New leaders, new faces on display tonight at 'Jam with Ham'
Their second preseason practice had concluded a few minutes earlier, and the members of the Florida State men’s basketball team were still inside the Tucker Center working on free throws.
FSU associate head coach Stan Jones was talking to someone courtside when he noticed that a few of the freshmen had decided to untuck their jerseys, and Jones made a comment about it to sophomores C.J. Walker and Trent Forrest.
The sophomores then promptly informed their younger teammates -- in no uncertain terms -- that the casual look was not acceptable.
“We got a lot of experience last year, so we kind of know what Coach Ham wants,” Walker said of FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton. “We learned a lot from the older guys last year, so now we’ve got to step up as leaders because the team’s going to depend on us now.”
The Seminoles, who will make their first public appearance of the 2017-18 season tonight at the annual “Jam with Ham” event at Tully Gym, are going to lean on them in more ways than one.
With former starter Xavier Rathan-Mayes now on the New York Knicks' roster, Walker and Forrest are expected to share point guard duties for FSU this season. The pair also have natural leadership qualities, which will be very important for a team replacing four starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. On top of that, they will be asked to bring the same type of energy that they did as freshmen on the Seminoles’ “Boom Squad” -- a group of reserves that often came off the bench to spark FSU’s offense and defense.
“We need them to have that Boom Squad energy and that Junkyard Dog mentality that I thought carried us through a lot of games,” Hamilton said, adding that he has been very pleased with the strides all of his returning players have made during the offseason. “To a man, everyone has improved. I’m pleased with all of them. They’ve all worked extremely hard.”
While saying he’s excited about the potential of this year’s team, Hamilton doesn’t try to diminish the significance of the departures. Along with Rathan-Mayes, the Seminoles also said goodbye to leading scorer Dwayne Bacon, No. 2 scorer and leading rebounder Jonathan Isaac and starting center Michael Ojo. The Seminoles also lost backup center Jarquez Smith. All told, the group represented an average of about 50 points per game.
But Hamilton is quick to point out the Seminoles return a solid nucleus of veterans and another talented crop of newcomers. Among the veterans will be Walker, Forrest, junior forward Terance Mann, senior guard Braian Angola, senior forward Phil Cofer, junior sharp-shooter P.J. Savoy and junior center Christ Koumadje.
The newcomers include five-star guard M.J. Walker, forwards Raiquan Gray and Wyatt Wilkes, center Ike Obiagu and guard Anthony Polite. Walker was rated the No. 27 prospect in the nation by Rivals, while Obiagu was a top-100 prospect. Gray and Wilkes were both ranked in the top 150.
“We got a tremendous boost from our first-year players last year,” Hamilton said. “When you look back at what Trent, C.J., P.J. and Braian brought to our team, it was an infusion of energy that was infectious. The other teammates played off of their enthusiasm and energy.
“This incoming freshman group is equally as talented, and we’re gonna need them to come in and be a major factor, as last year’s group was, in order for us to be successful.”
Although it’s still early in preseason, Hamilton believes the Seminoles will be able to play a similar up-tempo style as last year’s squad, which was one of only four ACC teams to average more than 80 points per game. The others were North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke.
“We have a mixture of a few veterans, and we’re putting C.J., Trent and Savoy in the veterans category,” Hamilton said with a laugh. “They’re sophomores, but they’re among our veteran guys. But we have a very talented, hard-working younger group that’s eager to learn. How fast they’re able to integrate themselves into our system and be efficient will make a difference in how successful we are this year.”
Said C.J. Walker: “They’re gonna be like a Boom Squad 2.0. They’re trying to bring that energy. We’re going to have another deep squad, so they’re going have to come in and help as well.”
FSU fans will get their first look at the current crop of Seminoles tonight at the annual “Jam with Ham.” The event, which is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., is free and open to the public. It will have a 1980s theme and feature contests and giveaways.
“We always look forward to that event because it’s a fun event and gives us an opportunity to spend some time with our fans in a lighthearted way,” Hamilton said.