When Florida State's Chris Singleton said he thought he could be the ACC's Player of the Year at league media days, some may have snickered. While Singleton captured the ACC's defensive player of the year award last season, he barely averaged double figures in scoring at 10.2 points a game.
But, nobody is laughing now. That's because no player in the league is off to a better start.
Last week, Singleton posted the first ever triple double in ACC history that included steals with a 22-point, 11-rebound, 10-steal performance in FSU's 97-73 win at UNC-Greensboro. The 10 steals were the most by an ACC player in over 30 years (Duke's Kenny Dennard set the league record with 11 in 1979).
"I don't believe I've ever had a player get a triple double (in college)," said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, who is in his ninth year in Tallahassee and 22nd as a college head coach. "I know I haven't had one get 10 steals in a game before."
In FSU's next game, Singleton went 10-of-11 from the floor on his way to scoring a career-high 30 points while carrying the Seminoles to a 85-53 rout of Gardner-Webb.
Through FSU's first four games - which have all been wins by 20 points or more - Singleton's scoring average has nearly doubled to 19.3 ppg, which ranks third in the ACC.
The 6-foot-9 junior from metro Atlanta is also first in field goal percentage (58.1 percent) and steals (3.8 per game), ranks third in rebounding (10.3 per game) and fifth in blocks (2.8 per game).
"His offensive skills are improving," Hamilton said. "He's much more comfortable playing inside and outside and making the transition from power to small forward and he's given us a chance to utilize his overall physical skills. He's added a pull up jumper and consistent 3-point shooting and becoming more and more of a complete player."
That includes being a far better free throw shooter. One of the biggest reasons for Singleton's improved offensive numbers is the fact he's shooting 81.5 percent (22-of-27) at the charity stripe, compared to 49.6 percent last year.
"It feels good," said Singleton of the remarkable jump. "I've come a long way. I'm just slowing down, being patient, and making sure every shot is the same."
Second half surge in Miami
Whatever Hamilton said to his team at halftime of their last game at Florida International on Thursday was exactly what the they needed to hear.
FSU led by just four at the half, 38-34. FIU scored the first two points of the second half, but FSU scored the next 10. They ended up winning by 23, 89-66.
Junior guard Deividas Dulkys led FSU with a career-high 22 points. Dulkys made 5-of-9 shots from 3-point range.
"I was very pleased to see us respond that way," Hamilton said. "I was glad to see some of the guys step up. We still got things to work on, but I'll take a 23-point win on the road."
The FIU game marked FSU's fourth in seven days. The 'Noles are now in the midst of a five-day break before hosting Mercer (1-1), who fell at UTEP 87-74 in their last game, on Tuesday. Hamilton gave the team the day off before returning to practice on Saturday.
Hamilton has been using a rotation of 10 players, pressing more and asking his team to push the ball more in an effort to generate more fast-break opportunities. The result is an offense that is averaging 84.8 points a game, which ranks second in the league.
"We still have a long way to go," Hamilton said. "I don't think we took advantage of our size and got the ball inside to the paint. Our post guys need to do a better job posting up and our perimeter guys need to do a better job getting the ball inside."
So far, FSU's defense hasn't been impacted much by the loss of the ACC's leading shot blocker, Solomon Alabi. The Seminoles are giving up 61.8 points a game and holding opponents to a league-low 35.1 percent from the floor. But, Hamilton is far from satisfied with his team's play on that side of the floor.
"Our post defense isn't very good right now," Hamilton said. "The young guys have got to learn to rotate better defensively too."
Newcomers produce off the bench right away
Florida State's most productive big man has come off the bench. Junior college transfer Bernard James has been the team's most pleasant surprise so far, averaging 8.8 points and 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks (ranks third in ACC) in just 19 minutes a game. James is also shooting 71 percent from the floor.
All those numbers have made up for a slow start from starting center Xavier Gibson and the absence of junior college transfer, 7-footer, Jon Kreft, who has yet to play for unspecified reasons.
The 6-11 Gibson, who Hamilton said had the potential to lead the team in scoring, is shooting just 41 percent from the floor and averaging 6.0 ppg. Foul trouble has been his biggest issue. He fouled out in 13 minutes in the season opener and has had three fouls in each of the other three contests.
Freshman forward Okaro White, who got the least hype of the team's four newcomers, has also been an instant contributor. White scored 16 points off the bench against UNC-Greensboro and is averaging 8.3 points in 15 minutes a game.
Freshman guard Ian Miller, perhaps the most hyped of the newcomers, got off to a slow start, making just four of his first 16 shots. But, Miller played his best game yet at FIU, scoring nine points in 12 minutes.
"They all just bought in, they've all just bought into the system," said Singleton of the newcomers' impact. "That's something we look forward to when we play the big teams, ACC teams and go to the ACC Tournament."
Dulkys has made 50 percent (12 of 24 ) of his 3-point attempts.
Big man Terrance Shannon saw his first action against FIU after missing the first three games due to a sprained ankle. Shannon scored four points in five minutes of action.