February 14, 2005 TALLAHASSEE In attempting to unravel the mystery that is his Florida State basketball team, coach Leonard Hamilton must sometimes find himself pondering whether the Seminoles are "half-good" or "half-bad." Looking at FSU's results heading into the league's stretch run, it's a chicken-or-egg argument.
Through their first 11 ACC games, the Seminoles were 3-8. Five of their losses had come by a total of nine points. Three, however, were of the lopsided variety, rekindling visions of the disastrous 2001-02 season (12-17, 4-12) that marked the end of the Steve Robinson era.
A 32-point home loss to Duke (88-56) on Jan. 22 marked the most lopsided defeat in Hamilton's three-year tenure, and a 21-point home loss to UNC (81-60) easily could have gone that way as well. The Seminoles, however, may have bottomed out with an 87-48 loss at Wake Forest on Feb. 12. That rivaled their worst league loss, a 103-55 drubbing at North Carolina in 1998, Robinson's first season.
"I've been here before," Hamilton said, prior to the Seminoles' collapse in Winston-Salem. "We'll get it turned around."
It appears unlikely that turnaround will come this year. Unable to build on last season's 19-14 campaign and NIT berth, and despite being picked to earn an NCAA bid in a number of preseason publications, the Seminoles dropped two games below .500 following the loss at Wake, a team it beat in overtime three weeks previously at home.
Hamilton's squad has serious shortcomings, to be sure. Sophomore center Alexander Johnson has back-slid after earning all-rookie honors, and without an inside presence, the Seminoles must live and die by their perimeter game.
That's a problem when sophomore guard Von Wafer pulls his frequent vanishing acts. A prolific scorer, Wafer continues to sulk after missed shots and often stands around at the offensive end of the floor. To this point, there isn't another player on the roster who has shown the ability to step up and make plays offensively.
Freshman point guard Isaiah Swann hasn't been unable to unseat junior Todd Galloway as the starter, largely because of his carelessness in handling the basketball. With Galloway and junior guard Andrew Wilson in the lineup, the Seminoles are basically playing three-on-five at the offensive end of the floor.
If there was anything positive to come out of the Wake Forest defeat, it was the play of freshman guard Jason Rich, who scored 11 points on five-of-seven shooting. Hamilton would like Rich to take minutes from Wilson, who is FSU's best defender and knows the offense better than anyone but simply isn't an offensive threat.
Wilson, a fifth-year junior, isn't the only veteran who has struggled. Senior Adam Waleskowski has faded over the last month and looks nothing like the player who had 23 points and 14 rebounds at Maryland in January. Senior Anthony Richardson returned to the starting lineup at power forward, replacing Waleskowski, but hasn't materialized as a consistent contributor.
Prior to the Wake game, Hamilton was pondering more expanded roles for his first-year players especially Rich and Swann, but also fellow guard Ralph Mims. With the Seminoles headed down the postseason road to nowhere, that's a decision that could come sooner rather than later.
Steele Earns Raise, Consideration?
Florida State athletic director Dave Hart is not in favor of handing out long-term contracts to assistant coaches, but don't be surprised if he comes through with a big raise for linebackers coach Kevin Steele.
In just two seasons with the Seminoles, Steele has established himself not only as a premier recruiter, but someone who seems to relate exceptionally well to the players and his colleagues. Not surprisingly, he has become a hot commodity.
To that end, Hart said Steele will be getting an increase to his $150,000 a year salary, which ranked second on the staff among assistants to long-time defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. Consider it a wise, and extremely important, investment in the future.
Hart won't say so, but any internal search for the eventual successor to Bobby Bowden might begin and end with Steele. In addition to impressing Hart, the former Baylor head coach has impressed university president T.K. Wetherell, a former FSU player.
Steele recently was honored by Rivals.com as its national recruiter of the year, after the Seminoles made an 11th-hour haul of blue-chip signees that vaulted the class to No. 2 in America. He was instrumental is landing a trio of stars, as the lead recruiter for wide receiver Fred Rouse, linebacker Geno Hayes and cornerback Jamie Robinson.
Couple his ability to recruit with his NFL experience and his contributions to the defensive game plan, which made the Seminoles one of the best in the country last season, and it's clear that FSU officials will have to pony up to keep Steele on board. And whenever Bowden is ready to step down, they may have to pony up again.
Dugans Returns For Important Role
Former FSU wide receiver Ron Dugans, who spent four seasons in the NFL after teaming with Peter Warrick and Chris Weinke on the 1999 national championship team, has been hired by the school as an assistant strength coach.
Just don't expect Dugans to be in that role for long.
When offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins left the program after the Gator Bowl and was replaced by Marshall offensive coordinator Mark McHale, the Seminoles were left with just one minority coach on staff. In fact, FSU now is one of only two schools in the ACC (along with N.C. State) with just one African-American staff member.
As a strength coach, Dugans' work largely will be restricted to the conditioning of the football team. However, if he were to take a graduate assistant position prior to the fall and that's rumored to be under consideration it would allow him full-time access on the practice field with the rest of the coaching staff.
Well-respected for his work ethic and his route-running during his time as a player, Dugans would be an ideal fit within the current FSU staff. He would be able to take some of the burden from offensive coordinator/receivers coach Jeff Bowden.
Dugans also should be able to more easily relate to what will be a relatively young receiving corps. Willie Reid and Chris Davis are the only returning receivers with more than 10 career receptions.