March 15, 2004 TALLAHASSEE With an opportunity to lock down one of the dwindling NCAA Tournament at-large berths, there were few positives to come from Florida State's 78-71 ACC Tournament quarterfinal loss to N.C. State. In losing a fifth consecutive game to a nationally ranked opponent with the sum of those losses totaling 25 points the Seminoles once again failed to finish the task at hand. FSU's inability to close out opponents, despite the team-carrying play of senior guard Tim Pickett, was yet another sign that Leonard Hamilton's team still has plenty of room to grow up. Pickett again was left to shoulder the team's offensive burden alone. Many tried to provide the complementary scoring role, but nobody could produce with consistency. That left a particularly galling feeling in the gut of freshman guard Von Wafer, a McDonald's All-American and a prolific prep scorer. Wafer had the courage to take the big shots, even though his regular-season statistics (35.9 field goal percentage, 31 percent on threes) proved to be a good predictor of how those shots turned out. In two of FSU's final four regular-season games, his late-game winning or tying shots were off the mark. Those misses at the end of a season of more highs than lows, which led to his conspicuous absence from the ACC's all-rookie team, appeared to take a toll on the emotionally sensitive talent. Though Wafer finished fourth on the team in scoring, with 7.6 points in about 17 minutes per game, he was unaccustomed to such failures. That made his performance in the Seminoles' quarterfinal loss to the Wolfpack, before a Greensboro Coliseum crowd of 23,745, even more encouraging. Displaying poise that had been missing throughout a large portion of the season, the 6-5 phenom provided a glimpse of what the future could hold. It just felt like an old high school game or something, Wafer said of his ACC Tournament debut. I was happy when coach called my name. I just wanted to go in and play hard, run the floor and just try to knock down open shots. With Pickett hobbling on two bad ankles (and still managing 23 points), Wafer delivered 14 points on five-of-10 shooting. He dished out a pair of assists, turned his only steal into a one-handed tomahawk dunk and helped the Seminoles open up an 11-point lead when Pickett went out after spraining his left ankle early in the second half. I got into the flow, Wafer said. I got a steal, ran down the floor a couple times and got in a groove. After scoring in double figures seven times in his first 12 games with the Seminoles, Wafer struggled to find that groove down the stretch. His season highs of 17 and 15 points came in road losses to Virginia and Maryland, on nights when Pickett was less than his best. More often than not, Wafer's inconsistencies were directly linked to his lack of confidence on the defensive end. He struggled to get a handle on his responsibilities in Hamilton's help-oriented man-to-man scheme, and at times he did not grasp the level of intensity needed to play effectively at the opposite end of the floor. Those self-doubts, when coupled with a few early misses, often left Wafer hanging or shaking his head, leaving Hamilton no option but to lift him from games. Yet the coaching staff continued to go back to the precocious talent, in a sign of confidence that likely will serve the Seminoles well in the future. That future looks much brighter with Wafer and another very talented freshman, power forward Alexander Johnson. Johnson, who earned all-rookie honors, came into his own over the second half of the season but is nowhere near where Hamilton expects him to be in the near future developmentally. I don't think he's even come close to scratching the surface of his potential, Hamilton said of Alexander, who scored eight points and grabbed a season-high nine rebounds in the tournament loss to the Wolfpack. A lot of that is because he had those nagging injuries at the beginning of the year, where he could never get in condition. He never could run, never could jump. We never could have him attacking the basket off the dribble, and that's probably going to end up being one of the best things he does turning and facing, attacking you with either his right or left hand. Johnson's ball-handling clearly needs work, particularly in traffic. But that too will come for the Seminoles' second-leading scorer (9.4 ppg), and that's another very promising sign for the future of FSU basketball.
Brad Johnson: ACC Hoops Legend? Former FSU two-sport standout Brad Johnson may have a Super Bowl and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances to his credit, but he never played a single ACC game in two seasons as a reserve small forward for Pat Kennedy's Seminoles. Nevertheless, Johnson was honored as FSU's ACC Legend during the conference tournament. How about that? said Johnson, who scored 218 career points for FSU's NCAA Tournament teams in 1988 and '89. I'm excited. Johnson received one of the loudest ovations from the crowd in Greensboro, despite the fact that his time at FSU pre-dated the Seminoles' ACC membership. He was selected by school officials as their representative, in part because FSU's most legitimate ACC Legends Sam Cassell, Bob Sura and Charlie Ward were still busy with the NBA season. That doesn't mean Johnson doesn't have a keen appreciation for ACC basketball. In fact, the Black Mountain, N.C., native has ACC hoops in his blood and was a bonafide prep star at Charles D. Owen High. That's the school where North Carolina coach Roy Williams launched his career on the bench before joining Dean Smith's staff. It's also the school that produced All-ACC standout Brad Daugherty. Basketball was the first love for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback. As a senior in 1987, he was the North Carolina 3A high school player of the year. I remember the ACC Tournament (as a child), Johnson said. They used to turn the TVs on in the classroom on Fridays. At different times, they had let out schools at 1 o'clock. It was a part of life ACC basketball and the ACC Tournament. Back in the day, you couldn't wait for the Duke-Carolina game. It was a big deal. You knew all the names of the players. Johnson's dream in high school was to play for Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech. He had attended Cremins' camp when the Yellow Jackets coach was at Appalachian State. Those dreams were put on hold when Tech signed Dennis Scott, which Johnson said helped with (his) decision to sign with Florida State. Though he scored only 218 career points before turning his full-time attention to football at FSU, Johnson got a kick out of his opportunity to rub elbows with the other ACC Legends. Based on the welcoming he received with his introduction, it didn't seem to matter that in 51 games with the Seminoles he had never even faced an ACC school.