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Junior Day Fruitful For FSU

Monday, February 24, 2014 10:53am
By: FSU Insider

TALLAHASSEE – Jimbo Fisher and his staff are doing all they can take the suspense out of National Signing Day. Since taking over as head coach at Florida State in 2010, Fisher has made a habit of having the Seminoles’ yearly recruiting classes all but signed, sealed and delivered by the time the calendar hits February.

And he’s already getting a jump on that trend after landing two more commitments at the Feb. 22 “Junior Day” at FSU.

Brian Bell, a three-star linebacker from Valdosta, Ga., and Douglas, Ga., offensive lineman Cole Minshew each committed to FSU during their visits. And Tallahassee defensive tackle Cedric Wood, only a high school sophomore, pledged to his hometown team, too.

Bell and Minshew already make seven commitments for FSU’s 2015 signing class, and Wood won’t sign for another two years.

But just as important as the commitments in-hand is FSU’s apparent ability to get top-tier talent on campus.

FSU has always recruited well under Fisher, but as expected, things have hit another level recently. Winning the national championship in January has helped the Seminoles to become college football’s latest hot flavor, plus the allure of having Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston – who likely won’t even be at FSU in 2015 – doesn’t hurt either.

It helped Minshew, a 6-3, 305-pound guard, commit to Florida State the very day he received his scholarship offer.

And Johnny Frasier, a four-star running back from North Carolina, said after his Junior Day visit that FSU is his No. 1 choice and that he came close to committing several times, despite having offers from Alabama and Georgia.

Seminoles’ Basketball At Crossroads

It’s been nearly two years since the Florida State basketball team tore through Tobacco Road on its way to its first ACC Tournament championship.

In the span of three days, the Seminoles dispatched rival Miami, then Duke, then North Carolina to earn a years-in-the-making celebration on the floor at Philips Arena in Atlanta.

In a lot of ways, this was the zenith of FSU’s four-year run of basketball prominence that included four straight NCAA tournament appearances from 2009-13.

Yes, the Sweet 16 run in 2011 was momentous, but taking top honors in the ACC’s marquee basketball event might have carried more weight.

Florida State has long felt like a bit of an outsider in its conference. That feeling is usually easy to ignore in football, where the Seminoles had their way with the league upon entering and, under Fisher, appear to have firmly and totally put a decade of mediocrity in the rearview mirror.

But that’s rarely been the case in basketball, where FSU couldn’t come close to matching the history, tradition or resources of the ACC’s marquee programs. And for several years, the Seminoles had less talent, too.

So when P.J. Hairston’s buzzer-beating three-point attempt fell by the wayside, and FSU topped North Carolina with an 85-82 win, 20 years of frustration and maybe a few feelings of inadequacy fell, too.

The Seminoles bathed in the confetti long after most the crowd had packed up and left. Tournament MVP Michael Snaer climbed a basket and literally sat in the hoop, taking in the celebration from a perch above the floor. Even Leonard Hamilton loosened up some, wearing the cut-down net as a makeshift necklace.

That FSU was bounced in the Round of 32 after earning a best-ever No. 3 seed and top-10 ranking was almost a footnote. This team had already won the ACC and, in doing so, had set a new standard. The days of missing the NCAA tournament for 10 straight seasons, as FSU did from 1999-2008, were over.

Two years later, FSU indeed is not mired in the mediocrity that defined the end of Steve Robinson’s tenure in Tallahassee and the beginning of Hamilton’s. Not yet anyway.

But it’s safe to say that in the two seasons that have followed, Florida State has not maintained the momentum from that ACC title (and the run that preceded it).

FSU never seriously challenged for an NCAA spot last season and appears headed for a similar fate as the season nears its conclusion.

These Seminoles have lost six of their last nine games, including a backbreaker to North Carolina that saw FSU blow a 15-point first half lead. It’s made worse by the facts that the Seminoles were at home and that, thanks to foul trouble, Tar Heels star James Michael McAdoo finished without a single point.

Sunday’s win at Pitt was a big boost, but without a win over Syracuse, which visits Tallahassee March 9, it’s hard to imagine FSU having a very attractive tournament résumé.

In Hamilton’s defense, he and his staff thought they would have the services of Andrew Wiggins, the prep star and FSU legacy who instead signed with Kansas after flirting heavily with the Seminoles.

And Hamilton really thought he’d have freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Wiggins’ buddy who was considered to be the 44th overall player in the Class of 2013 by ESPN. He was ruled academically ineligible in August.

Missing those two, along with the departed Terrance Shannon (transferred to Virginia Commonwealth) and the injured Kiel Turpin (missed all season with a knee injury), has left FSU wanting in places.

Add any of them into the mix, and this is certainly a different team. Maybe they’d have made the difference in an overtime loss to Michigan, or a 67-66 loss at now-No.1 Florida.

Most FSU fans are willing to look at this season (and last season) as an aberration, but it’s also fair to look ahead to next year with a little bit of concern.

Leading scorer Ian Miller will be gone, and while guard Aaron Thomas appears ready to evolve into one of the ACC’s marquee players, a scan of the roster doesn’t reveal much outside of Rathan-Mayes (who has yet to play a college game) that is guaranteed to help him.

Hamilton, of course, has more than earned the benefit of the doubt, and two years of missing the NCAA Tournament isn’t enough to undo everything accomplished over the last few years.

A run of four straight tournament appearances, a Sweet 16 appearance and an ACC tournament championship is tough to sustain for lots of programs.

But it’s fair to view this program as one that’s at a crossroads. In a few years we’ll know if FSU’s recent success sparked the Seminoles to new heights, or was just the exception to an otherwise OK-but-not-great rule.