Saturday, December 16, 2017
Sports

Clearwater's White hopes to lead FSU back to NCAA tourney

TALLAHASSEE — The season ended short of an NCAA Tournament invite, what had become the norm for Florida State. Instead, the Seminoles played in the NIT only to fall in the first round at home to Louisiana Tech.

A frustrating finish to an 18-16 season has been put in the rearview mirror. FSU spent two weeks in Greece in August, part of a plan to not only build camaraderie, but improve through some of the toughest competition coach Leonard Hamilton could schedule. The Greek national team is one of the best in the world, a roster loaded with professional players.

And while FSU, at first, struggled, the games were close toward the end of the tour.

"It was a great experience," said senior forward Okaro White, a 6-foot-8 ex-Clearwater High standout. "The Greek team was very, very tough. That helped us out a lot. They weren't trying to beat up on us. The players were actually trying to teach us."

This will be a season of teaching and learning for the Seminoles. Of the scholarship players on the roster, FSU has a freshman, five sophomores and four seniors.

And even FSU's seniors are light on Division I experience. Center Kiel Turpin and forward Robert Gilchrist are junior college transfers who have played just a year at FSU. Guard Ian Miller was ineligible for the fall semester in both his freshman and sophomore years, and he missed time with a foot injury as a junior.

White was a sophomore who made significant contributions to an FSU team that won the ACC tournament in March 2012. He now has embraced a leadership role he saw in the seniors who played on that Seminoles squad.

"The younger guys are looking to me as an example," White said. "I'm not going to yell too much in games or in practice. Everyone has to be coached differently. Some guys can take yelling, and some guys can't."

One way White has asserted his leadership is to show underclassmen how to dedicate themselves to Hamilton's defensive principles. Hamilton values defense above everything, and it was a hallmark of a program that reached the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive seasons before missing out in March.

White believes the team has made strides on the defensive end, benefitting from the trip to Greece as well as a better understanding of Hamilton's teaching during preseason practices.

"In the past, when we had these great teams, there have been a lot of nights when our offense didn't look good at all, but our defense is what kept us in the game," White said. "If we get back to our defensive ways, the way we used to be, I think we'll be pretty good."

White has been a good example to follow.

He's an athletic power forward who has a consistent jump shot and is improving as a post player. He averaged 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds as a junior, both career highs. And he has made 79.9 percent of his free throws, sixth in school history.

But there also is a feeling White hasn't scratched the surface of his talents.

"There's no question that he needs to be a double-double guy," Hamilton said. "And I think he can be."

FSU faces a more challenging schedule with an expanded ACC that features newcomers Notre Dame, Syracuse (a Final Four team last season) and Pittsburgh. Add them to a group that already included Duke, North Carolina, Miami and Maryland, and it could be a tough road for FSU to return to the NCAA Tournament.

"You definitely want to accept that challenge," White said. "It does make it tougher at the end of the day, but also good things come out of it such as being known as the best conference in the country and the exposure that you're going to get."

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Published: 12/16/17