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FLORIDA STATE: Young FSU begins NCAA ascent

Florida State may boast the No. 1 recruiting class in the ACC for the second consecutive year. The Seminoles may have had the No. 2 scoring defense in the conference last season. And FSU may have finished last year with a home record of 15-3, including wins over powerhouses Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Yet Florida State is still picked seventh in the ACC in preseason rankings—exactly where it finished last year.

“When you are not the most talented team on the floor, when you are not the favorite, you have to develop a focus that will work for you,” head coach Leonard Hamilton said. “If you have a mental breakdown against a team that is not in the top 25, they’re going to come up and bite you.”

Aided by his first two recruiting classes, Hamilton has elevated an average program that may be poised to break into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. And with the graduation of leader and first-team All-ACC guard Tim Pickett, Hamilton will rely heavily on his underclassmen, who are among the most talented in the nation.

The young Seminoles, who struggled on the road last season, are characterized by stingy defense and a highly athletic core.

The sophomore class includes the inside-outside punch of shooting guard Von Wafer and big man Alexander Johnson. Wafer averaged 7.9 points per game last season, making 43 three-pointers, while the 6-foot-10, 250 pound Johnson chipped in 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

Hamilton is looking for his team to be much more balanced this year. The loss of Pickett should not only open up the floor for the younger Seminoles, but also redefine the face of FSU.

“Since the end of last season, [Wafer] has made tremendous improvements in his overall understanding of the game and with his ability to play defense,” Hamilton said. “He is explosive on the offensive end and hopefully gives us an opportunity to make up for what we lost when Tim Pickett took his experience to the NBA.”

Freshman guards Jason Rich, Isaiah Swann and Ralph Mims are the new blood, adding depth to the Seminole backcourt. Junior Diego Romero, who redshirted his sophomore season because of eligibility problems that were finally cleared this summer, will complement Johnson under the hoop.

As a freshman at Lon Morris Junior College, Romero was an All-American before transferring to FSU. At 6-foot-10, he will bring well-needed size to the Seminoles’ frontcourt.

The addition of Swann and Rich, both immediate impact players who rank among the top 15 freshmen at their positions, will continue to make the backcourt the strength of the FSU team.

“Isaiah Swann is a youngster who has developed into an outstanding point guard,” Hamilton said. “He has very good potential, he works very hard and he has a very unselfish way about him. We are looking for him to provide a major contribution.”

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