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Best men’s basketball player in Florida State history: Sweet 16

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The decisions aren’t getting easier.

Sam Cassell
Sam I Am looking for some cheese and wine.
photo by Bob Stowell/Getty Images

Last week we opened the bracket for the best basketball player in Florida State history with the Round of 32 voting and the results are in. Favorites had their way for the most part, but it wasn’t all chalk. Terance Mann and Charlie Ward both pulled the 5/4 upset, defeating defensive prodigy Chris Singleton and the offensive genius Mitchell Wiggins.

The closest contest occurred in a 6/3 battle down in the Stan Jones regional with Tim Pickett pulling out a narrow win over Michael Snaer. There was no buzzer-beater magic this time for Snaer.

So now we move onto the Sweet 16, where the battles only intensify. It’s not an FSU/Gonzaga rubber-match, but it feels just as electric. Here’s how the full bracket stands:

Now let’s go to the voting!

Leonard Hamilton Region:

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Florida State
Mann with the flex.
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Dave Cowens vs No. 5 Terance Mann

Why Cowens is the pick? The 2nd team all-american is 8th all-time in career scoring average at 19.0 per game. But the rebounding stats are where he really stands out. The gap between Cowens’ school record 1,340 boards (in just 3 seasons) and Reggie Royals’ second most total of 1,006 is greater than the gap between Royals and the guy in 16th place on the career list. Cowens also led the 1970 team to the fewest losses in school history, with a 23-3 record. Oh, and he’s in the College Basketball Hall of Fame. That seems like a big deal.

Why Mann is the man? From a raw stats perspective, Mann cannot compare. He sits 20th in career points and 15th in rebounds. However, Mann was a leader on teams that experienced far more postseason success than Cowens, and in basketball March means a lot. Thanks to FSU being on probation during Cowens junior and senior seasons (for recruiting violations), Cowens only played in one NCAA Tournament game in his career—a first round loss to East Tennessee State in the 1968 Big Dance. (Contrary to popular belief, Cowens was not on the 1972 Final Four team). Mann, on the other hand, played in three NCAA Tournaments, including an Elite 8 and Sweet 16. And he wasn’t just a role player. Mann earned a spot on the All-Regional team in the 2018 NCAA Tourney. Mann also led the 2019 team to a school record 29 wins.

Poll

No. 1 Dave Cowens vs No. 5 Terance Mann

This poll is closed

  • 80%
    No. 1 Dave Cowens
    (480 votes)
  • 19%
    No. 5 Terance Mann
    (118 votes)
598 votes total Vote Now

No. 3 Jim Oler vs No. 2 Mickey Dillard

Why should Oler win? It’s pretty simple: He has the highest single-season scoring average in school history at 29.7 ppg in 1956, as well as the 13th best mark when he scored 21.1 ppg in 1955. Add up his four seasons and you get 1,817 career points, the second most ever scored in a Seminoles uniform. He did much of his damage at the free throw line. Oler owns the top 4 spots for most made FTs in a game, the top 2 seasons in school history (including a whopping 310 in 1956. No other player has more than 188 in a season.), and obviously his 761 is the most in a career. The next closest guy is Bob Sura with 454, meaning Oler made 144 less free throws in 1956 than Sura made in his career.

Why go with Dillard? As noted above, Oler played in a vastly inferior era of basketball. Not only did FSU play in the Florida Intercollegiate Conference in 1956 along with schools like Stetson, Tampa, and Rollins College, but basketball in general was much different in the 1950s. Case in point: Oler is far and away the career leader in made free throws, but his 78.1% career average, while very good, isn’t even in the top 15 at FSU. Dillard ranks 4th in career points, with his 1,734 being less than 100 behind Oler. But he did it in the 70s and 80s when FSU was playing much tougher competition in the Metro Conference. His 640 made FGs tie him for 3rd most in school history and he’s also 10th in career steals. His well rounded play was recognized with 1st team All-Metro in 1980 and AP Honorable Mention All-American in 1981. Also, here’s a cool article from The Osceola’s Bob Ferrante about Dillard completing a seven-point play—yes, I said SEVEN—to help FSU get a win down in Gainesville in 1981.

Poll

No. 3 Jim Oler vs No. 2 Mickey Dillard

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    No. 3 Jim Oler
    (135 votes)
  • 74%
    No. 2 Mickey Dillard
    (385 votes)
520 votes total Vote Now

Hugh Durham Region:

No. 1 Bob Sura vs No. 5 Trent Forrest

Why choose Bobby Suuuuuraaa? Well, he scored more points (2,130) than any other player in Florida State history. So...that’s a pretty good start. His 731 career made FGs is also first all-time, as are his 1,626 field goal attempts. And his 214 made threes are 2nd best in Seminole histroy. But he could also set others up to score, ranking 7th in career assists with 435. And he was a fantastic rebounding guard, grabbing 714 to rank 13th all-time—ahead of guys like Okaro White, Rodney Dobard, and Al Thornton. Sura could play a little D too. His 9 steals against Georgia Tech in 1995 are tied for the 2nd most in any game (the most in an ACC game) and his 209 career steals place him 4th at FSU. During his career, Sura earned ACC Rookie of the Year and completed one of the three triple-doubles in school history.

The Forrest through the trees? I mentioned that Sura was 4th in steals, but until this past season he was third. Unfortunately for Sura, Forrest was the better thief, finishing with 224—just one shy of second all-time. Forrest also ranks higher than Sura in assists, racking up 455 in his career which is good for 5th in school history. Top 5 in steals and assists is a pretty persuasive argument, and Forrest accomplished that playing in Leonard Hamilton’s sub-happy system that saw him play 521 fewer minutes than Sura. Forrest wasn’t too shabby on the glass either, ranking 25th all-time in rebounds. And then there’s the winning. The ultimate job of a lead guard is to put his team in position to win. Now, Sura did play on a Sweet 16 and Elite 8 team. However, when guys like Charlie Ward and Sam Cassell left, Sura continued to pile up stats but not wins. Florida State finished 13-14 in Sura’s junior season and 12-15 in his senior year, going a combined 11-21 in ACC play those two campaigns. Let’s compare that with Forrest. After playing a supporting role on FSU’s star-studded 26-9 team in 2017 (similar to Sura’s freshman year), Forrest then led FSU to the Elite 8 in 2018, the Sweet 16 and school record 29 wins in 2019, and then an ACC title and likely highest NCAAT seed ever in 2020. Forrest helped FSU win more ACC wins his junior and senior years than Sura had total wins his final two seasons. In fact, Forrest left FSU with 104 total wins, more than any other player in school history.

Poll

No. 1 Bob Sura vs No. 5 Trent Forrest

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    No. 1 Bob Sura
    (453 votes)
  • 23%
    No. 5 Trent Forrest
    (142 votes)
595 votes total Vote Now

Reggie Royals rises up for the J.
Nolefan.org

No. 3 Reggie Royals vs No. 2 Doug Edwards

Why join the Royals? Only two men in the history of Florida State pulled down more than 1,000 rebounds: Dave Cowens and Royals. And keep in mind, Royals played just three seasons, as freshmen were ineligible back then. Unlike the more well-known Cowens, Royals also led FSU to the precipice of a national title, getting all the way to the championship game against UCLA in 1972. In that run to the Finals, Royals had games of 11 points and 11 rebounds in the Sweet 16, 12 and 12 against Kentucky in the Elite 8 (pictured above), 18 and 10 against the Tar Heels in the Final Four, and 15 and 10 against Bill Walton and UCLA. Speaking of double-doubles, Royals averaged one for his career, scoring 16.7 points and hauling in 12.0 boards per game. Not surprisingly, he’s second all-time in double-doubles with 51, and he also managed FSU’s first triple-double in 1971. Royals is 9th in career made field goals and tied for 16th in career points with 1,402.

Why pick Edwards? Arguably the best high school basketball recruit in Seminole history, Edwards became the first player at FSU to score 500+ points in three straight seasons. Had he been eligible to play his freshman year, he would probably be the school’s career leader in points scored. As it is, Edwards ranks 6th all-time with 1,604 points and 5th in career made field goals with 621. But far more than just a scorer, Edwards is also 5th in career rebounds with 788, 4th in double-doubles with 36, 10th in blocked shots, and even just outside the top 20 in steals. Known as a team-first player despite being supremely gifted, it’s no coincidence that FSU made three consecutive NCAA Tournament trips during the three years Edwards played. Those three seasons also included a Metro Conference Tourney title, a Sweet 16, and an Elite 8. During his career, Edwards was a 3x 2nd team all-conference performer, once in the Metro and twice in the ACC.

Poll

No. 3 Reggie Royals vs No. 2 Doug Edwards

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    No. 3 Reggie Royals
    (179 votes)
  • 66%
    No. 2 Doug Edwards
    (361 votes)
540 votes total Vote Now

Joe Williams Region:

No. 1 Toney Douglas vs No. 5 Charlie Ward

Why Douglas is the guy? This is a heads-up vote so let’s start with this fact: Douglas scored more points his senior season than his Sweet 16 opponent, Ward, scored in his entire career. But far more than just a scorer, Douglas is arguably the best two-way player ever at FSU. When Douglas arrived on campus, by way of transfer from Auburn, the Seminoles had just wrapped up 12 consecutive seasons of finishing at 6-10 or worse in ACC play. Florida State would better that mark every single year Douglas was on campus and in his senior season, the ‘Noles would go 10-6 in league play, 25-10 overall, make the ACC Tournament championship game for the first time ever, and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade. It’s safe to say that none of that happens without Douglas. Despite playing in Tallahassee for just three-seasons, Douglas is all over the FSU record book. 5th in career points, with 1,655. He’s 8th in career steals and his 90 steals in 2008 are the most ever for a Seminole in their junior season, and the second most ever regardless of class, only surpassed by Sam Cassell’s 97 in 1993. Douglas made more FTs in a season (188 in 2009) than anyone is school history not named Jim Oler. A two-time ACC-All Defensive Team selection, it was his 2009 season that was truly remarkable. His 751 points scored that year are the most ever in a single season at FSU and sits in the top 20 for the most ever in the history of the ACC. On top of that offensive dominance, Douglas also won ACC Defensive Player of the Year (curiously, the guy who was ACC DPOY and led the league in scoring didn’t win ACC POY). His all-around play earned him 3rd team All-American honors.

Why pick Ward? As a sophomore and junior, Ward was the floor general on FSU’s two most successful teams of the 1990s, the 22-10 Sweet 16 team in 1992 and the 25-10 Elite 8 team in 1993. Those high-flying teams were known for their flashy offense, but it was Ward’s defense on the opposing team’s best ball handlers that took them to the next level. Despite splitting time with football, Ward is FSU’s all-time leader in steals with 238. His 8 steals against Wake Forest are tied for the second most ever by a Seminole in an ACC game and his 75 steals in 1992 are tied for 7th best in a single season, and the most ever by a player in their sophomore season. His 396 career assists place him 9th all time, just ahead of Luke Loucks. He made the All-Metro Freshman Team in 1991 and earned All-ACC Honorable Mention during his junior season in 1993.

Poll

No. 1 Toney Douglas vs No. 5 Charlie Ward

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    No. 1 Toney Douglas
    (370 votes)
  • 35%
    No. 5 Charlie Ward
    (202 votes)
572 votes total Vote Now

James Collins Portrait
James Collins could shoot the rock.

No. 3 James Collins vs No. 2 Al Thornton

Why call on Collins? You need a scorer on your team? Collins would be a good place to start. Arriving just after the NBA talent exodus from the 1993 Elite 8 team, Collins was forced to take on much of the Seminoles’ scoring load by himself from day one. And he was up to the task. Popping for 20 points (plus 8 rebounds and 4 assists) in his very first game at FSU, Collins would average double figure points all four years on campus. Not surprisingly, his 1,793 career points place him third in school history. Much of his damage came from downtown. He has three different seasons in the top 12 of the single-season made threes list, and his 255 career threes is the most ever at FSU. What’s more, the gap between him and second place (Bob Sura with 214) is greater than the gap between second place and eighth place (Toney Douglas with 178). His 43.9% clip (on 164 attempts) in 1995 is tied with George McCloud for the 8th best season ever, and his 8 made threes in FSU’s 1997 NIT Semi-finals win over UConn ranks as the third best single-game performance. Also a solid defender, Collins finds himself in 7th place on the career steals list with 191. He earned 2nd team All-ACC honors in 1997 and 3rd team honors in 1995 and 1996.

Why roll with Thornton? Overlooked as a recruit, Thornton is one of the great talent development stories in the history of the ACC. Scoring just 84 total points during his entire redshirt freshman season in 2004, Thornton would score more than half that amount in a single game in 2007 when he poured in 45 down in Coral Gables. That’s the second most points ever scored in a game by a Seminole, just one shy of Ron King’s 46, and the most in an ACC game. No other player in the Hamilton era has scored more than 35. Accomplished in what was essentially just three seasons, Thornton’s 1,521 career points rank him 9th in school history, while his 641 career rebounds are good for 19th. While every guy who made it this far in the bracket had some great games, Thornton had a particular penchant for putting up monster performances. Perhaps none more remarkable than his 37 point, 15 rebound (7 offensive!), 5 assist, 3 steal, 1 block effort at Duke in 2006. His 17 made FGs that day are tied for the second most in school history. After the game, Coach Krzyzewski called it “nothing less than spectacular,” and added that the 2nd ranked Blue Devils “had no answer for him.” Thornton used that game as a spring board into a sensational senior season that saw him score 690 points on 244 made FGs—both are the 3rd most by a Seminole in a single season. And it wasn’t just underneath, as Thornton’s 44.4% shooting from three ranks as the 7th best season ever. While FSU was snubbed by the NCAA Tournament committee despite a road win against Duke and home wins against a 35 win UF team and a 25 win Maryland team, Thornton was recognized as runner-up in the ACC Player of the Year voting, a 2nd team All-American by CNNSI, and an AP 3rd team All-American.

Poll

No. 3 James Collins vs No. 2 Al Thornton

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    No. 3 James Collins
    (79 votes)
  • 84%
    No. 2 Al Thornton
    (439 votes)
518 votes total Vote Now

Stan Jones Regional:

No. 1 Dave Fedor vs No. 4 Sam Cassell

Why vote Fedor? We don’t have any of today’s advanced stats for the late 50s and early 60s, but if you like reliable scorers and rebounders then Fedor is your guy. Arriving at FSU after serving in the military, Fedor is the only player in school history to score in double figures every single game of his career. And he wasn’t just getting by with 10 and 11 point performances, either. Fedor scored 25+ points in 15% of his games at FSU, and his 43 point outing against Miami in 1960 is the third-best single game performance ever. In fact, Fedor’s career average of 20.3 ppg is the second-best at Florida State. As great of a scorer as Fedor was, he was probably a better rebounder. Averaging 13.5 per game for his career, the 6’6 forward has the third most career rebounds (969) in school history despite playing in just 72 games. He’s also 3rd all-time in double-doubles. Fedor was recognized as an AP All-American Honorable Mention in both 1961 and 1962.

Why should Sam-I-Am be the pick? Cassell played only two years at FSU and until the recent heights reached by Leonard Hamilton’s program, those two seasons were arguably the best back-to-back seasons ever at FSU. Florida State had been to the NCAA Tournament on three previous occasions under Pat Kennedy, but only managed 1 win in the three combined trips. Cassell helped FSU win 5 NCAA Tourney games in his two years on campus, leading FSU to the Sweet 16 in 1992 and Elite 8 in 1993. His ability to turn opponents over was remarkable, as his 97 steals in 1993 is the best season in school history. In February of 1993, Cassell had two games of 8 steals within 4 days of each other, the latter on the road against UConn. And despite not even playing full-time point guard, Cassell had a flair for setting up others with highlight reel passes; only 6 Seminoles have ever recorded more assists in a season than his 170 in 1993. But it was his efficient scoring and sweet mid-range jumper that really rounded out his game. His 641 points in 1993 are the 6th most scored in a season by a ‘Nole and 1,211 career points—in just two seasons—rank 27th all time. Scoring 30+ points in six games, Cassell’s 18.3 career ppg average is the 11th highest at FSU. His play made him a two-time All-ACC 2nd team selection.

Poll

No. 1 Dave Fedor vs No. 4 Sam Cassell

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    No. 1 Dave Fedor
    (99 votes)
  • 81%
    No. 4 Sam Cassell
    (444 votes)
543 votes total Vote Now

Ron King had sweet hair and a sweet shot.
Seminoles.com

No. 3 Tim Pickett vs No. 2 Ron King

Why pick Pickett? Pickett overcame Michael Snaer in one of the closest results we’ve seen in either the football or hoops bracket, and for good reason. Pickett, like the aforementioned Cassell, was a JUCO transfer who only spent two years on campus. And while the team’s around Pickett were less talented than those early 90s teams, Pickett himself might honestly be the best junior college guy ever to play at FSU. He could score at all three levels, and was absolutely deadly from the free throw line, ranking 5th all time in single-season FT%. And he was a true game changer from deep. Able to square his shoulders and rise up “in a phone booth” no matter how off balance he seemed, Pickett drained 194 threes in just two seasons, with his 110 in 2004 being the second most ever. Overall he is tied for 15th for career scoring average. But as great of a scorer as he was, the 2x All-ACC Defensive team member was even better at stopping opposing players. He has not one, but two seasons in the top 4 of single-season steals and he ranks 11th in career steals. Pickett earned 2nd Team All-ACC in 2003, 1st Team All-ACC in 2004, and AP All-American Honorable Mention in 2004 as well. Most importantly, he was a winner. After FSU averaged just 11.5 wins per season (total, not ACC) in the four years prior to Pickett arriving, the Seminoles improved to 14-15 his junior year and 19-14 his senior year, laying the foundation for Hamilton’s program of today.

Why crown the King? While King was not a JUCO transfer, freshmen ineligibility rules of the day and a significant leg injury 6 games into his senior season limited him to just a little more than two years. But what a remarkable stretch it was. Most points ever scored in a game by an FSU player? King, with 46. Most made FGs in a game? King, who’s 21 is four more than second place. Most made FGs in a season? King. His 1,170 career points rank 24th all time and every single guy higher on the list played in at least 72 games. King played in 64. His career average of 19.6 points per game is tied for 4th all time. King earned AP All-American Honorable Mention honors in 1971, and then 3rd team All-American honors in 1972 when he led FSU to the national title game as a junior. He scored 27 points in that championship game against UCLA and was named to the All-Tournament team.

Poll

No. 3 Tim Pickett vs No. 2 Ron King

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    No. 3 Tim Pickett
    (156 votes)
  • 68%
    No. 2 Ron King
    (345 votes)
501 votes total Vote Now