Hamilton back in familiar territory

Veteran coach with knack for rebuilding programs has task at Florida State

ACC notebook

January 03, 2003|By Don Markus and Gary Lambrecht | Don Markus and Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

In 14 seasons as a college head coach, Leonard Hamilton has had his share of rebuilding jobs. He took Oklahoma State to the National Invitation Tournament in his third year. It took longer at Miami, but the Hurricanes went to the NIT in Hamilton's fifth year and to the first of three straight NCAA tournament appearances in his eighth.

Two years removed from a one-season disaster with the Washington Wizards, one year removed from his first season out of coaching in three decades, Hamilton is back where he is most comfortable: coaching college players and rebuilding a downtrodden program.

"Florida State is, in my opinion, a sleeping giant," the Seminoles' new coach, Hamilton, said Monday in Tucson, Ariz., after the Seminoles beat Davidson in the consolation game of the Bank One Fiesta Bowl Classic.

A week ago, Hamilton might have accused his players of sleepwalking. After starting with six victories in seven games - the lone defeat by one point to Florida at home - Florida State lost its Atlantic Coast Conference opener by 19 to North Carolina and then lost to Boston University in Tucson.

With his team's next ACC game more than a week away (at Maryland on Jan. 11), Hamilton is hoping that the Seminoles can build on the defensive posture they took in beating Davidson, one of the highest-scoring Division I teams this season.

"This is a good opportunity for us to grow up and learn the level of focus that you have to have to be successful," said Hamilton.

Success has been elusive in Tallahassee since Florida State's early years in the ACC. After reaching the Sweet 16 in 1991-92 and the Elite Eight in 1992-93 under Pat Kennedy, the Seminoles suffered three straight losing seasons.

Kennedy left for DePaul after taking Florida State to the NIT final in 1996-97. His successor, Steve Robinson, helped coach the Seminoles to the NCAA tournament in his first season, but then had four straight losing seasons and was fired.

Hamilton said that all his coaching stops, beginning as an assistant at Austin Peay in 1971, have helped him prepare for what he needs to do at a school that still perceives basketball as a pleasant interlude between football and spring football.

"He's got more energy than anyone I know," said Mike Jaskulski, the former Towson coach who rejoined his former boss as an assistant at Florida State. "He's at his best when he's working with young kids."

What has Hamilton excited, and Florida State fans hopeful, is the commitment he has received from both the school as well as from three highly rated players. The Seminoles practice in a new $10 million facility attached to the downtown Civic Center where they play their home games. The recruiting class has been ranked as high as fourth in the country during the early signing period.

"Once we get back home and start practicing again, we can get to the conference and start making some noise," said freshman point guard Todd Galloway, who played at City before going to prep school last year. "He [Hamilton] just has a swagger, and that just rubs off on everybody."

Role change for Holden?

After his team's conference-opening victory over Georgia Tech, Maryland coach Gary Williams was not about to commit to changing senior forward Tahj Holden's role.

But Williams is leaning hard toward bringing Holden off the bench indefinitely. Holden has a history of producing in that role, and he did so in Sunday's win over Tech.

Despite missing a game and several practices because of a death in his family, Holden played his best game of the season after an ineffective, seven-game run as a starter. Holden gave way to freshman Travis Garrison, then hurt the Yellow Jackets with 20 admirable minutes by producing 11 points, four rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals.

"Nothing is set forever, but when Tahj has played really well for us, it's been coming off the bench," Williams said.

At 6 feet 10, 270 pounds, Holden is big enough to be a force down low, but has never had much of a rebounding presence or a pure post game. He usually does his best work as an outside shooter or a passer out of the post. Not many big men in the country can shoot three-pointers as well as he.

"He's a very good shooter. It's too late [for Holden to change his game]. This is his fourth year," said Williams, who has altered 40 percent of the starting lineup after beginning with five seniors as starters. "Whatever the player does well, it's my job not to take that away from him. If he's one of our best three-point shooters, I have to find ways to get him the shots."

Said Holden: "It's good to have experience coming off the bench. I'm going to play my minutes, regardless of whether I start or come off the bench, and so is Travis."

Who are these guys?

Not only did Florida State lose to America East power Boston U. - the Terriers also gave Arizona a bit of a scare in the championship game - but North Carolina also lost to Iona in the opening round of the ECAC Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.

The Tar Heels then beat St. John's in the consolation game.

"We really needed this game," said sophomore forward Jawad Williams, who had missed the Iona game with the stomach flu. "It was like we suffered two losses [Friday] night - we lost the game and we lost Sean [May, who broke his foot]. Bouncing back like this will be a good experience. It should help us when we get into the ACC."

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