Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton’s teams have always played great defense. They’ve always been deep, long, athletic and relatively talented. While guys like Tim Pickett, Al Thornton, Toney Douglas and Michael Snaer have been able to earn All-ACC honors and in some cases, go on to be first round draft picks in the NBA, this year’s team may feature Hamilton’s best trio ever at FSU.
Seniors Okaro White and Ian Miller and sophomore guard Aaron Thomas have combined to average 38.7 points-per-game which accounts for about 53 percent of Florida State’s offense. Among the three, only White — a 6’9″ forward — appears to have a certain NBA future, but the trio hardly gets any mention when the best players in the ACC conversations come up.
Little was expected of Florida State prior to the season as FSU was coming off of just an 18-16 campaign — its worst overall since the 2004-05 season — and a first round exit in the NIT. Florida State’s leading scorer in each of the past two seasons and a player who had made seven game-winning shots over that span — Michael Snaer — was gone. The Seminoles also had key contributors to last year’s team like guard Terry Whisnant and forward Terrance Shannon, transfer.
To this point, FSU boasts a 13-5 overall record and a 4-2 mark in conference as the Seminoles get set to head to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke on Saturday. Florida State looks to be in excellent shape to make a fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in six years and the aforementioned trio is a big reason why.
The 2013-14 Seminoles were expected to be Okaro White’s team and to this point, it largely has been. While White has not put up staggering numbers, he has had a solid season and has done just about everything for the Seminoles.
White leads the team averaging 6.8 rebounds-per-game and is third in scoring with 12.3 points per-contest. White also averages better than a blocked shot each time out and has been efficient shooting 51 percent from the field and better than 80 percent from the foul line.
Though White gives FSU the needed senior leadership, Florida State is certainly a sophomore-laden squad with five that see significant playing time. Entering the season, it was unclear as to whom would show the most improvement from his freshman season, but that answer has without a doubt been Aaron Thomas.
Thomas has emerged as a real weapon for FSU in virtually every aspect of the game. After averaging just six points as a freshman, Thomas has more than doubled that scoring 13.1 points-per-game which is just two-tenths of a point off the team lead.
Thomas has done so while shooting better than 50 percent from the field, 44 percent from beyond the three-point line and 82 percent from the charity stripe. Last season, Thomas shot just 41 percent from the floor and 70 percent from the foul line. His three-point percentage has doubled this season as Thomas shot just 22 percent from beyond the arc a season ago.
Add Thomas’ efficiency with his athleticism and the sophomore guard from Cincinnati may have an All-ACC and perhaps a NBA future. As solid as Thomas has been offensively, his defense has been as impressive. Thomas may be the best on-the-ball defender for FSU as Thomas leads the team with 1.8 steals-per-game, which ranks fifth in the entire ACC.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Florida State’s improvement has been the play of senior guard Ian Miller. After averaging in double figures scoring in his sophomore season — a season in which FSU won the ACC and reached the NCAA Tournament for a school-record fourth straight year — Miller was virtually non-existent as a junior averaging the lowest scoring and rebounding totals of his career. Miller’s career in Tallahassee prior to this season, had been plagued by inconsistency, suspensions and injuries.
Scoring 13.3 points-per-game this season, Miller leads the Seminoles. A player who can score in bunches, Miller has hit the 20-point mark three times this season which includes a career-high 22 points in Florida State’s 85-67 upset of then 10th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth. In FSU’s two most recent victories — wins over Miami and Notre Dame — it was Miller who overcame a lackluster night to make plays down the stretch.
Miller hit clutch shots in the game’s final minutes and made a timely alley-oop pass to center Boris Bojanovsky for a slam to beat Miami last Wednesday. In Florida State’s thrilling 76-74 victory over Notre Dame on Tuesday night, Miller did his best Michael Snaer impression by floating home the game-winner in the lane with four seconds remaining.
While the attention that Florida State receives on the hardwood pales in comparison to what it gets on the gridiron and rightfully so, the Seminoles have certainly made some noise early on in the nation’s most storied basketball conference. The unheralded trio of Ian Miller, Aaron Thomas and Okaro White are certainly a big reason why and making the three-header monster’s accomplishments early on even more staggering is the fact that two of the three come off of Leonard Hamilton’s bench.
With still 12 games left on the ACC slate as well as the conference tournament, FSU is far from a lock to be in the field of 68. The Seminoles however, should feel good about where they are at this point. With two seniors leading the way along with one of the ACC’s rising stars in Aaron Thomas, Florida State is shaping up to be a team capable of playing with anyone and a tough out come March.