February 6, 2007
TALLAHASSEE Jason Rich wears his emotions on his sleeve, and on his chest, and he carries them on his shoulders.
For two seasons, those emotions often kept Florida State's high-flying swingman weighted down, unable to tap into his full potential. Missed jumpers would linger around the back of his mind on ensuing possessions. Losses would boil up inside.
The end result was a player who struggled to perform consistently on a night-to-night basis, though his effort and desire never waned. To wit: After matching his career high with 20 points in last year's controversial 97-96 overtime loss at Duke, Rich virtually vanished for the balance of the season, save for a 22-point showing against Butler in NIT play.
"It's tough, because I'm a competitor," Rich said. "I just want to win and (do) whatever it takes to win. If you look at some players who have gone on to have great careers in any sport they've all been competitors, but they've found a way to make it not about themselves versus, How can I channel my frustrations into doing something positive?' I think that's what it's about."
Two-thirds of the way into his junior season, Rich appears to have a better grasp on what it takes to maximize his talents. There are still times when he can be seen biting his lip over an official's call, or briefly showing his disappointment over a missed shot/steal opportunity. Only now, those are fleeting moments.
As a result, Rich has developed into a reliable third option offensively, someone who is capable of carrying the team through stretches when either Al Thornton or Toney Douglas is resting or laboring.
Rich's career-high 24-point performance played no small role in the Seminoles' ability to get to .500 following an 0-3 league start, when they routed Maryland at home. Not only did he provide the offense a lift, he shut down Terps senior D.J. Strawberry as well.
Those kinds of contributions are coming more frequently for Rich, who came into the season with career shooting percentages of .449 from the floor, .194 from three-point range and .724 from the free throw line. Were it not for Thornton authoring a player of the year-like season, and Douglas also grabbing his share of the spotlight, Rich would be front and center in FSU's bid to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
Across the board .557 on field goals, .440 on threes, .818 on free throws, more superb defense Rich is enjoying a career year.
"Let's say he is growing up," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "He is maturing as a basketball player. He's making better decisions on the court. He's channeling his emotions. That's why he's been able to play a little more consistent lately. He's focused. He's playing the mental game as well as the physical game. He's aware on the court, a guy who has good basketball savvy and understands."
Comfortable and confident to step up his production when the team needs him, Rich is in the process of satisfying his preseason objective to become a more consistent player.
"That was something that I thought ... I had to get better with," Rich said. "I had some big games last year and some others where you didn't know I was even out there."
Consequently, his teammates never knew what to expect from Rich on a night-to-night basis, other than rock-solid defense.
"Last year, (Rich) was an emotional mess," Thornton said. "Right now, he's got a lot better with being calm, and calming himself in situations."
Hamilton can't ask for much more from Rich, who often is spotting the opposition's top scoring threat several inches in height, but still finds the time to pick up his teammates in a variety of ways.
"He's understanding the role we need him to play on the team," Hamilton said. "We need him to be a guy who during those moments on the court where it's loud and you can't hear what the coaches are saying he's continuing to emphasize the things we know we have to do in order to be successful."
Thornton likely said it best: "He's pretty much our glue guy."
NEW GROUP FACES BIG CHALLENGE
The addition of five new assistant football coaches the largest turnover in Bobby Bowden's 30-year tenure at FSU may not be able to salvage the Seminoles' signing class.
Based on early commitments and 11th-hour rumblings by the uncommitted, the Seminoles could be left with their least impressive group in two decades.
Even Bowden, who has a reputation as the king of all closers, may not be able to muster the magic to save a class that entered the final weekend with 13 commitments. A variety of factors likely played into the equation, including:
The late start in recruiting by the five newcomers, who did not join the staff until more than two weeks after FSU's bowl triumph over UCLA.
Less-than-best efforts on the recruiting trail by what was largely a lame-duck offensive staff, save for recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach John Lilly.
A six-loss regular season, which continued a six-year pattern of underachievement on the field.
Rival Florida's stellar class, which was shaping up nicely even before coach Urban Meyer's club won the national championship.
So what does this mean for the re-tooled staff, which includes newcomers Jimbo Fisher (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Rick Trickett (offensive line), Chuck Amato (linebackers), Lawrence Dawsey (wide receivers) and Dexter Carter (running backs)? It means that their player development skills will be tested right from the start.
While four of the five aides had established reputations as outstanding recruiters (Carter is coaching for the first time), they largely will be left to help FSU re-establish its prominence on the field with a returning group that suffered the most regular-season defeats since Bowden's first team in 1976.
BOWDEN FINALLY GETS $1M STAFF
Though Bowden was the first ACC coach to earn $1 and $2 million contracts, the Seminoles' pay scale for assistants had lagged behind most other national powers for a number of years. Even with a veteran staff and limited turnover, FSU stuck with its pat hand on payday long enough to see N.C. State and Maryland put together $1 million staffs first.
Amato, the former N.C. State head coach who was responsible for assembling the ACC's original $1 million staff early in his Wolfpack tenure, now makes up one-fifth of FSU's first group to reach that standard.
Newcomers Fisher ($215,000), Amato ($200,000) and Trickett ($200,000) are joined by returning staff members Mickey Andrews ($215,105) and Odell Haggins ($200,000) in the big-dollar club. Haggins already has received a raise, and Andrews should follow suit shortly.
Those numbers, remember, do not accurately paint the full picture of what Bowden's staff will earn in 2007-08, as additional incentives either financially or by virtue of new multi-year deals are forthcoming.