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August 30, 2009

Hoops Notebook: Mission accomplished

Florida State men's basketball coach Leonard Hamilton said prior to his team's tour of Spain that the main mission was to improve FSU's offensive output. If the box scores from Spain are an indication, mission accomplished.

FSU averaged 116.8 points per game during its overseas trip, winning by an average margin of nearly 60 points.

"We said before we left that it doesn't really matter who we play or what level the competition is," Hamilton said. "We are playing against us being able to execute what we have in our game plan on a consistent basis every time down the court. You could just see those things happening."

The players earned equal minutes during the tour, as the coaches rotated the entire five on the court around every four minutes, and utilized different starting rotations during each half of each game. No matter who took the court, Hamilton was pleased with his play.

"I think the good thing is that the areas that we wanted to increase - tempo, pushing it, being able to get the ball inside more - those were things we were able to accomplish," Hamilton said. "The competition wasn't what we are going to face in the ACC but that doesn't really matter. We are playing against us. We are playing against our ability to be consistent with what we are trying to accomplish every day."

Playing with a 24-second shot clock, guards weren't walking the ball up the court, be it off a made shot or a missed shot. The Seminoles, utilizing their army of lanky athletes, got out on the break.

"I love it," point guard Luke Loucks said. "For me and Derwin (Kitchen), it is a point guard's dream to do that. It gets everyone way more involved."

Hamilton said that everyone did get involved and supplied their fair share of standout plays.

"Every player had highlights," Hamilton added. "They all had their moments where they showed that they had improved. I don't think there is anybody on the team who hasn't improved in every area, which I think is encouraging."

One player who really seemed to elevate his game was returning sophomore shooting guard Deividas Dulkys, who shot 67-percent from the perimeter (14-of-21). He credited his increased offensive output to work on his shot this offseason but even moreso to the offensive tempo and the ability for him to set up on the wing as the defense crashed down on the big men in the paint. Wide open looks translated to solid shooting in all four games.

"We didn't even look at the shot clock anymore," Dulkys said of the offensive attack. "We just pushed it ahead, got the ball ahead. All of our point guards did a good job kicking it ahead and the bigs were running. That was all we needed."

While the offense showed an improvement during their time in Spain, the Seminoles have other parts of their game they are looking to sure up prior to the upcoming campaign. Preparing for life after Toney Douglas tops that list. FSU is searching for somebody to replace his scoring and leadership. Hamilton doesn't expect it to be an individual with his returning club, but instead an effort across the board.

"The thing that I keep emphasizing with this team that I think is the most positive aspect of what is going on is that they play with such an unselfish spirit," he said. "That is an elusive mindset that every coach works at and you try to hope for. These guys have seemed to have bought in. I was very impressed with the fact that these guys are buying in to respecting each other's abilities. We still have a lot of fine tuning to do."

The Seminoles also will have to improve defensively, while continuing to mature with a roster that will include eight freshmen and sophomores combined.

"I am not going to fool myself," Hamilton said. "That gives you some anxious moments as you prepare but in reality because of the maturity and the unselfish spirit that these guys have it kind of shortens the development period. We improved in those areas but we still have a ways to go."

Kitchen stands out

Dulkys wasn't the Spain trip's only standout guard. Returning junior Derwin Kitchen performed at a high level throughout the trip.

Hamilton was quick to point out that, for Kitchen, a calm offseason has provided him an opportunity to work hard on and off the court.

"This is the first time he has had extensive weight training and conditioning," Hamilton said. "He still admits that he has a ways to go. He realizes that."

A season ago, Kitchen wasn't physically capable of handling the demands that pushing himself down the court would place on his body. With improved conditioning as well as minor nagging injuries fading away, he was able to flash some of what he can bring at the point guard spot this season.

"I didn't realize he could push the ball as fast as he is capable of," Hamilton said. "That is the way we want to play. I think he is better suited for that."

While he handled the offense well and moved the ball effectively, Hamilton was most pleased with his ability to fill up the entire stat sheet.

"Kitchen had phenomenal numbers," Hamilton said. "When you are talking about seven or rebounds a game, or seven or eight assists a game, and eight or nine points a game. Those are tremendous numbers."

Not all about the games

Those 11 days in Spain primarily focused on basketball, yet the trip also provided a small vacation. Both coaches and players mentioned a bull fight, soccer match, international food, and sight-seeing around amazing cities among the highlights.

"I loved it," Dulkys said. "The whole trip was just really exciting. We all saw a lot and really enjoyed it."

Hamilton, who often talks about his team like a family, didn't sell the trip short of its lasting effect of bringing 20 members of the FSU basketball family closer together.

"Just to have an opportunity to spend those days together and the camaraderie that goes along with just being with the guys and doing this socially was great," Hamilton said. "Seeing things like that, in the different parts of the world, I think has a tendency to kind of bring you closer together."

Probably the best description of the 11 days came from sophomore Luke Loucks.

"It was unbelievable," Loucks said. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal."

The plan for Shannon

Incoming freshman Terrance Shannon - who, along with Michael Snaer, wasn't able to travel abroad with his teammates due to NCAA rules - is coming along well in his own journey. He's working to return to the court from a high-school knee injury, and Hamilton said that recovery is on a good pace.

"We are not expecting him to be healthy and able to practice when practice starts," Hamilton said. "It has been a little over a year. He had a three inch difference in one quad versus the other and I think he is improving in that area. I don't think it makes sense to rush that right now, so he has been in a little bit of rehab all summer and I think he is showing tremendous progress."

"We don't need to have him ready in August," Hamilton added. "We need to have him in November. We feel comfortable and think he is on schedule."


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