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Florida State Seminoles follow Toney Douglas' voice into the NCAA Tournament

BOISE, Idaho — Before the start of his final collegiate season, Florida State's Toney Douglas felt strangely incomplete.

He had achieved so much but, in his eyes, so little. He had never been to the NCAA Tournament and if that were to change this season, with FSU counting on a roster that teemed with teens, he knew it wouldn't be enough for him just to rack up points, assists and steals.

He had to play against type.

He had to be a vocal leader.

"Toney has always been low-key and mild-mannered," said his father, Harry. "He never said too much. So I didn't really see it in him. But over the summer, I saw a hunger in him, a determination. He was so determined."

You can see it and, yes, you can hear it.

"That's all I do is talk now," Douglas said with a sly smile.

And FSU has ridden his calming and sometimes challenging voice as well as his brilliance with the ball and relentless drive to improve his game to its first NCAA trip since 1998. The No. 5 seed Seminoles (25-9) open tonight against No. 12 Wisconsin (19-12) in the East Region.

"Any coach knows when you have this many first-year players and you're counting on them every night to help you, as a coach, you need somebody whispering in their ears in the locker room and in the dorms to try to help them get in the frame of mind they need to be in," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I can't say enough about the leadership that he's given us this year."

•••

Former Clearwater High guard Luke Loucks, one of six newcomers, didn't need long to realize he would be hearing Douglas' voice a lot. Every night last summer, Douglas rapped on the newcomers' doors and beckoned them to play.

"The more you're in the gym, the more confident you'll be out there on the basketball court," Douglas said. "I want to get better as a player and I want my team to get better, so I had to do what I had to do."

Douglas, who turned 22 Monday, has the standing to tell his teammates when they're playing like a bunch of high schoolers.

"Toney goes so hard in practice," Loucks said, "you have to go hard or he'll embarrass you."

Douglas takes hundreds of shots each day, which is why he's averaging a career-high 21.3 points. He tirelessly conditions himself, which is why he averages 36.4 minutes. And he spends hours studying the game, which is why the 6-foot-2, 200-pound guard is the ACC's defensive player of the year.

"He's my favorite non-Duke player in the country," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after a win over FSU in Sunday's ACC tourney final, the Seminoles' first appearance in that game. "I love that guy. I talk about him a lot to our guys. They're probably mad at me. He's as good as there is in college."

•••

Redshirt freshman center Solomon Alabi remembers a day in the fall when he was having a problem catching the ball so that he could quickly make a move.

"Toney told me how I should be catching it and then he told me, 'If I pass the ball to you and you don't catch it, I'm going to hit you in the stomach,' " said the 7-1 Alabi with a gentle laugh.

Moments later, he fumbled a pass and Douglas was true to his word.

"Anytime he catches the ball (on the blocks), he's deadly," Douglas said. "I had to come up with something. But I know he's going to listen to me. "

And look what he — and his team — has to show for it.

"He's been vocal, he's been intense and he's set the example," Hamilton said. "And to demonstrate his character through his ability to communicate with youngsters who were the men on all their high school and junior college teams and get them to follow is a special accomplishment for anybody."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Florida State Seminoles follow Toney Douglas' voice into the NCAA Tournament 03/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 19, 2009 10:55pm]
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