Holding up the wall outside his team's quiet locker room in the wake of a tough defeat in Nashville on Sunday, Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton could still appreciate the sturdy building block that was the 2011-12 season.
The Seminoles won their first-ever ACC title. They won 12 games in the ACC regular season, tied for the most ever. They earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which ties for the highest by any FSU team. The team also finished No. 10 in the final regular season AP Poll.
"I think there were a lot of positive things that happened this year that I think will set the tone for the direction of this program," Hamilton said following his team's 62-56 loss to Cincinnati in the Round of 32 on Sunday. Hamilton is 179-137 in 10 seasons at FSU. "I think we've been consistently moving it forward, but we took a giant step in the right direction and I'm not going to allow myself to identify this year because we lost this game. There's too many positives I'm taking away from it in terms of the kids' effort and focus and basically changing the culture."
Florida State has gravitated towards the league's top tier the past four seasons, winning at least 10 conference games and making the NCAA Tournament in all four years. And even though the Seminoles will have to replace replace six seniors, including four starters (Luke Loucks, Deividas Dulkys, Xavier Gibson and Bernard James), Hamilton expects the future on be even brighter.
"We have a tremendous nucleus that's returning, I think we have some outstanding recruits coming, I think we have a couple more scholarships for kids where we can add to the already mature group we have returning," Hamilton said. Florida State has four signees for the 2012 class - guards Montay Brandon, Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert along with junior college forward Robert Gilchrist with room for two more scholarship players.
"Now we're going to go back, evaluate everything, realize that we made some tremendous progress, and I thought last year at the end of the season that we would be better this year than we were last year and I thought that we proved that we were," Hamilton said. "I'm just foolish enough to think that with what we have coming back and what I think is coming in, we're going to be a very good basketball team next year."
While four starters depart, The team's top two scorers Michael Snaer and Ian Miller are expected to return. Florida State will also have forward Terrance Shannon, who was expected to be a key contributor until a season-ending shoulder injury in November ended his season. Oft-used reserve Okaro White also comes back, along with freshmen Terry Whisnant and Antwan Space, who both saw limited minutes in Year 1. Center Keil Turpin redshirted this past season and will be available on the post.
Snaer recognizes what a special run this was. Despite a 9-6 start to the season and a flattening 20-point loss to Clemson in the league opener, the Seminoles bounced back for a decorated season.
"We finished the season off at No. 10, we won an ACC Championship. That had never been done," said Snaer, who became a household name this season with buzzer-beating 3-pointers to beat Duke and Virginia Tech. "We beat Duke and Carolina both twice in the same year, beat all four Tobacco Road teams in the same year, finished third in the regular season … we did some great things.
"You see our program getting a lot more respect now, a lot more recognition a lot more support. There's a lot of people back home heartbroken because of this loss, and that just means there's a lot of people who believe in us."
That includes their head coach.
"I can't say how proud I am of this team," Hamilton said. "We've accomplished an awful lot. Started the season off 9-6. We had a lot of moving parts. This team came closer and closer during that period. We had a little adversity. I thought we kind of grew up and developed that type of unity that it took for us to have one of the best seasons that we've had at Florida State in a long while.
"Unfortunately, it had to end like this, but I can't say enough about how proud I am of them, because I really feel that they gave me what they had. They represented Florida State and the Tallahassee community, themselves and their families in as fine a fashion as I've ever seen some young men represent a basketball team."