FSU looking to increase scoring production
The Florida State men's basketball team's trip to Spain wasn't just a cultural learning experience. It also allowed the team to practice with the coaching staff before getting on the plane, something they wouldn't have gotten without the trip.
During that time, Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, said that the focus was on fine-tuning and altering some of the Seminoles' systems.
"We are working on different types of systems and defensive packages," Hamilton said. "We are just trying to make improvements on where we left off last season."
Offensive efficiency and scoring production were at the top of the list. The Seminoles scored an ACC-low 68.3 points per game in 2008-09.
"We want to improve our offensive production," Hamilton said. "We want to play a little more of an up-tempo game and try to take advantage of our skills a little more."
Running the court and using their athleticism to their advantage is music to the team's ears, sophomore forward Chris Singleton said.
"If you look at this team I think it is a perfect fit," Singleton said. "Everybody can pass, everybody can dribble, so it is simple, get the rebound and run."
Florida State's backcourt must replace point guard Toney Douglas, who scored nearly 22 points a game as a senior. A number of guards - redshirt junior Derwin Kitchen, sophomore Luke Loucks, redshirt freshman Pierre Jordan, and true freshman Michael Snaer - can all handle point guard duties.
While they have numerous options, Kitchen has used the months since FSU's season-ending NCAA Tournament lost to Wisconsin to prepare himself for the increased duties.
"I was out of shape," Kitchen said when reflecting on last season. "I am pretty sure everybody knew that, seeing me out there on the court. I used to get tired after two trips. It takes a lot to play hard every possession and give it your all. I realize that when I got back out there last year.
"I think I am in much better shape," he continued. "I have been working out, running a lot, and just trying to make sure I have what it takes out there on the court."
Kitchen has seen his renewed effort pay dividends in the team's summer pick-up games. He said the new offensive mindset of getting out and on the attack is already showing itself. And he couldn't be happier about the adjustment.
"That is my style, so I am excited," Kitchen said. "When we are playing pick-up, that is the main thing. We are just trying to get out and go every possession, off a made or a missed shot. We are trying to get it back up the court."
FSU's new run-and-gun attack will use numerous big men who will provide mismatches with both their size and athleticism. That, too, has Kitchen eager for the upcoming season.
"I have never, ever been around guys that big and that athletic," Kitchen said. "Chris (Singleton) is a small forward, and he is probably the most athletic guy on the team. He and Jordan (Demercy).
Xavier (Gibson) has the skills of a guard but can jump out of the gym and is 6-foot-10. Then you have a 7-foot-1 Solomon (Alabi) who can run up and down the court. Then you come with Ryan (Reid) and Terrance (Shannon) in there and they are a bit bigger. It is crazy."
Singleton said that while the system is designed to score often, it also requires individual maturity amongst the players to play within themselves.
"I need to be more aggressive and be a smarter player," Singleton said. "I just need to increase my driving capabilities and widen out my game. We have to be able to get to the goal this season and finish."
Most of all, Kitchen said that he can't imagine how opponents will counter their offensive attack.
"I don't know how you stop all those big men," Kitchen said. "I am glad I don't have to figure that out."
Improving on and off the court
FSU's 25-10 record was one of the most successful in team history, but as the players look back, they know there is room for improvement.
That definitely goes for last season's freshmen, who experienced college basketball for the first time.
"You have expectations going into the season but it isn't real until you step on the court," Singleton said of his freshman year. "When it is all over, you have to step back and evaluate yourself. You have to realize what you have to do, what you have to improve on, and you just have to go out and do it."
The coaching staff also used the time immediately following their loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament to approach each player and discuss how he can improve and help make the team better for this upcoming season.
"We encouraged them at the end of the season to work on the areas of their game that they need to improve on in order to be better, more complete players," Hamilton said. "Offensive, defensively, improving your individual skills and your understanding and knowledge of the game. We want them to become better students of the game."
For some, this offseason marked the first time in years that they have been able to just focus on their game and not be concerned about bouncing back from injury or having prior engagements to draw them away from practice and preparation. Such is the case for Solomon Alabi, who averaged 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game a season ago.
"The last time I had an offseason like this to just work on getting better was back in high school," Alabi said. "It is really important to me. I think we did really good last year, but I want to do better this season so to do better this season it has to start from something. It all depends on how hard I work on my game this offseason.
"I have been working hard on trying to get better and staying healthy," Alabi added. "I am trying to work on my offensive game, like my jump hooks, jump shots, and knowing the floor. I have also been working on running a lot. I have been in the weight room too and I have gained five or ten pounds so far."
Derwin Kitchen also is enjoying a complication-free offseason. After being cleared by the NCAA near the mid-season point last year, Kitchen averaged 7.9 points and 2.5 assists per game, but realized he had a ways to go at being prepared for ACC basketball.
"I am getting extra work in, so it is paying off," Kitchen said. "I am working on my defense and my jump shot. Honestly, I am just trying to become consistent with everything I do. I know at the beginning of the season my shot was the worse, but by the end of the season I started making a couple jump shots so that is the main thing."
Hamilton said that all reports he has gotten from the players about their teammates are positive and that he feels real strides have been made in the gym this offseason.
"What I have been pleased with is that you only have to tell these guys something once," Hamilton said. "They respond when you encourage them to do the things that we think are important, they follow suit. They challenge each other. They spend time with each other and work well with each other. I just like the attitude of these guys.
"I sense a level of maturity settling in," he added, "a no nonsense approach as to what they are working and what they are trying to accomplish. These guys seem to be working with a purpose."
That maturity shines through in sophomore forward Chris Singleton, who is looking to improve upon his 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game average from a season ago.
"You have to be in the gym - night and day," Singleton said. "You have to do whatever you have to do to get better, whether that be putting up shots, working on ball-handling, playing one-on-one, everything."
Hamilton is hoping that when November rolls around, that the extra effort will pay off and that his team will be able to step up and improve upon the previous season.
"If we can get everyone playing up to their potential, then we think we will reach our full potential," Hamilton said.
Newcomers already impressing
While newcomers Michael Snaer and Terrance Shannon haven't been able to practice with their teammates or make the trip to Spain, they have been able to participate in pick-up games and have been seen around the gym. Early impressions are good for both.
"I think with those added pieces, both of them, that we can go far," Kitchen said.
Kitchen went a step farther and talked about his early match-ups with Snaer on the court.
"He is everything I thought he was going to be," Kitchen said. "He can shoot it. He is quick. He actually wants to play defense, he doesn't shy away from it. Most of the good guards who are scorers, they don't want to play defense, but he wants to and he wants you to come at him."