June 1, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton has never openly shared information about recruiting, even when the questions are generic in nature and don't exceed the boundaries of NCAA regulations.
"You're going to have a hard time figuring us out this year," Hamilton recently told a reporter, who asked about the general direction of his recruiting efforts.
Hamilton may be fielding more pointed questions about FSU's future recruiting, following the recent arrest of 7-0 signee Jon Kreft on felony drug charges, which prompted the school to rescind his scholarship.
Kreft, 19, who committed to Hamilton and his staff in 2004 and signed a national letter of intent in November, was charged with possession of cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia following a routine traffic stop on May 19.
The recent flow of information regarding the former Parkland (Fla.) Stoneman Douglas big man, rated by some among the top 30 seniors in the country, painted an equally troubling picture of the prospect.
Unbeknownst to many in the mainstream media, Kreft was kicked off the Douglas basketball team midway through his senior season by coach Mike Benanti for "violating team rules." When the season ended, he transferred to Academy High in nearby Coral Springs, which some consider a "diploma mill," only to leave and return to Douglas. It also was learned that he had moved out of his parents' home to live with a friend.
The truth is, Kreft's vagabond activities should have set off alarms earlier. Following his junior year, at the urging of his parents, he left Douglas for IMG Academy in Bradenton in an effort to get his priorities in order. Unhappy with the environment at IMG, he transferred back to Douglas, where he was ineligible to play until December 2005.
When and how much Hamilton knew about Kreft's troubles is unknown, largely because the coach will not discuss recruits -- either publicly or privately -- with the media. It was unclear whether Kreft's travels would have prevented him from academically qualifying for August enrollment at FSU.
This much is certain: The Seminoles have a big hole to fill in the middle of the floor, and Kreft won't be there to help. Junior center Alexander Johnson's decision to make himself eligible for the NBA draft leaves only undersized sophomore Uche Echefu and possibly freshman Ryan Reid as potential candidates to play in the post. Johnson has said he has no intention of returning to the team, regardless of his draft status.
"A.J. has made his intentions perfectly clear," Hamilton said, adding that he was moving forward in the recruiting process to find another post replacement, prior to the start of the school year. It's probably more than a coincidence that the coach recently traveled to Europe.
Unearthing a post prospect capable of assisting the Seminoles this season seems a longshot at best. Hamilton is hopeful that Reid, who signed with FSU's 2005 class but failed to qualify academically, will be eligible for enrollment.
Had Johnson returned, FSU would have been an odds-on favorite to end its eight-year drought without an NCAA appearance.
Now, the bigger issue may be dismissing the appearance to future recruits that Hamilton is willing to take shortcuts in the area of character while trying to put together a team that can get the Seminoles over the hump.
Hamilton has taken more than a few chances on players in an effort to resurrect FSU's basketball fortunes. Some, including former All-ACC guard and juco transfer Tim Pickett, have worked out well. That hasn't been the case with Benson Callier, Von Wafer, Johnson (to some extent) and now Kreft.
In fairness to Hamilton, he has done a masterful job of keeping his players in line once they have arrived on campus. Callier (failure to pay child support) has been the only player from the group to run afoul of the law while in an FSU uniform. Other Hamilton signees, including Jason Rich, Al Thornton and Diego Romero, have been exemplary leaders.
Prior to Kreft's arrest, Hamilton appeared to be ahead of the recruiting calendar in terms of future classes.
"In our next two years of recruiting classes, well, I think we are really proud of the direction they are heading," Hamilton said. "We're at the point now where more kids are interested."
Hamilton didn't say so specifically, but indications are that he meant kids with fewer question marks in areas other than ability. What remains to be seen is if there is any fallout as a result of the Kreft recruitment and scholarship withdrawal.
If it does not have a negative impact on future recruiting, and the Seminoles at least can equal if not eclipse last season's 20-12 performance, Hamilton may finally be able to get off that all-too-familiar treadmill that often accompanies turning around a program. Few things can improve the profile of players interested in your team -- and lessen your need to take chances -- faster than consistent winning.
It's safe to assume that parents of those future prospects, including former FSU player and one-time NBA veteran Randy Allen (whose son Adam is one of Florida's top recruits), will be monitoring the direction Hamilton is taking with great interest.
FOOTBALL: MINING FOR RARE GEMS
With the possibility of having fewer than 10 scholarships available for the 2007 signing class, FSU's football coaches hit the recruiting trail in May with an eye on the very best prospects they can find.
For the third consecutive year, the Seminoles' focus will be on the offensive line, where they have been hit hardest in recent years by injury and attrition. Half of FSU's incoming class may be made up of offensive linemen.
FSU already has received one "soft" commitment from Georgia tackle Antwane Greenlee, and it may be close to picking up an important package deal from Lakeland, Fla. The team's only other early commitment is from junior college linebacker Dan Foster, who signed in 2005 but did not qualify. Lakeland High twins James and LaShawn Pouncey actually gave commitments to FSU last summer, but they opted to back away after learning that it could hurt their recruiting ratings.
With so few scholarships open, the competition is extremely competitive at the skill positions and elsewhere. The Seminoles may sign only one prospect each at tailback, receiver, defensive end and linebacker.