Florida State's turnaround this season has been nothing short of remarkable.
After starting the year with a 9-6 record that included losses to Princeton and Clemson, the Seminoles looked to be in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in four seasons.
Following the 20-point loss to Clemson in the ACC opener, FSU rallied to win its next seven in a row in the league and finish the regular season at 21-9 overall and 12-4 in the ACC.
On Tuesday head coach Leonard Hamilton was rewarded for engineering such a drastic turnaround as he was named ACC Coach of the Year for the second time in his career.
"When you win an award your name might end up being on the trophy, but in reality it's a compliment to your assistants and their hard work and dedication," Hamilton said. "Their commitment to us all getting on the same page and doing all the things necessary to getting the job done. You also have to understand there's a lot of guys that work hard behind the scenes in our organization that do a lot of little things."
As his team struggled early Hamilton said it was frustrating at times, but he thinks the key to the turnaround was the patience he and his staff showed the team. He said the coaches made a point to show patience because effort and focus weren't the issues, it was just confidence and execution.
"We've had some issues where we haven't always performed well but it's not because the guys haven't been giving a good effort and total focus and concentration," Hamilton said. "As a staff I think we have in some ways tried to become as patient as possible and that has given our kids the confidence that we believe in them. Whatever challenges we've had we've worked out way through them and found a way to have a certain level of success."
Early in the year one of the challenges Hamilton had to navigate through was being without sophomore guard Ian Miller due to academics. Then he lost energizing big man Terrance Shannon for the year to a shoulder injury.
Throughout it all Hamilton found a way to keep FSU on track as the Seminoles wrapped up the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament. He wasn't afraid to make adjustments like moving Okaro White from starting small forward back to the bench as a power forward and switching to a three guard starting lineup.
"We had some challenges early until we got everyone in the proper rotation," Hamilton said. "We had guys hurt and guys coming in and joining the team, so it's been a process. Once we got to the point where mentally, emotionally, as well as physically we all got on the same page and we started making steps in the right direction."
For the players, their trust in Hamilton never faltered, so Tuesday was a much of a thrill for them as it was Hamilton when the award was announced.
"It's special for us because we know we have one the best coaches in the country," junior guard Michael Snaer said. "We know how good a coach he is, but now everybody appreciates how good a coach he is just from getting that recognition. It's special for us too."
Working on themselves
With a first round bye in this week's ACC tournament in Atlanta, FSU won't know who it will face until late Thursday night.
As the No. 3 seed, the Seminoles will face the winner of Georgia Tech (11-19, 4-12) and Miami (18-11, 9-7), who aren't scheduled to tip off until 9 p.m. ET on Thursday.
"It is a little bit different because you're usually going into a regular season game against (a team) you'd have two, three days to go over every single thing they do, but now you're kind of balancing it between Georgia Tech and Miami," senior guard Luke Loucks said. "Trying to figure out what each team's tendencies are without overlapping each other."
Hamilton said not knowing who his team's upcoming opponent won't have much of an affect on his team. Instead of spending too much time early on the week preparing for a team they may not face, the Seminoles are instead using this week to work on themselves.
"It's more about us than who we're playing," Hamilton said. "We're not going to change very much and neither are the people who we're going to be playing against. Basically it's the same stopping points that we have now are the same ones that we'll have once we evaluate them one more time."
Gibson elevating at the right time
After an up and down senior season Xavier Gibson has turned in back-to-back big time performances for FSU.
In an improbable 63-60 comeback win on the road against Virginia, Gibson had 12 points and five rebounds. He followed that up with 13 points and eight rebounds in his final home game against Clemson.
In the two games prior to the wins, losses to Duke and Miami, Gibson scored just a combined 10 points.
"It's hard to say," Gibson said when asked what the difference has been. "I can't really point to a particular thing. I just have wanted to come out and just have a lot of energy and make a statement. Kind of be an impact for the team."
Hamilton said the production from Gibson is encouraging because he knows his team is much better off when the 6-foot-11, 230-pound power forward is producing.
"We all know that Xavier is extremely talented and when he plays well we normally play pretty well," Hamilton said. "He's a very talented guy, he's been a little inconsistent, but it seems like now it seems as though he's figured it out. I think he seems to be elevating his game and it's a good time of the year to be doing it."