In 2013 the Florida State basketball team took their once-every-four-years overseas trip, choosing to visit Greece. That trip changed everything.
Instead of the typical sight seeing and scrimmages against bad players, Coach Hamilton arranged for his team to practice with the Greek National team. They basically turned the players over to the Greek coaches, having them match every drill, every play. While watching how his players adjusted, Ham had an epiphany: modern basketball was evolving, and he wanted to be ahead of the curve. So he scrapped it all and built a new system from scratch.
Gone were the plodding, twin post teams (that a year earlier had won the ACC). Enter a high flying, 13-deep, floor show. It’s called space and pace.
One of the keys to the system is having lots of interchangeable parts. They recruit length, athleticism, and skill in that order, and then teach everyone how to play on the perimeter.
Junior M.J. Walker (6-5, 213) is a lock for major minutes, but will unfortunately begin the season battling an undisclosed injury. He’s struggled offensively in his first two seasons (34% from deep), but he’s a lock down defender on the perimeter. It’s generally considered that Trent Forrest is the best defender on the team, but M.J. is right there with him. He’s due to break out offensively at some point.
Sophomore Devin Vassell (6-7, 194) is the other lock for heavy minutes. He and Patrick Williams are the top NBA prospects on the roster, and Vassell had flashes as a freshman. He made 42% of his 3s, and had some ridiculous putbacks. FSU typically switches screens 1-4, so he’ll spend a lot of time guarding smaller players. The coaches have repeatedly cited him as an example of a player doing the right things to get better, so hopefully his defense will be a plus this season.
Freshman 5* Patrick Williams (6-8, 225) is special. He just needs his game to mature. In the first exhibition he showed his athleticism with five dunks, including one where he nearly hit his head on the rim. His size and style will remind a lot of people of Dwayne Bacon. If Trent Forrest, Walker, Vassell, and Williams are all healthy, FSU will be able to play with anyone.
Redshirt-sophomore Anthony Polite (6-6, 215) will be counted on to handle the ball and defend. He struggled from deep last year (24%) but has a much better shot. His key to minutes will be having his shot translate to live action.
Raiquan Gray (6-8, 260) is another guy who needs to step up his shot. The sophomore hit 31% from deep. He has a point-forward skillset that the staff has been targeting of late, and would benefit tremendously from dropping weight. It remains to be seen if he’s quick enough to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter. FSU doesn’t expect these guys to get into a stance and stay in front of people on an island, but at least they need to be able to funnel ball handlers into help.
Junior Nate Jack has been hailed as a PJ Savoy replacement. Unfortunately he struggled a bit as a sophomore, only knocking down 34% of his 3s after hitting 40% as a freshman. Still, he has good size (6-5, 195), and a great looking shot.
Malik Osborne (6-9. 225) will step into the Mfiondu Kabengele/Phil Cofer role. Osborne transferred from Rice because he wanted to be a wing, while they had him in the post. However, when the Seminoles go small, someone has to be in the middle of the defense, and it will most likely be Osborne. On offense in the small lineup, FSU will either play five-out or post from any position they feel they have an advantage. So there will be times when he ends up guarding bigs on the defensive end, and playing the wing on offense. And they’ll be times when he’s just a wing, guarding smaller players on the perimeter.
RayQuan Evans, a physical (6-4, 210) combo guard out of North Idaho College, was brought in to be groomed as Forrest’s replacement, but he’s missed most of the pre-season with a hamstring injury. It’s uncertain when he’ll be back. And prior to his injury, even the best case scenario was probably similar to last year with David Nichols. Nichols really struggled early trying to learn to run the team, but came on late in the year. Evans is similar in style to Forrest, in that he is a downhill scorer without a great shot.
Wyatt Wilkes (6-8, 220) has been best known for his videos, but he brings an interesting skill set as well. He’s limited laterally, which will curtail his minutes, but he has great vision, and is a solid rebounder. He’s also known as a shooter, but has yet to show that in games.