With a No. 4 seed and a bye locked up in this week's ACC Tournament, Florida State's Leonard Hamilton spoke to the media on Monday afternoon about numerous subjects. Among the topics covered, his thoughts on possibly winning ACC Coach of the Year, why Toney Douglas deserves so much recognition, preparing for his team's bye, and more.
"We lost a very close game on the road like most teams that have lost games on the road to (Duke) earlier in the week and we were very fortunate to come back home and bounce back against Virginia Tech in a game that both of us felt we had to have. It seems as though most people in the league are playing games they have to have. We were very fortunate to hang onto the victory. We had a lot of contributions from a lot of people. I was very glad to see some of the guys played with a tremendous amount of defensive effort. I thought that really made the difference in the game."
Q: What makes Duke's Kyle Singler so tough to defend?
Hamilton:: Well he is a very good athlete. When he is playing the three he moves around very well. When he is playing the four he is maybe a little more agile than most fours. I think the thing that separates him is that he is a very intelligent player who seems to take advantage of all the little things. He always gets a tip-in, always gets a put-back, and is drawing a foul but if you back off of him he is hitting the three or he cuts behind your vision and gets easy baskets. He is a talented youngster but (is) extremely smart, that is a real lethal combination.
Q: This is a different situation for your team, going into the ACC Tournament with the No. 4 seed and a bye. Can you just speak to where you think this team is right now?
Hamilton:: Where we are in relation to the ACC Tournament is kind of where we have been all year long. Every team that you play in the ACC Tournament will be a great team that if you are not mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to play, will hand you your hat and show you the door. There will be no weak sisters that you have to play against. So you have to come in regardless of where you are, I am not real sure anyone is going to look at where someone is seeded once they throw the ball up. It is important for our team to continue to stay focused and take one game at a time. I have said that all along because we are so young and inexperienced that everything is new for us as we move through this juggernaut. I think we are capable of winning games against anybody in our league but the thing about that is you have to go out and prove it and that is a tough task.
Q: How do you address all the projections of your team in the NCAA Tournament with this team heading into the ACC Tournament?
Hamilton:: This team, as young as we are, this team in some ways has demonstrated a certain level of maturity. I read an article where Ryan Reid addressed that question and he said we very seldom talk about it and we don't. We realize we don't have the luxury of looking past tomorrow's practice. We make enough mistakes in terms of going out on the floor that we realize, we are very humble, and we realize we can't allow ourselves to not be focused on the things we can control. It is hard for most people to believe that we have limited conversations and we discuss it briefly, but we don't dwell on it.
Q: The balloting is all done but there is a really good chance that you will win Coach of the Year in the conference. What would that mean to you?
Hamilton:: Well first I realize that there are a lot of great coaches in our league. Sometimes the success of a season is so narrow that you are just fortunate not to have injuries and have the team that we have had. This is the first year in the last three years that we've actually had the team we started the season out with or that we have been projected to have without defections, injuries, or anything unfortunate happen. So I know there is a thin line between where you are in regards to first or 12th and to earning a certain level of success. I am humbled just to be mentioned in the category with so many great coaches in our league because I realize you could easily say about three or four or five coaches are right there who should be considered for Coach of the Year. I am blessed. I am humbled that people would think we have accomplished enough where we can be considered among those guys.
Q: Other than the points, what is the best thing about coaching Toney Douglas?
Hamilton:: The most rewarding thing for me is to watch him grow and become the mature leader that he has become. Because if we had anything that we were most concerned about, it was how we would be able to compete in the ACC with six first-year players that we were depending on to play significant minutes and make major contributions to our team in order for us to be successful. As coaches, with Toney being the guy, Uche (Echefu) being hurt and only practicing two days before the first game, and so Toney basically had to shoulder the lead, shoulder the responsibility of being a leader mentally, emotionally, on and off the court, and he took that responsibility. He was vocal, he was intense, he set the example, he played hard every possession in practice and never took a possession off, from this training to his sleep to his diet, he did all the things that you would like to see a leader do. So I was most pleased with the leadership that he gave us even though he was our leading scorer, I think the top defender in the ACC, as well as hitting big shots when the game was on the line, but the difference was his character, his ability to communicate with youngsters who were the man on all of their high school or junior college teams and get them to follow I think was a very special accomplishment for anybody, especially Toney.
Q: Did you say somewhere that he was the best defender you have ever coached?
Hamilton:: He is the best defensive guard I have ever coached. I can say that with no reservations. He is not leading the league in steals and that has made him a better defender because he is solid, he doesn't gamble very much, and he was leading the league in steals, sometimes getting steals and getting deflections, and we kind of backed him off that a little bit to avoid the fouls and prevent him from making mistakes and he has become a much better defender.
Q: What is the plan for your team when you get to the ACC Tournament with having the bye?
Hamilton:: We had a meeting about that this morning and I would kind of like them to go over and get a little feel for the tournament, at least spend a half or so watching some of the other teams play just because we have so many first-year players, we don't want them to walk into that atmosphere for the first time when we get ready to play. We will probably spend a little time on Thursday going over and just getting accustomed to that atmosphere. On Wednesday we will go by and take the little 45 minute shooting period that they reward you. I think it will be good for our players. Other than that our routine will basically be the same as it has been all year with all of the other games we have played on the road.
Q: Have you ever played a conference tournament in a dome and what do you think that will be like?
Hamilton:: Well, when I look back at it I have been coaching a long time and I don't remember playing in a dome like the Georgia Dome. I am glad we are in Atlanta. I like moving it around. Not that the people in Greensboro have just been tremendous for the ACC but I think because the league is spread out all over the eastern coast, I think it is healthy just to move it around a little bit just so other people can get exposed. I also think it is such a great tournament that having an opportunity for more people to come and enjoy it will be beneficial. Maybe we might lose a little bit of that flavor you might get when you are in a smaller building but I think it equals itself out.
Q: You talk about the six first-year guys, to my untrained eye it appears two of them, Solomon Alabi and Derwin Kitchen, have really made significant progress in the last few weeks.
Hamilton:: Well, you know you ask me about Solomon and Kitchen and they have definitely settled in and got a better feel for what is expected of them. Solomon is understanding how to play a little better without making fouls and I think Kitchen has gotten into the rhythm and understanding how to pick his spots and how to play off of Toney but I really would say the same thing for all the guys who are playing. Xavier Gibson gives us good minutes. Deividas (Dulkys) has come in and given us good minutes. Luke (Loucks) has gotten a lot better. Chris Singleton's statistics may not be showing up as big but his defense, rebounding, and floor play and decision making has gotten so much better. The guys now are really coming around with their savvy. The guys who have probably been productive more from the statistical column have been Kitchen and Alabi. We are really pleased. That is a lot of the reason why we have been able to finish as strong as we have.