), and Sue Semrau obviously isn’t going anywhere. That leaves only personal issues as the reason. Actually there is one other reason that could explain the decision.

Transfers have been reaching almost epidemic levels lately and it is really coming to a head this year. From just the 2016 recruiting class, 3 of the top 10, 4 of the top 16 and 6 of the top 25 players have either transferred or announced their intention to do so. This is probably more than a coincidence. There is speculation that college coaches are tampering with players currently on other rosters by going through AAU coaches to indicate their interest. I have no inside information on Gaulden’s decision but she would be just the type of player that would be targeted by a coach interested in tampering. She was a 5* player who didn’t get much playing time last year (mostly due to Romero and Brown) and a rival coach could speculate that she may be feeling frustration at that because obviously 5* players want to play immediately.

However, as we discussed Gaulden will have every opportunity to earn a starting job as soon as this year with the departure of Romero and Brown. This suggests that maybe she believes that FSU might be adding another guard. There is speculation that FSU is targeting current TCU point guard AJ Alix. TN readers Honat and Josh have a good discussion of this possibility in the comments to this article. Regardless, unless there was some internal friction it is surprising to see Gaulden make this decision. However, we wish her all the best.

Last night the WNBA held its draft in New York City. FSU saw two former Noles drafted. Leticia Romero was drafted by the Connecticut Sun (#16 overall) and in a bit of a surprise the New York Liberty selected Kai James with the 34th overall pick.

Romero was projected by some to go higher but the 16th pick is about where many thought she would land. There was a rumor going around that she would skip this upcoming WNBA season to concentrate on playing for the Spanish National team. If any teams bought into that rumor (and at least a few probably did) that could have served to depress her draft stock.

The James pick was a bit of a shock because she barely played for FSU down the stretch this year. However, the 6’5 James provides size in the post and she has impressive pedigree as a former McDonald’s All-American. James also has a reputation as a hard worker. “In Kai James, we wanted to bring someone in that had size, could bang in the post and give us some strength, especially in the preseason,” Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer said. “She’s working on her game all the time, has shown great improvement, and now it’s time to see if she can make the next level.”

Men’s basketball recruiting update

As you probably know FSU is still recruiting two 5* talents in the 2017 class. Legacy wing Kevin Knox, Jr and guard M.J. Walker are still considering FSU.

Knox recently used his fifth official visit to go to Missouri. He has been actively recruited by Michael Porter, Jr. who many feel is the top player in the class. Porter recently switched his commitment from Washington to Mizzou and he is anxious to have Knox join him. With Missouri jumping in so late I would be stunned if Knox ended up there but you never know.

Knox is also considering Duke, Kentucky, FSU and UNC (in no particular order). Here is my feeling about the prospects of each of these schools to land Knox. Before we begin I must stress that I have no inside information about his recruitment so I can’t comment on his personal relationship with any of the schools.

Kentucky is a blueblood with great facilities and fan support and they have John Calipari on the sidelines. Kentucky also currently has commitments from two 5* forwards already in PJ Washington (who has already signed) and Jarred Vanderbilt. Both of those players are 6’8 as is Knox. Knox and his family are paying great attention to potential rosters for all of the teams that he is considering. It’s hard for me to believe that he would choose UK with all of the front court talent they have coming in and the playing time issues that it could potentially create for Knox. Remember that UK also has a commitment from 6’11 center Nick Richards and they have frontcourt holdovers like 6’9 forward Wenyan Gabriel who was a 5* recruit last year. UK is also recruiting 5* center Mo Bamba (as is Duke). Vanderbilt had this to say regarding the recruitment, “I’ve been talking to Mo a lot more than Kev, because I mean, honestly, I think we’ve got a better shot with Mo right now.”

UNC is an interesting case. They are a blueblood program with all of the advantages that come with that status. However, the Tar Heels haven’t signed a top 20 player since 2014 which is a very long drought for a program with this kind of pedigree.

There are some who believe that the Heels are in a good position for Knox. I think that in normal times this would be the case but these are not normal times in Chapel Hill. Not when presidents from other schools are saying that the death penalty would be appropriate for your school. It’s obviously highly unlikely that this would happen but UNC remains under investigation by the NCAA and penalties could theoretically come before next season. I was of the belief that the men’s program would get off with a slap on the wrist but then the NCAA amended their Notice of Allegations in a way that was quite detrimental to North Carolina’s case. I now think that significant penalties could be coming. The question is what those penalties will be and when they would come. Knox is very likely to be one and done so any penalties that come after next season would likely not affect him but why would he take that chance when he has other schools on his list that would be great choices that don’t have the Sword of Damocles hanging over them. He also must consider the possibility that UNC will get nervous that major penalties are imminent. They then may make the same decision that Louisville made two years ago when the Cards self-imposed an NCAA Tournament ban (among other penalties) in an attempt to stave off more crippling NCAA sanctions. This is pure speculation on my part regarding the sanctions but again why would Knox take this risk?

There is also the question of who will be on the roster. Former AAU teammate Tony Bradley has decided to “test the waters” by declaring for the draft but not hiring an agent. Justin Jackson is staying in the draft and Joel Berry and Theo Pinson have not announced. Jackson leaving helps UNC’s chances but Bradley leaving would likely hurt. In general, the major thing hurting UNC in this recruitment is the overall uncertainty there between the NCAA and the roster.

FSU is the only non-blueblood on the list and would likely not be on the radar screen without the legacy connection. For that fact alone the legacy is significant. However, I don’t believe that this connection alone will carry the day. Simply put, it is very difficult for non-bluebloods to recruit top 10 players. I know, Jonathan Isaac came to Tallahassee. There will always be exceptions but Isaac is different from Knox in that he was a bit of a late bloomer. Knox has been a known commodity and a priority for all of the bluebloods for over a year. That fact alone makes his recruitment fundamentally different from Isaac’s.

I may be able to discuss this in more detail in a future article but the bottom line is that FSU just doesn’t have the recruiting budget that the bluebloods do to “show the love” to top players. When you combine that with fan support, facilities, tradition, etc. it is very hard for non-bluebloods to get traction.

However, all is not lost for Florida State. While I don’t believe FSU leads for Knox I do believe that the Noles are still in the race. The Noles will basically give Knox the keys to the offense. He will have an optimal chance to show NBA scouts what he can do and he will be supported with a pretty good core of talent around him in Tallahassee. The problem is that while he would win games at FSU and the Seminoles would probably make the Tournament with him on the roster, he wouldn’t be on a team that was a serious contender for a title. If winning big is important to him then the next team on the list would be enticing.

When you consider all of the outside (non-relationship) factors Duke still looks like the most likely choice. They are probably the premier blueblood in the nation right now. They will be able to surround Knox with championship caliber talent but at the same time they have an open slot for him at the small forward position so he will get playing time in Durham. They also have a legend on the sidelines in Coach K.

The Blue Devils have commitments from 5* power forward Wendell Carter and 5* shooting guard Gary Trent, Jr. In addition, former 5* point guard Frank Jackson is likely staying. Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles are all leaving so there will likely be minutes for Knox even though Marques Bolden is staying and Grayson Allen’s status is unclear.

It basically comes down to this, if he wants to be The Man FSU looks like the choice. If he wants to have the best chance to compete for a Final Four or a title he will likely head to Durham. Most observers have Duke in the driver’s seat because teams like FSU have dismal track records competing against bluebloods for 5* recruits.

Knox has pushed back his decision to late April or early May.

Even though I just spent several paragraphs discussing Kevin Knox, I think that Walker’s decision is probably more impactful for FSU’s program as a whole. This is because Walker, while seriously talented, is not likely to be a one and done. Knox very likely will be. I think that two (or more) years of Walker would be more important to the future of the program than one year of Knox even though Knox is the better player right now.

Walker is considering several schools including FSU, Georgia Tech, Maryland, UCLA, Kansas, and others. It is pretty unusual for a 5* player to have a list this long at this late date but Walker seems wide open. I don’t really have a good feel for where he is likely to end up but it seems that FSU has as good a shot as anyone since they were his first official visit.

Of course we will be keeping a close eye on all of these developments so stay tuned to TN for future updates.