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Florida basketball will shine in big-time leagues

You want me to write about college basketball in Florida? I'll get 100 percent on this. This is too easy.

There's no doubt Florida is where it's happening right now. You've got Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Miami in the Big East and Florida in the Southeastern Conference. There's absolutely no reason for a talented high school basketball player to ever leave the state again.

All of the kids in high school want to go to a program where they get national recognition, television exposure and play against the best teams in the country. Now, the Florida schools can offer all of that.

Florida always has been a state known for great athletes in football and baseball. But they have them in basketball, too.

I coached a great one myself in Chris Corchiani. Look at a program like Shakey Rodriguez has at Miami (High). He's always turning out great players. But in the past, those talented players from Florida have ended up dotting the lineups of other teams around the nation.

When we used to recruit down here, the players would all tell us they didn't want to go to a football school or a football conference. They wanted to play at a school where the TV cameras were on the basketball court.

That's all changed so quickly with FSU going into the ACC, Miami going to the Big East and the SEC adding a team like Arkansas. If I'm a player in the state of Florida, my biggest decision is not which out-of-state school to attend but which in-state school I'm going to. The recruiting battles in the state are going to be intense from now on.

College basketball has gone through an incredible growing process in recent years. The NCAA Tournament has really captured the public's imagination to the point where pairings and brackets are stuck on refrigerators all over the country. All people want to talk about this time of year is college hoops.

That attitude is starting to catch on in Florida.

Look at what Florida State has done this year. Winning on the road in the ACC and beating North Carolina in Dean Smith's own backyard. Pat Kennedy is going to have a solid, Top 20 program for a long time. What you're going to see, given more time, is the talented athletes realize they can be a part of this tremendous boom in their own state.

Leonard Hamilton at Miami is going to have the toughest job in the state. He's got to get that program going at a school with a strong football team and in a city that has professional teams. He's also working with a program that was further behind than the others.

But they'll get their own following when the Georgetowns and Syracuses start coming to town on a regular basis. It's all exposure.

I don't know Lon Kruger as well as I know Pat and Leonard, but I've followed him at Kansas State and now at Florida, and I know he'll do an excellent job. So what you have now are three highly respected coaches who are all young enough to grow with their programs.

And with the big schools getting all of this media attention, it's going to spread around the state. You've got NBA teams now, too, and it's just going to put year-round attention on hoops. More kids will want to play basketball, and the other colleges in the state will benefit as well.

Just the fact that I've been asked to write a column like this demonstrates the enthusiasm Florida has for basketball today.

Former N.C. State coach Jim Valvano is a college basketball analyst for ESPN and ABC. He will be commenting on today's games at the Florida Suncoast Dome for ABC.

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