Youthful Florida State visits Pitt seeking more consistency
By John Harris
Published: Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, 11:18 p.m.
During his team's periodic struggles on the court, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton focuses on a defining moment that occurred at the start of his career.
Maintaining a realistic outlook helps Hamilton — the only basketball coach to achieve coach of the year honors in the ACC and Big East — maintain perspective.
Florida State (15-11, 6-8 ACC) enters Sunday's 6 p.m. contest against Pitt (20-6, 8-5) at Petersen Events Center needing a victory to remain relevant in the conference race.
Two years removed from winning the first ACC championship in school history, Hamilton is rebuilding with a lineup featuring four sophomores in the starting lineup and doses of inconsistency.
“We're not as sound as we have been in the past,” Hamilton said. “This is a very important game for Pittsburgh, and it's an equally important game for us.”
Hamilton's latest rebuilding task at Florida State doesn't compete with the daunting challenge he faced four decades earlier as a fledgling graduate assistant at Austin Peay.
A year after playing basketball at Tennessee-Martin, Hamilton suddenly was promoted at his new school when the full-time assistant resigned because of illness.
On his maiden recruiting trip, to New York City, Hamilton secured James “Fly” Williams, a dazzling shooting guard who became the nation's fifth-leading scorer as a freshman. As a sophomore, Williams led Austin Peay to the NCAA Tournament.
“The basketball gods put me in a position where I had to grow up fast,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton's quick success at Austin Peay led him to Kentucky, where he developed a reputation as the top recruiter in college basketball. From Kentucky, he accepted head coaching positions rebuilding basketball programs at schools better known for football — Oklahoma State, Miami and Florida State. Between stints at Miami and Florida State, Hamilton coached the NBA's Washington Wizards for a season.
The ACC's second-longest tenured coach, behind Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Hamilton has guided Florida State to a school-record four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Since 2005-06, Florida State is the third-winningest program in the ACC, behind Duke and North Carolina. He led Miami to its first postseason appearances in 31 years and led Oklahoma State to its first consecutive postseason trips in more than three decades.
“I've always been excited about taking rebuilding jobs that needed a little fixing up,” said Hamilton, a college coach since 1971-72. “I tell people I've been scratching and clawing, clawing and scratching, my entire career.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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