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Leonard Hamilton has some work to do to save FSU’s season

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The Florida State men’s basketball team reached new heights in January. That is why February has brought about a long fall.

What happened on Saturday, an 80-66 embarrassment at Pittsburgh, demonstrates some of the reasons why a once highly promising season could continue to go further south. It involves the two most talented Seminoles, Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac.

It also, of course, involves Head Coach Leonard Hamilton.

Bacon, a sophomore, was held scoreless for the first time in his Florida State career. In the first half, he took the grand total of zero shots. That’s zero with a “z.”

For those who have seen the future NBA first-round pick, that does not happen. Bacon can get his shots almost at will. Pitt, who was 3-10 coming into Saturday’s game, is not to be confused with a defensive juggernaut.

No one questions the defense played by ACC foes like Virginia and North Carolina, but Bacon personally destroyed the Cavaliers on the road on New Year’s Day. He also led the team in scoring at North Carolina on January 14 in a 96-83 loss.

Bacon got a bit more aggressive after intermission, getting off four misfires in the early part of the second half. After his turnover led to a transition three-pointer, Hamilton took a timeout with 16:24 remaining.

Bacon got off another futile three-pointer less than two minutes later, after which he was removed by Hamilton. Bacon remained on the bench for the remainder of the game.

Is there a problem with this team’s go-to guy?

“Every one of our guys will go through one of those nights when they don’t play particularly well,” said Hamilton. “This just happened to be his night.”

He’s the coach, but those watching the game did not see the Dwayne Bacon that we are used to seeing. Did I mention Pitt was 3-10 coming into the game?

Later in the second half, Xavier Rathan-Mayes could be seen in a “conversation” with the freshman Isaac during a timeout. Isaac’s reaction showed he had little interest in what the more experienced XRM had to say.

These are unmistakable signs that Hamilton needs to perform some basketball triage quickly. Comments coming via Twitter world talk about the Seminoles having lots of talent and zero heart.

While those are understandable, it is wise to remember we are dealing with teenagers. In basketball and life itself, “heart” is developed through experience.

This is where Hamilton can help them get through an important learning curve. Perhaps he was doing just that by sitting Bacon on the bench for most of the second half.

To be sure, the entire team is not handling adversity very well. To be kind, over the past few weeks they are simply not showing up for road games. To be fair, their opponents are playing their guts out against them.

As the double-digit defeats away from Tallahassee continue to mount (now at five in a row), Hamilton needs to step up himself. He needs to be the guy that youngsters like Bacon and Isaac will fondly remember once they are playing in the NBA.

Hopefully they will recall him as being a significant influence in building their character. Tough love builds mental toughness.

FSU (21-6) does not have long to regroup from Saturday’s fiasco. Boston College comes to the Tucker Center on Monday, before FSU hits the road again next weekend.

This team’s earlier 12-game winning streak seems so long ago.

 

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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