January 17, 2005
TALLAHASSEE Von Wafer's quick release often leaves closing defenders
flailing at air. His first step is explosive enough to turn a narrow gap into
the great divide. In short, the talent of Florida State's sophomore guard is
indisputable. He can carry and has carried the Seminoles' struggling
offense for extended stretches.
Yet for all of his physical skills, Wafer remains very much a work in progress.
His inconsistency seems tied to a lack of maturity, a maddening development
for FSU coach Leonard Hamilton and his staff.
Hamilton has declined to give specific reasons, but four times in two seasons
Wafer's name in the boxscore has been followed by DNP-CD. It's safe to assume
that Wafer earned the hated acronym (Did Not Play-Coach's Decision) for failing
to follow through on off-the-court responsibilities.
Wafer wears his wide-ranging emotions positive and negative
on his face and in his actions. A simple assist, followed by a teammate's three-pointer,
sent Wafer wildly leaping into the air in celebration right in front of the
Virginia Tech bench during the Seminoles' recent 77-70 victory over the Hokies.
The outburst prompted Tech coach Seth Greenberg to admonish the youngster for
the show-boating in his postgame comments.
In FSU's ensuing game against Clemson, a
55-54 loss, Wafer went into a deep funk after missing his first five shots. Pouting and shying away from shot attempts in the second half, he finished with five points. It was impossible to know for sure whether the disappointment of a subpar game affected his failed game-winning attempt. During his first 15 games of the season, Wafer (12.7 points per game) was the Seminoles' lone double-figure scorer, despite seven single-digit performances. Over a seven-game stretch, through a 64-63 loss at Miami (Jan. 15), Wafer scored seven, 22, nine, 20, 21, five and 25 points in succession. His career-high 25 against the Hurricanes were impressive, considering he played only six minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls. "I thought he was very relaxed, very confident. I was glad to see him play with that type of confidence," Hamilton said. "I thought our players looked for him. I like to see that type of development with our team, where he was confident, they were looking for him and he was delivering. That's something we haven't had a whole lot of this year." Sadly, the Seminoles got a little of the old Wafer as well, as he engaged Miami guard Guillermo Diaz at the time, one of the ACC's hottest offensive players in some second-half trash talk that he later admitted was a tactical error. Referee Bryan Kersey prevented the sparring from going too far, but the damage was done. "I tried to get into his head a little bit, and that didn't work," Wafer said. "I was just trying to break him down mentally. He's mentally tough and let his game speak. My game wasn't strong enough, so he won that battle." Inspired by the verbal sparring, Diaz finished off the Seminoles, driving for the game-winning basket. "I can't let things that happen like that (bother me)," Diaz said. "I just have to focus. ... I know I can make plays in the end. I don't feel the pressure." It was a lesson Wafer should learn from. Not only did he inspire the opposition, it may have prevented him from being as mentally sharp on the defensive end, where Diaz and teammate Robert Hite scored at will with Wafer defending them. While Wafer still has a long way to go with his emotional and physical development he still doesn't know how to use screens effectively, and he doesn't move particularly well without the ball you get the sense that he wants to get there. Despite his shortcomings, Wafer is congenial, selfless and respectful. In short, he's a likeable youngster with a potentially huge upside. That said, Wafer seldom makes eye contact while speaking or listening and he stares straight at the floor after making an obvious mistake. Those may be little things, but they reflect a need for change that permeates the youngster's overall game at this stage of his career. Some Reflections From Hamilton By the end of his 10-year run as the Miami coach, Hamilton had turned the Hurricanes into a regular postseason participant. UM appears to be headed back in that direction, after surviving the backslide they endured under former coach Perry Clark. But it wasn't an easy climb for Hamilton with the Hurricanes, and the Seminoles appear to be on the same path. Miami's recent 64-63 win over FSU at the Convocation Center was the Seminoles' 26th consecutive ACC road loss, 18 of which have come under Hamilton. The coach's Miami teams endured similar struggles in the Big East, losing their first 29 league road games, a trend he turned around over his final three seasons in Coral Gables. "This is kind of the year we've had, regardless who we're playing," Hamilton said after the Miami loss. "The games always seem to come down to the end. I feel that this (FSU) team does have a chance to develop into a pretty good team. We hope that we can do that this year." Hope, however, may be fading fast in Tallahassee. The Seminoles are closing in on Clemson's ACC-record streak of 30 consecutive (1954-58) league road losses. If FSU can't snap that slide against N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest, the team could set a new road futility mark at of all places Clemson on Feb. 27. In the meantime, Hamilton's long-stated preference to play each game for the present will be tested. "The future's very bright, but in the ACC, it's a very unforgiving league," Hamilton said. "You're not going to have the chance to be excited about the future very much, because you have great games coming and great teams coming, night-in and night-out." Hamilton doesn't hide his disappointment well, and consequently he made a post-Miami promise that the Seminoles would bounce back. "I have a young team that needs to grow up," Hamilton said. "As a result of this type of environment, we're learning, we're growing. We'll be more competitive. We won't come back down here many more times like this. We'll be a much better basketball team in the future."