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'Noles credit team concept in turnaround

Published Aug. 27, 2005

If Florida State's back-to-back upsets of national powers North Carolina and Wake Forest prove to be a turning point and not merely a high point, credit coach Leonard Hamilton's salesmanship.

He convinced top-shelf players such as Tim Pickett, Von Wafer and Alexander Johnson to come to Tallahassee. With the exception of Ishtar, a talented lineup usually produces a hit.

Just as important, he has sold the players on the virtue of selflessness, that each must adjust his abilities to his teammates, even if that means sacrificing attention-grabbing statistics.

"That's the elusive frame of mind that most coaches will tell you they have the most difficult time developing," Hamilton said. "It appears this team is coming closer to totally selling out and accepting all the things we need to do in order to be successful."

Tonight could provide more evidence of that subtle transformation. The Seminoles (14-5 overall, 3-3 ACC) face their third straight Top 10 team, this time No. 1 Duke (16-1, 5-0) at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a game televised nationally on ESPN2. Not only have the Seminoles lost 18 straight league road games, they are 0-13 at Duke.

"It's going to check our heart," Pickett said.

But the Seminoles have shown a pulse like at no other time in recent years.

They rallied from a 24-point first-half deficit to stun then-No. 7 UNC 90-81 in overtime on Jan. 22 and, three days later, came back from eight down midway through the second half to beat then-No. 10 Wake Forest 75-70.

"We're buying into the team concept of "I'll make you better, you make me better,' " said sophomore point guard Todd Galloway, who made just his fifth 3-pointer in 20 attempts to force the overtime against UNC. "Seeing actual results from buying in, these two victories, makes people buy in even more and come together even more."

"Everything is coming together and everybody is working to do the little things," junior forward Adam Waleskowski added.

As he did, saving a couple of loose balls against the Demon Deacons. As Pickett and Galloway did, switching defensive assignments on a perimeter screen that led to Pickett blocking Taron Downey's baseline jumper in the waning seconds of that game.

As reserve freshman forward Al Thornton did, playing stellar defense on UNC's David Noel. As Wafer did in that same game, driving to the basket and creating opportunities for himself and teammates.

That's all about trust, in Hamilton's system and in each other.

"Everybody's grasped everybody's game," Pickett said. "Everybody's playing to each other's strengths."

After a 10-0 start the Seminoles needed a little adversity for that attitude to take hold in earnest. They opened the new year with consecutive losses at Florida, to North Carolina State, at Clemson and in overtime at Virginia. Suddenly the goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 seemed in jeopardy.

"We're trying to get places as a team," said Waleskowski, coming off a career-high 16-point effort. "People have individual goals, things they're trying to reach, but the first priority here is our team. Everybody took a step back and looked at where we were and where we're trying to go and realized that."

Consider: Only Pickett is averaging in double figures (14.9 points). No player averages more than 29 minutes, and 10 players average at least 10 minutes. Last season Pickett and Nate Johnson both averaged more than 30 minutes, and Anthony Richardson averaged 29.

Although that "committee" approach has prevented Hamilton from using a set rotation, as he would prefer, it has fostered more interdependence and allowed players to remain fresh. That has been especially noticeable on the defensive end.

UNC, which entered last week's game as the nation's highest-scoring team, failed to score in the final 2:26 of regulation and the first 4:37 of overtime. Wake Forest, no offensive slouch either, mustered seven points in the final 9:16.

"If we play together, the sky's the limit," Pickett said. "We're just trying to let everybody know that Florida State's not just a football school."