With Pickett as their motor, Seminoles reaching high gear

Emerging star key factor in Florida State's 10-1 start

College Basketball

December 27, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

He is flanked by the kind of talent that could elevate Florida State into Atlantic Coast Conference basketball contention, but the Seminoles still are essentially Tim Pickett's team.

Pickett is the face of the Seminoles, the 6-foot-4 senior guard with the reliable jumper, the bright smile and the hands in search of the next steal. He is coming off a year in which he led the team in scoring, rebounding and steals, the first Seminole to do so since Bob Sura pulled it off nine years ago. And, while hovering among the ACC leaders in a host of categories this year, Pickett has sparked Florida State to a 10-1 start.

Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton looks at Pickett, looks past the stats and the second-team All-ACC honors from a year ago and first sees a guy who plays the game with a blend of pure joy and a mean streak.

Off the court, Pickett is a people person. Two months ago at a preseason ACC conference, for example, there was Pickett, resplendent in a dark suit, working a roomful of rival players with handshakes and backslaps and good wishes. Then, there is the other Pickett, the one who puts on a jersey and goes through a personality change.

"Tim is a very confident, outgoing, warm and charismatic guy. He's got the smile," Hamilton said. "When practice starts, he turns into a totally different animal. It's all about working the hardest he possibly can. He's not playing around anymore. His motor is always running."

"I just try to keep us going by helping out in any way I can," said Pickett, who once again is leading the Seminoles in scoring (14.4 ppg) and steals (28). "I have a lot of energy, and I want to make sure everybody follows my lead. I try to put in a good day's work and I try to have fun, wherever I'm at."

Pickett's dedication to the game is evident. Look at the unusual route he took to Tallahassee.

He began his collegiate career at Daytona Beach (Fla.) Community College, where he starred for a season, then set his Division I sights on South Carolina, which signed Pickett after one year. Trouble was, the Southeastern Conference nixed the deal, since league rules mandate a junior college player must complete at least three consecutive semesters at an institution before joining the conference.

With his scholarship withdrawn, Pickett decided not to return to Daytona, sat out for a season, then earned his associate's degree from Indian River (Fla.) Community College in 2002. There, he led the Pioneers in scoring and carried them within a game of the JuCo national tournament. By then, Pickett was fielding Division I offers from Wyoming, Kansas State and West Virginia.

But Hamilton, who had just been hired at Florida State, beat them all with his late pursuit of Pickett, who was raised in nearby Daytona.

The son of a nursing home activities director and a roofer, Pickett grew up within a short walk of the homes of former Seminoles greats Michael Polite and George McCloud and two miles away from the famous racetrack. Pickett, a NASCAR fan, sold soft drinks at several Daytona 500 events.

"I knew I was going to play Division I ball, but I didn't know I was going to end up here," Pickett said. "I felt comfortable with Coach Ham right away. He's an aggressive coach who likes players with a lot of energy and pushes them to get better. He challenged me a lot. I love his tempo."

Pickett's talent shined during his inaugural ACC season, starting with the streaky shooting stroke that helped him average 17.1 points. But he didn't get enough complementary help, and he faded after playing 33.1 minutes a game, as Florida State finished ninth in the league with a 4-12 record.

This time around, the Seminoles have more experience and depth, enhanced by a highly touted recruiting class that includes 6-5 guard and McDonald's All-American Von Wafer and 6-10 junior forward Diego Romero, a junior college recruit from Argentina. And Pickett, who said he has improved his conditioning by replacing his penchant for fast food with fruits and salads, has sharpened his shooting while averaging 25.8 minutes.

Pickett is shooting 44.9 percent overall, 41.6 percent from three-point range and leads the ACC in field goals (57) and three-pointers (32).

"I've seen [Pickett] get on a roll where he hits from anywhere on the court. He's scary that way," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terps travel to Florida State tomorrow for the conference opener for both teams.

"He loves playing defense, and we all know he shoots the ball well, but we're trying to take some of the pressure off of Tim," Hamilton said. "He'd play for 20 straight minutes a lot last year, 38 minutes on any given night. We're conscious of the fact that we wore him down."

Pickett, who spent part of last summer working out with pro players, including Daytona native Vince Carter, said he is taking smarter shots, playing better position defense, setting up teammates more this year. But he is not overly impressed with his own play or that of the Seminoles, who beat 10 consecutive unranked teams before losing to No. 16 Pittsburgh on Monday.

"Making the jump from JuCo was big. You've got to be much more mentally tough to play at this level," Pickett said. "The ACC is a scramble season. We're happy with where we are so far, but we can't be satisfied. We've got to keep moving on."

Next for Terps

Matchup:No. 24 Maryland (7-2) at Florida State (10-1)

Site:Leon Civic Center, Tallahassee, Fla.

When:Tomorrow, 5:30 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

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