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October 3, 2011
A new chapter begins for the Florida State basketball team as it officially starts practice on October 14.
But the page hasn't turned for everyone. This bunch hasn't forgotten how the last one ended.
While the Seminoles won 23 games and scampered their way to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 18 years, the sting of a 72-71 overtime loss to Virginia Commonwealth, last year's Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament, has carried over.
"I definitely haven't erased it. That's the toughest loss I've ever had to experience. I think about it every day," said senior center Bernard James, a junior college transfer who emerged in the second half of last season. James, who is the 'Noles leading returning scorer (9.4 ppg) is expected to be one of the elite post players in the conference in 2011-12.
"Every time I step out on the court, especially the days that I'm tired, I just run that game through my head," James said. "That's what gives me that extra little bit of energy to get through the workout, really give it everything I got."
Any NCAA Tournament loss can linger over the offseason, but this year's team does not just carry the weight of a standard-issue Sweet 16 dismissal. The Seminoles' bevy of self-inflicted wounds against the Rams made it worse. FSU accrued seven assists and 16 turnovers against the Rams. As the nation's top defensive team in terms of field goal percentage, FSU allowed VCU to make 12 three-pointers and shoot 46.2 percent from behind the arc.
And with all of that, Florida State held the lead and an Elite Eight ticket with less than eight seconds left. Then VCU's Bradford Burgess snatched it away with the game-winning layup.
"Several of them have said to me that they just recently watched the game. That's how painful it was," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "They just didn't want to deal with it. But when you lose a game on a few defensive mistakes, a few turnover mistakes and some missed free throws, those are things that you can control."
So the returnees took control. Spearheaded by seniors like James and Luke Loucks, the team only had about two weeks off before getting back to campus, enrolling in summer coursework and working out together. James says it's the VCU loss that sparked the unity for the sacrifice of all that potential downtime.
"It feels like it's just yesterday that we were all devastated in the locker room losing to VCU in that fashion, but in the same sense, I think every guy on our team has taken advantage of this offseason," said Loucks, one of six seniors on this year's team. "We've all been in the gym more than I can ever remember in my three (previous) years here. I feel like everyone realized that we were that close to making even more history than we already had made.
"It's really pushed every guy on this team."
While some coaches may tell their team to leave memories of last season behind, Hamilton thinks this year's group should embrace the feeling that has inspired them for months.
"For a veteran team returning, you should be open, honest and straight up with them. It did hurt," said Hamilton, whose team will be on display for the public during Seminole Madness on Oct. 14. "And these are the shortcomings that we had during this game - let's improve them. You use it as a very matter-of-fact approach and let's go out and get the job done."
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