TALLAHASSEE — Michael Snaer's decision was tougher than he had thought. He had spent three seasons at Florida State. He was part of an influx of players that changed the culture and elevated the program nationally.
Snaer had made buzzer-beating 3-pointers. He had helped FSU to upsets of Duke, North Carolina and Notre Dame (including two wins apiece over the Blue Devils and Tar Heels last season). He had guided FSU to a stunning Sweet 16 berth in 2011.
He sat on the basketball rim in Atlanta just eight months ago, smiling for the team photo just minutes after the Seminoles won the program's first ACC tournament title.
And for most college players, that would have been enough. Time to move on to the NBA. But after FSU's season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Snaer sat down with his family, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton and his adviser.
"At first glance it seemed like, 'Yeah, you should go,' " Snaer said. "It seemed like the right choice. Why not? It's that time."
But then there were the reasons to stay.
"Then when you come back and look at it, it was like, 'You can come back and do so many great things next year,' " Snaer said. "Plus I love Florida State. You would think you would be crazy to pass up that golden opportunity just to come back to school, but it's a place I love. I love the place."
So Snaer came back to Tallahassee, quietly letting the NBA draft's early entry deadline pass in the spring. There was no news conference, no news release.
But the ACC coaches knew. They knew that they will have to deal with a player who is full of confidence, unselfish on defense and is perhaps the best clutch shooter in college basketball.
"I love Snaer," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He's just a damn good player."
Snaer averaged 14 points and 3.8 rebounds last season, two numbers that don't reflect the impact he has on his team or his ability to help FSU win games.
His ability to shoot the 3-pointer — Snaer had a team-best 67 3-pointers last season — begins to tell the story. While sometimes inconsistent from beyond the arc early in games, Snaer finds his rhythm in the second half.
He hit the winning 3-pointer as time expired at then-No. 4 Duke, giving FSU a 76-73 victory and ending the Blue Devils' 45-game home winning streak in January. A few weeks later, with FSU trailing in the closing moments at home against Virginia Tech, Snaer made a key 3-pointer to help FSU hold on.
Now Snaer is back for his senior season, and he has embraced more of the leadership role after FSU's roster turned over with the graduation of six seniors (and the influx of six newcomers).
He says being a leader just feels right, and there is clearly a desire to continue what he has helped the program achieve and to push for more.
"I think the program has come a long way," Snaer said. "I think we're at a point right now where we can just keep building. This is where we start making our tradition right now after winning the ACC championship. Now you add on to the tradition. Maybe win another one, maybe win a national championship."
The aspect of Snaer's performance that isn't shown in the stats is that he spends so much energy on the defensive end, often guarding the opponent's top player. Snaer's value isn't always illustrated in points; it's reflected in the eyes of frustrated shooting guards.
One of the top prospects in the country coming out of Rancho Verde High in Moreno Valley, Calif., Snaer was a McDonald's All-American who bypassed offers to play at nearby UCLA and powerhouses such as Missouri, Kansas and Marquette.
Snaer bought into Hamilton's pitch of building a program in Tallahassee. And Snaer has devoted all of his energy to that from the start.
"His attitude has not changed since the day he arrived here as a freshman," Hamilton said. "He's extremely competitive. He loves the game of basketball. He practices just as hard when he is in the gym by himself working with his individual skills as he does when he is in a 5-on-5 situation.
"Unfortunately sometimes that's what's good about him and sometimes it can be something he has to adjust to. He is really a guy that is somewhat of a perfectionist."
And maybe that is why Snaer is back, too. He has returned to earn his degree, improve his basketball skills and help the Seminoles try to defend their conference championship.
While FSU may lack experienced depth, the Seminoles return Snaer, sharp-shooting guard Ian Miller, athletic forward Okaro White, a former Clearwater High standout, and energetic forward Terrance Shannon. There are concerns, especially at point guard — where Miller may run the offense in the near term while FSU's newcomers learn. And FSU has three 7-footers, but none has played a minute of Division I basketball.
Snaer sees plenty of potential, enjoying the progress that has already been made.
"I really, really think that if we start off on the right foot and win some games early, we'll put ourselves in a great position coming into ACC play," Snaer said. "I really feel like with every day that goes by, with every practice I feel more and more confident in the guys that I have around me, feel more confident that we can go out there and get the job done against whoever. I hope that we can do that. I've been thinking about it every single day."