January 10, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- You won't find his name among the ACC's statistical leaders, but he's shooting more than 15 percent higher from beyond the three-point arc than All-American sharpshooter J.J. Redick of Duke.
He's already collected MVP honors in the Orange Bowl Classic, but he has made just one start and averages only 18 minutes per game.
Thoroughly confused? How about this hint: He's already secured a place in the ACC history books.
If you're still stumped, so are followers of ACC basketball who can't believe that Florida State swingman Andrew Wilson hasn't exhausted his eligibility.
Wilson, the first sixth-year player in league history, is in the midst of a career-best season as the first man off the bench for coach Leonard Hamilton. It's a fitting finish for the oft-injured wing, who has spent much of his career as a defensive stopper for the offensively challenged Seminoles but has emerged as one of their leaders.
"We were embarrassed with the way we played against Clemson and were going to do everything in our power to prevent that from happening again," Wilson said, after the Seminoles rebounded from a 61-55 loss at Clemson with a 74-68 home victory against Virginia Tech.
After vowing to step up his leadership to help the Seminoles avoid yet another finish near the ACC cellar, Wilson has traded his towel-waving contributions from the sideline for on-court production. Through the first 12 games this season, Wilson averaged 7.4 points a game, nearly double his career average after five seasons.
Making the most of his first relatively healthy offseason, Wilson has rediscovered the three-point shooting stroke that once made him a promising recruit out of Georgia for former FSU coach Steve Robinson.
While Hamilton still leans on the 6-6 red-head to steady the offense and draw difficult defensive assignments, Wilson's three-point shooting has provided the Seminoles with a much-needed lift. After entering the season as a career 31.7 percent shooter from beyond the arc, the two-time all-state star from Kennesaw buried 18 of his first 31 attempts. That's a sizzling 58 percent success rate, which would lead all ACC players by a large margin if he met the minimum (2.5) for made three-pointers per game.
In addition to leading the Seminoles with 13 points off the bench in their loss at Florida, Wilson erupted for 15 in their win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl Classic.
While he hasn't been perfect -- even missing three costly free throws in the loss at Clemson -- Wilson bounced back with 14 points to help beat Virginia Tech, including the game-clinching steal and two free throws with 6.5 seconds on the clock.
THORNTON BECOMES DOUBLE TROUBLE
Buoyed by a big finish in a late-season expanded role in 2004-05, Florida State junior forward Al Thornton boldly predicted he would average a double-double this season for the Seminoles. He's not there yet, but he's headed in the right
With 21 points and 12 rebounds against Virginia Tech, Thornton collected his fifth double-double of the season and sixth of his career. That's well behind the all-time marks for Duke's Shelden Williams, Boston College's Craig Smith and Wake Forest's Eric Williams, but it's the closest impersonation of a double-double guy for the Seminoles since Doug Edwards averaged 18.3 points and 9.4 rebounds in 1992-93.
Through 12 games, Thornton averaged 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. It will take a big-finish second half of the season for the athletic, 6-8 small forward to pull off the unlikely double-double average, something no FSU player has accomplished since Greg Grady (13.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg) in 1975.
His preseason promise notwithstanding, Thornton has additional motivation for a break-out campaign. His grandmother, Viola Thornton, died on Dec. 22, the same night Al went for 11 points and 10 rebounds against Campbell. That began a stretch of three double-doubles in four games, including his 11 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Nebraska.
Prior to that victory, Thornton had asked his teammates to dedicate their efforts in memory of his grandmother.
FOOTBALL SEEKING NEW LEADERSHIP
With only four seniors likely to be in the starting lineup for coach Bobby Bowden's football team in 2006, the Seminoles must come up with some leaders to replace the likes of tailback Leon Washington, wideout Willie Reid, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and safety Kyler Hall.
Count linebacker Buster Davis among the most likely candidates to help fill that role.
"I feel like I'm a natural leader," Davis said, after the Seminoles succumbed 26-23 in a triple-overtime Orange Bowl loss to Penn State. "(The PSU game) showed that we're still the Florida State of old, and we have that tradition still in us. If you're going to beat us, you're going to have to take us to the wire. Eventually, we came up short, but we really showed some promise for next year."
That promise may be realized only if tailback Lorenzo Booker and Davis provide the guidance for a team that sorely will need some when it travels to Miami for its 2006 opener.
Despite an 8-5 finish, the Seminoles will have plenty of firepower offensively and some valuable lessons to lean on from a sometimes-rocky 2005 campaign.
"We learned a lot of lessons this season," Davis said. "One lesson is that no matter what, you can't give up. That's what we've shown the last couple of games. ... As long as you've got young players who are willing to give it all you have, you can win a lot of ballgames. That's what we did. We played 27 freshmen. How many people around the country played 27 freshmen this year?"
Some of those freshmen, most notably quarterback Drew Weatherford and cornerback Tony Carter, will be asked to elevate their games in addition to their leadership skills. But when Bowden looks back on the team that produced his worst record in 25 seasons, he sees a "great foundation" to build on.
"The thing that's very important is the direction you're going," Bowden said. "Although you've lost more ballgames than you've lost in maybe four or five years ... you can't play that game. You've got to say, Are we heading forward?' Yeah, I think we're heading forward.
"(Penn State) was No. 3 in the nation. It was hard to tell who the best team was. ... Now, if we can hang with those guys, maybe we've got the material to get back on up there where we belong."