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Self improvement is forward's motto

After two years of watching from the sideline, Florida State forward Tasheika Morris had a point to make last season.

"I wanted to prove that I could play Division I college basketball," Morris said.

She began her career at Tennessee but decided to transfer after playing sparingly as a freshman. Because of NCAA rules, she had to sit out a year. That inactivity netted insecurity.

"When you lose so much of your confidence like I did, it's hard to regain it," she said.

But Morris, a 6-foot junior, showed herself and everyone else that she belonged on the court. She led the Seminoles in scoring (13.2) and rebounding (5.7) and earned third-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors.

Still, she is confident of one thing: The feeling to prove herself is even greater.

"I have to try to do that every day," she said.

If she does, look out for the Seminoles, who open today against Alabama State in the Seminole Classic. The winner meets Georgia State or Florida International in Saturday's final.

"There's no question she's an outstanding player," North Carolina State coach Kay Yow said. "She's a very aggressive player and someone who challenges you every time down the floor."

Florida State coach Sue Semrau has moved Morris from the low post to the perimeter to take advantage of her quickness, size and shooting ability. Semrau did the same thing a few seasons ago with Brooke Wyckoff, who led the Seminoles to the 2001 NCAA Tournament, their first postseason berth in a decade.

"She gives us a lot more versatility than we had last year without Brooke," Semrau said, "and it's fun to have that again."

Morris hit 28 3-pointers, tied for third on the team but first in percentage (40.0). In her new spot, she will have more opportunities to take the long shot, which could diversify the offense.

She made 4 of 8 3-pointers in FSU's preseason opener. An FSU player hit that many 3s in a game only three times last season. She finished with 26 points and then scored 21 in 27 minutes against Premier Players in the final tuneup.

"I look to her as our go-to player," senior forward Katelyn Vujas said. "Tasheika's confidence in herself has gone to a different level. Last year, you could see she was still doubting herself; she wasn't sure of what she was capable of doing."

That seemed to be the case with the entire team. After starting 10-2 and cracking the Top 25, the Seminoles lost nine of 10 and 13 of their last 16.

To rebound, the Seminoles need to regain their swagger. That won't be easy given their difficult nonconference schedule, which includes a trip to Florida on Tuesday and a home game against Connecticut on Dec. 30.

Much depends on the development of touted freshman point guard Holly Johnson, the emergence of a shooting guard to replace former Clearwater High standout Shinikki Whiting, who left the team a few weeks ago, and the all-around play of Morris.

She can't just be a designated shooter. She has to stop shooters, too.

"I'm working really hard on my defense because that's probably the most difficult thing for me," said Morris, who spent the spring and summer working on lower-body strength, stamina and agility. "Coach Sue tells me all the time, "I know you can shoot. Be committed to defense and be consistent.' "

In the preseason win against Athletes In Action, her defense against former Wisconsin sharpshooter Katie Voight drew the most praise from teammates and Semrau. Voight was 4-of-13. Morris also had four steals.

"Defensively, she's done a 180," Vujas said.

"The thing that I appreciate most about Tasheika is she's very serious," Semrau said. "Tasheika wants to be a great player."