FSU hoops came such a long way

G Michael Snaer (US Presswire)

It wasn't that long ago when FSU used to get more fans at baseball games than basketball games. But the Seminoles have come so far on the hardwood, as evidenced by winning the ACC Tournament.

The Seminoles just added the most cherished one to a season full of historic feats.

Playing in only their second ACC Tournament championship game Sunday, the Seminoles (24-9) outlasted North Carolina 85-82 to claim their first league trophy since joining this conference 20 years ago. They earned the automatic NCAA Tournament bid, but most importantly rose from a projected No. 5 seed before the weekend began into a No. 3 seed that matches the highest in school history.

They also got another benefit: getting an extra day of rest before playing Friday against St. Bonaventure in the East Regional in Nashville. That will enable more FSU fans to drive and attend the tournament and provide a better feel than if the Seminoles were shipped outside the Southeast and had to play Thursday.

"It gives us a new level of pride, and I think it sets the standard by which you want the players who come behind them to be judged by," said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton "So this is a significant moment in the history of Florida State basketball, and we want to continue to keep building on it."

That opportunity will arrive Friday. The game against St. Bonaventure will match FSU's acclaimed defense against the Bonnies' star power forward Andrew Nicholson, a Canadian player, who will be going against Bernard James in the one-on-one matchup. Nicholson was named the tournament MVP in leading the Bonnies to the Atlantic 10 title as the No. 4 seed.

The Seminoles will enter their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament -- the longest streak in school history -- with the added glitter of what they did this past weekend. They beat state rival Miami, then ACC blue bloods Duke and North Carolina in succession to make history. It was only the second time in the past 16 years that a team other than Duke or North Carolina won the tournament and one of the rare times a team from outside Tobacco Road has ever won it.

But it was the culmination of a mission that Hamilton sought when he took over the program 10 years ago. He has tried to recruit players with the idea of having them become pioneers, breakthrough achievers in the history of the program.

"He said, 'You can really change the culture of Florida State basketball,'" said guard Luke Loucks. "We're stepping in the right direction of doing that and making our mark. We're not just some random team from Florida. We're in the thick of things every year."

Still, to watch Hamilton and his players cut down the nets at Atlanta's Phillips Arena as ACC champions came with perspective of how far this program had advanced. It went through a decade of misery and mediocrity before Hamilton got the program going in the right direction, and FSU has suddenly capitivated its fans in a way normally reserved for the football and baseball teams.

NOTES AND QUOTES

In addition to winning the first ACC tournament championship in school history, Florida State enabled Hamilton to become the first black coach to win an ACC title in the league's basketball history. ...

The 'Noles would go on to tie the program record for most ACC wins in a season with 12 before adding a bow to their postseason resume with a shiny new championship trophy. ...

G Michael Snaer, who averaged 18 points in FSU's three ACC tournament wins, was named the tourney MVP, giving another first to the Seminoles' program. Snaer is a 6-5 junior from Moreno Valley, California, who has shed his inconsistent play to become one of the top players in the ACC. ...

When FSU returned to Tallahassee on Sunday night, a large crowd greeted the team when the bus arrived at FSU's training facility from the airport. This scene, like so many others this season, gave some pause when thinking how this program was once starved for support and relevance in the community. ...

The Seminoles became the first ACC team since Georgia Tech in 1996 to defeat Duke and North Carolina twice apiece in the same season. That once seemed like pure fantasy for this team, especially in the ACC Tournament.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This just caps off the day for us. To get a 3 seed is something amazing. In my mind, I probably thought we were a 4. That's what I was expecting. To see a 3 pop up is an accomplishment for our program and the coaching staff and the job they've done in turning this program around over the years." -- Florida State G Michael Snaer, speaking to reporters a few hours after the Seminoles won the ACC Tournament and learned their seed for the NCAA Tournament.

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