June 29, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- A tumultuous few weeks within the Florida State basketball program resulted in the Seminoles rescinding the scholarship of their 7-0 signee, Jon Kreft, junior center Alexander Johnson's decision to sign with an agent and remain in the NBA draft, and the departures of two assistants who had been with coach Leonard Hamilton through his first four seasons at FSU.
How those departures will impact the program, which not long ago appeared poised to secure its first NCAA Tournament berth in nine years in 2006-07, remains to be seen.
On the surface, the loss of Johnson, combined with the school's decision to yank Kreft's scholarship (following his arrest on felony drug charges), left a gaping hole in the post. Rising sophomore forward Uche Echefu, rising senior forward Al Thornton and incoming freshman forward Ryan Reid (pending NCAA Clearinghouse approval) will be asked to fill the void.
Equally important, Hamilton also will try to break in a pair of new assistants, replacing long-time aides Mike Jaskulski and Tony Sheals. One of those, Andy Enfield, already is on campus and immersed in the responsibility of not only acquainting himself with the FSU players, but the NCAA rulebook as well.
Enfield, a former NBA (Boston, Milwaukee) assistant, widely is recognized as one of the nation's foremost shooting instructors. He's tutored some of the game's greats, including Grant Hill, Alonzo Mourning and (most recently) Kirk Hinrich.
The NCAA's all-time free throw shooter (percentage-wise) while at Division III Johns Hopkins, Enfield brings an impressive resume to the table, thanks to his instructional work. He will be stepping aside from his lucrative consulting job to lend his talents to Hamilton and the Seminoles.
Though he has virtually no experience at the Division I level, the 33-year-old Enfield should have no trouble relating to players. He's considerably younger than Jaskulski, who left the program to become the associate head coach at Central Florida. Enfield's NBA background and portfolio also could play well with potential recruits.
Meanwhile, a handful of unfinished business items remain on Hamilton's plate. He also must find a replacement for Sheals, who left FSU to become the head coach at Palm Beach Community College. Like Jaskulski, Sheals is a former Division I head coach who has a desire to run his own program again, and Sheals believes that this career move will put him back on that path quicker than a spot on the FSU bench.
It stands to reason that Hamilton will try to find a qualified African-American assistant to replace Sheals, but one person rumored to be a candidate for that spot is not in the mix. Utah Jazz director of scouting Troy Weaver, who as an assistant at Syracuse had a hand in signing Carmelo Anthony, is not a candidate for the position. And, contrary to some boisterous fan speculation, former FSU and NBA point guard Charlie Ward (now an assistant with the Houston Rockets) is not in the mix, either.
Finishing up the 2006-07 schedule -- a matter of utmost importance, given the team's recent NCAA Tournament snub -- also remains on Hamilton's front burner.
As for replacing Kreft? That's a task the FSU staff isn't going to rush into blindly. There are virtually no academically qualified, unsigned big men in American high schools who could step right in and provide the Seminoles with an ACC-caliber post presence. FSU has extended a very late scholarship offer to North Carolina prep school center Phil Jones, who's a promising talent but (like most other available seniors) must upgrade his academics.
Barring the addition of Jones or an international signee -- something that likely wouldn't take place until after the NBA draft (June 28) -- the priority will be hastening the development of Echefu and assuring that Reid, a Class of 2005 signee who failed to qualify last year, is in good enough standing to make it into school. The word is that FSU's academic officials have given the Seminoles the OK to bring Reid on board, leaving the NCAA Clearinghouse as the last critical hurdle blocking his path.
ROUSE, NICHOLSON: HIDDEN DETAILS
What would prompt a couple of former teammates to steal from another, especially one as well-liked as senior tailback Lorenzo Booker?
That's the question many have been asking since last month's arrest of former FSU linebacker A.J. Nicholson and wide receiver Fred Rouse, who allegedly broke into Booker's apartment and are facing felony theft charges.
While the mainstream media reported that Booker and Nicholson are former roommates, along with several others who do not play football, the back story remains largely untold. That's not because Booker has been reluctant to tell the story.
According to Booker and others within the FSU community familiar with the situation, Nicholson was evicted from the residence this past semester for failing to handle his financial responsibilities. The decision to evict the linebacker, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, had more to do with conflicts with other (not Booker) roommates.
On his return visit to Tallahassee last month, Nicholson was met at the airport by Rouse, the wide receiver who had been kicked off the team following the Orange Bowl for "violation of team policy." They stopped by Booker's residence. The decision to break into the place apparently was made when one of the former roommates told Nicholson that everyone was going out of town for the weekend.
Still, there is no plausible excuse for stealing from a former teammate, though an additional charge (for possession of the ecstasy drug) against Rouse may shed a little light on the subject. Meanwhile, Nicholson's history of alcohol-related legal troubles, including a DUI charge, seems to indicate a pattern of substance abuse.
Perhaps most troubling of all, Nicholson spent the better part of three seasons as one of FSU's most up-front and accountable players, on and off the field. The team's leading tackler prior to his suspension from the Orange Bowl for having a woman in his hotel room (the woman accused him of sexual assault, though no charges were filed), Nicholson always was willing to stand up and address the media, win or lose. He easily was recognized as a leader on the team because of his passionate and productive play, though teammates said they noticed a change in him following his DUI arrest in February 2005.
Rouse's troubles came as no surprise to many who knew him. The nation's top-rated wide receiver when he signed with the Seminoles in 2005, he was a high-maintenance recruit lacking in maturity on and off the field. The fact that he still has not signed on to play at another Division I-A school, despite the fact that he was coveted by virtually everyone coming out of Tallahassee Lincoln High, is quite telling.