The Florida State men’s basketball team didn’t partake in much sight-seeing during their series of exhibition games in Canada earlier this month.
To the Seminoles and longtime head coach Leonard Hamilton, they approached the 11-day excursion like a business trip.
Mostly because FSU entered this offseason lacking much experience after losing several key contributors. The Seminoles only returned five scholarship players from last season and added eight newcomers (six true freshmen and two transfers).
So this foreign tour gave Hamilton an opportunity to learn more about his new-look team. FSU competed in three games and a scrimmage against Canadian college teams, defeating Ottawa (86-66), Carleton (98-64) and McGill (90-74).
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“I said before we left that this was a very important trip for us, because we have so many new guys we are trying to integrate into our system,” Hamilton said. “This is probably the youngest or most inexperienced team that we’ve had in a long, long time. Players who have been with me for two years have more experience with our system than the rest of the guys.”
The Seminoles returned their leading scorer from last season, Caleb Mills (12.7 points per game), and fellow star guard in reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year Matthew Cleveland. They also brought back sophomore center Naheem McLeod and guards Jalen Warley and Cam’Ron Fletcher.
Forward Jaylan Gainey (Brown) and guard Darin Green Jr. (UCF) were FSU’s two transfer additions. Gainey claimed Ivy League Defensive of the Year honors in the 2020 and 2022 seasons. The sharp-shooting Green averaged double figures in scoring in each of his three seasons with the Knights.
“The most important thing was that they got a chance to play against some pretty good competition,” said Hamilton about the trip to Canada. “It was probably mid-level ACC type play, which was good for us.
“I’m not really sure we could have played against a national team like we did when we played against Greece. We aren’t experienced enough to do that. But these teams challenged us enough where defensively, we really had to be on our game.
“Because they all could shoot the ball very well. They were sound fundamentally, so they challenged us on the defensive end. And offensively, they gave us just enough challenge for us to see what we could do within our system, what the effects will be and what the outcome would be when we are doing well.
“I also saw some areas where we need to improve. So I can’t say enough about the opportunity and how much this meant to us.”
Up next for the group will be their Nov. 7 season opener against Stetson at the Tucker Civic Center. Below are four of the other important topics that Hamilton discussed.
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Scoring could be a strength this season
Green (20.3 PPG) and Mills (17.7 PPG) paced FSU to some impressive performances offensively.
The Seminoles averaged 91.3 points per game across their three exhibitions. What they showed might be a sign of what is to come this season.
“I think we have the potential to be a pretty good scoring team,” Hamilton said. “From the stats, you probably saw that Caleb and Green probably have been our two leading scorers.
“But Green now is coming in as a junior transfer from Central Florida. A little more experienced. And Caleb transferred in from the University of Houston. Probably has a little more experience. And I think that’s a little bit of the reason why they are more efficient.
“I’ve seen each player on the team have moments that I’m encouraged about the individual skills and talents that they have on the team.
“Now, we are still struggling trying to find the right balance. We have three guys we can rotate into the post – Naheem McLeod, Gainey and (freshman) Cameron Corhen from Dallas. Cam basically plays some perimeter and interior, which is important because he has a lot of versatility.”
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Caleb Mills, Matthew Cleveland taking a step forward
Hamilton mentioned Mills and Cleveland as two players who have taken their games to another level this offseason.
Mills faltered toward the end of last season after suffering an ankle injury. Now fully healthy again, Mills seems to have returned to form while also adding more to his game.
“He’s a little more comfortable from an offensive standpoint,” Hamilton said. “Maybe creating a little bit more. But he’s also creating for his teammates a little bit more. He’s finding people. He has a good feel for the game. He’s worked hard on improving his defense. He has taken those challenges. …
“We have a pickup guy who picks the ball up 94 feet most of the time. Last year, he wasn’t the guy doing that. But I think he’s kind of interested in being more of that guy.”
Limited by what Hamilton called a minor foot injury, Cleveland didn’t play in Canada. Hamilton has been impressed, though, by how much Cleveland has improved as a perimeter shooter over the last several months.
“He has really honed in on his release,” Hamilton said. “Even though he has been missing some practices, his shooting touch has improved tremendously.
“He has a great feel for the game. He has one of the highest basketball IQs of anybody I’ve been around. From a leadership standpoint and a perimeter shooting standpoint, he has made tremendous gains.”
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Green and Gainey have left a solid first impression on Hamilton.
In Canada, Green showed why he climbed to No. 10 in AAC history for three-point field goals made (208). Through the three games, Green connected on 13 of his 30 attempts (43.3%) from beyond the arc and finished 22 of 41 (53.7%) overall.
“He’s not an extremely talkative person. But he leads by example,” Hamilton said. “And he’s talking much more now than he was at the beginning of the year. Our leadership, we probably are still developing that within this team a little bit right now.
“You’ve got Matthew Cleveland and Caleb Mills who have probably assumed a little bit more of those responsibilities than maybe some of the other guys. But we are still growing in those areas.”
Gainey also looked the part in Canada, averaging 8.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots per game. But the 6-foot-10, 220-pound Gainey has more to learn about FSU’s defensive scheme before he can be a consistently effective rim protector and perimeter defender.
“It’s been a little bit challenging for him, because we are asking him to do things that he hasn’t had to do in any other program that he’s been in,” Hamilton said. “We are asking him to run the floor and get to a certain spot.
“Because it’s important that he gets to the front of the rim if he doesn’t get a rebound so he can post up early, he can occupy a guard. Actioning him to set as many screens as we need our center to set has been somewhat challenging to a guy who has basically been a block to block guy. So this has been a challenge to him. …
“But he plays with a tremendous amount of energy. He’s going to be valuable to us, because he’s quick enough to defend point guards. Even though he’s 6-10, he’s agile, quick and mobile.”
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Coming soon: Baba Miller
International forward Baba Miller, FSU’s intriguing 6-11 freshman who most recently played for the Real Madrid organization in Spain, plans to come to campus later this month.
The Seminoles already have five other true freshmen in guards Chandler Jackson (Memphis, Tenn.), Jeremiah Bembry (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Tom House (Dayton, Ohio), and forwards Cameron Corhen (Allen, Texas) and De’Ante Green (Asheville, N.C.).
“We hopefully will be able to integrate him when he gets here,” said Hamilton about Miller. “Hopefully with the other guys being as far along as they are, they can help him accelerate his process. We’ve been working all summer, and he’s very conscientious and anxious to get started.
“So having him get with some of the other guys, even when we are not actively coaching them, I’m sure a lot of the returning guys will be anxious to answer his questions. Playing pickup and stuff like that might help him fit in a lot quicker.”
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2022 FSU men's basketball non-conference schedule
Nov. 7: Stetson
Nov. 11: vs. UCF, Orlando (Addition Financial Arena)
Nov. 14: Troy
Nov. 18: Florida
Nov. 21: Mercer
Nov. 24-27: ESPN Events Invitational, Lake Buena Vistra (State Farm Fieldhouse)
Nov. 30: Purdue
Dec. 13: USC Upstate
Dec. 17: vs. St. Johns, Sunrise (Orange Bowl Classic)
Reach Carter Karels at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @CarterKarels. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: FSU men's basketball: Leonard Hamilton talks Canada trip, Caleb Mills and more