ESPN: FSU's Hamilton one of most underappreciated coaches in country
Florida State basketball fans already appreciate what Leonard Hamilton has built over the last two decades.
But with the Seminoles' recent success, which has included five straight NCAA Tournament appearances, three Sweet 16s and an ACC Championship, the veteran head coach has become more nationally recognized as well.
To that point, Hamilton was featured prominently recently in two ESPN stories about the best programs in the ACC.
In a story titled: "Sales Pitch: Which ACC basketball programs have the most to offer recruits, transfers?" by Jeff Borzello, an anonymous coach talks glowingly about what Hamilton and his staff have done over the last half-decade.
"They've done a great job of really finding some guys," the rival coach said. "We played Devin Vassell -- I had to look up his recruiting ranking. In two years, he's a pro. Same thing with RaiQuan Gray. Then they sprinkle in Scottie Barnes and Jonathan Isaac and those kinds of guys. Trent Forrest was one of my favorite players to watch the past few years because of his toughness. He was highly recruited, but he had some injuries. They find guys, they find transfers, then they mix in a junior college guy."
Borzello also writes that Hamilton was named by multiple coaches as the best "closer" in the league. "He really loves recruiting," another anonymous coach said. "He loves all of it."
FSU assistant coach Charlton Young, according to Borzello, was also mentioned as someone who has shined on the recruiting trail.
But it was more than just other coaches who showed their appreciation for Hamilton.
In another story, accompanying the "Sales Pitch" series, there was a roundtable of sorts with ESPN writers Myron Medcalf, John Gasaway, Joe Lunardi and Borzello.
There were two questions in which Hamilton was featured prominently.
The first asked: Which ACC coach do you think is most underrated for their ability to recruit or to construct a team?
Medcalf: "Leonard. Hamilton. Since 2016, five Florida State players have been first-round NBA picks. Only one of those , Jonathan Isaac, was a five-star recruit on ESPN.com. Two of those players, Devin Vassell and Mfiondu Kabengele, were not even top-100 prospects. And Scottie Barnes is a projected lottery pick in this summer's NBA draft.
"Within basketball circles, Hamilton is respected and praised. But he has been overshadowed in a league that has won half of the national titles since 2015, a league with teams anchored by Tony Bennett, Mike Krzyzewski and, until his retirement, Roy Williams. But his résumé is tremendous. He has finished in the top 45 in adjusted offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency for the past five seasons. Hamilton's ability to identify the right players for his style of play and develop those players over time has fueled his success. Players get better when they go to Florida State and compete for Leonard Hamilton."
Gasaway: "The winner of any award with the word "underrated" in it is going to be Hamilton more often than not, and some day some historian is going to have to explain how exactly that happened. Just look at last season. Florida State had just said goodbye to starters Trent Forrest and Vassell and key reserve Patrick Williams. No problem for Hamilton, he added Barnes to a core made up of MJ Walker, RaiQuan Gray and Anthony Polite and secured the program's third top-four seed in the NCAA tournament in the past four brackets. The coach has been a model of consistency, and ordinarily that should mean that at some point he would cease to be underrated. Go figure."
Borzello: "I'm with Myron and John, it's clearly Leonard Hamilton. There are two things that really stand out to me about the way Hamilton constructs his roster. One, it's the height and size in the frontcourt. Every year, the Seminoles seem to have a handful of 7-footers who find ways to contribute over the course of their careers in Tallahassee. One grassroots coach once told me a story about a visit to Florida State's campus, where the coach spotted a 7-footer he had never heard of, let alone seen before, on a visit. He asked Hamilton who it was, and Hamilton responded, 'Oh, we found him. He's coming next year.' It's just a pipeline of shot-blockers at this point.
"The second thing is depth. Most coaches are shortening their benches and having trouble keeping seven or eight guys happy. Hamilton routinely uses 10-11 guys every season and rarely does he have chemistry or personnel issues."
Lunardi went with Tony Bennett from Virginia, apparently not understanding or caring about the word "underrated" in the question. With a national championship and multiple No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, it's doubtful many fans or analysts are overlooking or underrating what Bennett has built in Charlottesville.
Either way, Hamilton was the answer for three of the four questions.
With good reason. Because he's not just producing good college basketball teams, he's producing quality NBA players.
The aforementioned Forrest is now getting rotation minutes with the Utah Jazz after hardly playing for most of the season. The undrafted rookie has played 18.4 minutes per game over the last seven games (the Jazz have gone 6-1) and is averaging 6.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists during that stretch.
Mfiondu Kabengele, who had been traded by the Clippers and then released by the Kings before being picked up by Cleveland, has had some shining moments recently. The former first-round pick had 14 points and four rebounds in 23 minutes on Sunday in the Cavaliers' loss to the Mavericks.
Combine their recent play with the solid seasons had by Terance Mann, Devin Vassell, Malik Beasley, Patrick Williams and Dwayne Bacon -- who has averaged almost 15 points per game for the Orlando Magic over the last three weeks, including five games of 20 points or more -- and it's easy to see how Hamilton is getting a reputation around the country for developing pro prospects.
And the ESPN analysts weren't quite done praising the FSU head coach, who has led the Seminoles to three straight Sweet 16s.
The next question in the roundtable was: If you had a 17-year-old son who was being recruited as a prospect by every ACC men's basketball program, which choice would help you sleep best at night?
Gasaway: "At the risk of wearing out one of my previous answers, I would rest easy if my highly talented, skilled and versatile son (chip off the old block) were being recruited by Leonard Hamilton. I would trust the coach to give it to my kid straight, I would know that this is not Hamilton's first such rodeo by any means and most of all I would expect my son's team to enjoy a fair level of success over the next few years (in a fairly salubrious setting, no less). Moreover, based on past experience watching Hamilton, I would not see my son berated unduly much less physically accosted by his coach if my youngster did choose to sign with the Seminoles. Sadly, this is not the standard coaching practice everywhere."
Medcalf: "I'd go with Leonard Hamilton here, too. Last season, MJ Walker told me how much he'd grown during his time at Florida State. He arrived as a five-star recruit with NBA dreams and he left FSU as one of the first members of his family to graduate. Hamilton has proven he can develop NBA talent, but he's also teaching young players to become better people. I also know, based on our conversations, that he takes the most pride in watching players walk across the stage. Last month, he tweeted a photo of the 10 Florida State players -- yes, 10 -- who'd just graduated. My guess is a lot of the ACC's coaches, if they couldn't coach their own sons, would send them to Hamilton, too."