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"Our basketball team is in a similar situation as several teams in our league are in. As we go down the stretch we have a lot of people kind of jammed up and in close proximity of each other. We all are trying to win enough games to put ourselves in position to have postseason opportunities. We have kind of used up all of our coupons and we have very little room for error so it is very important now that we finish the remaining four games that we play as well as we can because every game now takes on a different connotation."
Q: Can you talk a bit about Al Thornton's season and how he has developed over his career at Florida State?
Leonard Hamilton: "Al is a youngster from Perry, GA, a small town south of Atlanta. He was recruited by Division I people but not as highly rated as some youngsters were. He came in, in January, middle of the year, and sat out that year. He has really, really worked hard on his game. He is a gym rat. He is always in the gym trying to improve. He plays with a lot of energy. He is learning how to control his intensity and effort in more of a structured way. The good thing about Al is that I don't think he has even scratched the surface of his potential and I have said that many times. I think his best basketball is still ahead of him.
Q: What sold you on him when you were recruiting him?
Leonard Hamilton: I like players with a lot of energy. I knew he played the game with an extreme amount of passion. He is a hard worker, played with passion, and enjoyed playing. I just knew coming into Florida State we needed those kinds of people because you know they are going to get better.
Q: Is it plausible to employ a defensive theory of letting J.J. Redick get his points and attempting to shut down everybody else on Duke?
Leonard Hamilton: "If you let him have his points, he might score 70. I am not sure I want to play that Russian roulette. No, we are not interested in playing that game. That is your theory and I think you need to try to get your team and try it out, but I don't think you need to try it with Redick."
Q: What if you really get defensive against those other guys, kind of like Georgetown did with limiting Shelden Williams?
Leonard Hamilton: "Georgetown had a 7-foot-2 guy, if I remember, that might have had a little something to do with how effective he was defending the inside. He is a big, strong youngster and probably, if I had a 7-foot-2 guy that big and strong maybe we might be a little more effective against Shelden because he is an outstanding player."
"We are not going to change our defensive system a whole lot. I think they have great players at every position. I think that you have to give them all their proper respect and hope that just one or two of them is not shooting as well, or playing as well, on any given night. You have to give all of your effort and respect them as a team. I don't feel we are going Florida State(the team) against any particular player in this league. I think it is Florida State against their team, their system, and their scheme. I believe on any team in our league they will have players that are capable of really, really hurting you. I adhere more to the theory that you have to try different things but I think when you play against a great basketball team like exists in the ACC you have got to be ready to play all of them and each player that comes into the game. So many times this year we have maybe neglected to give the importance to some of those guys coming off the bench. I can think about three or four games where guys have come off the bench and gotten double figure points in the first halves that really made a difference in the outcome of the game."
Q: With being 6-6 in the ACC and having a mediocre RPI, but everybody seems to want to talk about teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, do you kind of shake your head at that?
Leonard Hamilton: Let me tell you, most of the people that are talking and making those accusation have never built programs, they have never coached, they have never used strategy. They are entertainers and they are speaking from their heart and the information that they have. At this particular time none of that matters because we still have got games to play. I am not going to allow myself to get caught up in all of these things because if you win enough games it takes care of itself. If you don't win enough games then you put yourself in a position where you eliminate opportunities. As a coach, you cannot allow yourself to get caught up in comments that people are making because this is their job. They want to create conversation, they want to talk, they want to make comments that generate what you and I are talking about now. In reality, the number one thing that matter is how well we play and how many games we win. If we win enough games, we have four more games and the ACC Tournament, so there is still a lot more basketball to be played. I probably could comment on those things as it winds down, the season, and when you are through with your regular season and you are sitting around waiting but right now, I think it is just useless to get involved in all those types of conversations.
Q: It has been 20 years now since Bob Wade broke the color barrier for coaches in the ACC and now we have 6 of the 12 coaches in the league are African-Americans, as a guy that kind of broke in around the same time I wondered in your mind what the significance of that was in terms of opportunity today?
Leonard Hamilton: "I think that most of the guys that are coaching in our league have probably earned the right to be considered for just about any job in the country. I think it says that people are evaluating candidates, or at least the schools that have given African American's these opportunities, have evaluated on the basis of what they thought was in the best interest of their program. Now that you have different people that move around, and people that are in the decision making positions that know more about people and they can evaluate better, and you have guys that have been around for a while that have proven they can be capable. I think in comparison to some of the other candidates the guys that have these opportunities are the guys that have earned the right to be considered."
Q: After your team nearly beat Duke and the narrow victory they had over Virginia Tech, can you give some comments on how hard is it to go undefeated in a major conference today?
Leonard Hamilton: "To be very honest with you, I wish I could give Duke a whole lot of concentration right now but we have Maryland coming up this week and if we don't spend all our time on concentrating on how to prepare ourselves against Maryland – that is our primary focus right now. Everybody in the country knows Duke is an outstanding team. They have withstood the test of time. They are probably the premier program in the United States over the last 10 or 12 years. I think they have great coaches, great players, and great atmosphere. I think they have done a great job putting that together. As a youngster growing up, in Gastonia, North Carolina I remember when Vic Bubas was there and I used to watch those guys play. I have been a fan of them for many, many years. They have been successful for many, many years. I think you just have to play well against a team of that caliber and hope for the best."
Q: Can you talk about the transformation of Alexander Johnson this season?
Leonard Hamilton: "Alexander has become more and more a student of the game over his career. He has a better understanding of the philosophies and the nuances of the game. He has worked very hard on his conditioning and his strength. He is down almost 24 pounds from last season. He recognized that in order to improve his stamina he had to change his diet and spend more time working on his condition because he realized he had a certain amount of possibilities. He now has become more and more a student of the game and he understands what is expected of him. He has become more of a leader on and off the court. I think that his basketball maturity is just coming around. He, like Al Thornton, I still think there best basketball is ahead of them."
Maryland Head Coach Gary Williams
On Florida State:
"Now we are going against a talented Florida State team that has played great in some games this year and has certainly proven they are a very strong basketball team. We have to do a good job in preparation and play well on the road in an environment that has gotten tougher as time has gone by. That is not an easy place to go play anymore. Leonard Hamilton has done a great job of really developing the basketball atmosphere in their building."
On Alexander Johnson:
"As a player gets confidence in his ability that he can do it in game situations they become better players. I think that is what he has done. He has had success now and he realizes that he does have basketball talent. The longer that a team plays together and a lot of these guys have played together for a while now for Florida State, they know when he is open and he knows where he is going to get the ball. I think all those things have helped him become a better player."