Coach Leonard Hamilton is used to big surprises. Exhibit A: forward Bernard James, whom Hamilton discovered in 2005 at a U.S. armed forces all-star tournament in Las Vegas. Last season—James's first in Division I—the erstwhile Air Force staff sergeant was rock-solid inside, averaging 8.6 points (on 65.7% shooting), 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. "I'm amazed at how fast Bernard's come along," Hamilton says of the 26-year-old senior. "He's so unbelievably athletic and gifted that he still has a lot more room for growth."
Now the coach is banking on a surprise of a different sort. Two years ago guard Michael Snaer was one of the most highly touted recruits in school history, a 6'5" McDonald's All-American who averaged 28.1 points and 10.8 rebounds at Rancho Verde High in Moreno Valley, Calif. (James, by contrast, was cut from his high school team as a freshman.) In Tallahassee, though, Snaer has averaged 8.8 points and 2.7 boards, and his field goal percentage decreased between his freshman and sophomore years (from 43.9 to 40.0). "Nobody's really seen what Mike can do," says James, who gushes about Snaer's practice acrobatics. "He hasn't been able to get comfortable and play his game, but his athleticism is crazy."
Last March the Seminoles overcame a feckless offense (134th in adjusted offensive efficiency) with a lockdown defense (first in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency) to gain a surprise Sweet 16 berth. But they have since lost their two most productive weapons—Chris Singleton (13.1 points per game) and Derwin Kitchen (10.4)—which leaves Snaer, known more for his defense in college, as their top threat. So how much scoring can he deliver this season? "I'm smarter about every aspect of the game and our system," says Snaer, a notoriously hard worker who put in long hours in an attempt to improve his mid-range jumper this summer. "I know it's not all about shooting fadeaways and trying to get highlight plays."
Hamilton isn't selling Snaer as an overnight All-America, but he does say, "I have no doubt that Michael will continue to improve in every area." Just how much he improves as a scorer will determine Florida State's level of success this season.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
COACH Leonard Hamilton (10th season)
2010--11 RECORD 23--11 ACC 11--5 (T-3rd)
NCAA TOURNAMENT Sweet 16
13.5 PERCENTAGE OF two-point shots rejected by Bernard James, which ranked sixth in the country according to kenpom.com. The forward was second in the ACC with 82 blocks, the second-highest single-season total in school history.
Michael Snaer becomes a star, Bernard James boosts his scoring average and FSU again rides its top-notch defense deep into the NCAA tournament.
An offense that sputtered last season struggles just to put the ball in the basket. The Seminoles finish at the bottom of the ACC in field goal percentage.
MICHAEL SNAER The elite defender will have to build a new reputation—as a topflight scorer—for FSU to be successful.