Seminoles Beat: Can FSU Overcome Odds?
TALLAHASSEE - Standing in a hallway at Florida State's practice facility nine days ago, senior guard Ralph Mims stood glumly as he answered questions. At the time, the Seminoles had lost eight of 10. Tired of the line of questioning, Mims abruptly stopped talking. He then simplified FSU's situation in the wake of the latest setback, a knee injury to guard Isaiah Swann. ''Yes, we're facing adversity,'' Mims said. ''You can make excuses about a lot of things, but when it all comes down to it, our theme right now is just to man up; find out what you're made of.'' FSU came out the next night and knocked off Clemson, and on Saturday, the Noles edged Boston College for their first back-to-back wins in more than a month. FSU plays at N.C. State tonight, and then closes the regular season with a game at ACC-leader North Carolina and at home against a recharged Miami team that recently knocked off Duke.Despite the recent awakening, FSU's bid to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 looks bleak. A decade ago, the Noles finished tied for sixth in the ACC at 6-10, yet earned a trip to March Madness. FSU is currently 5-8 in the conference, which has three more teams and is much deeper than 10 years ago. So, for the Noles to pull off the unlikely, they most likely need to win out and then make a run in the ACC Tournament next month in Charlotte, N.C. Is that too much to ask of a team that has been in flux all season due to injuries? ''We realize we have to be at our best,'' FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said Tuesday. An 8-8 ACC record - and a five-game winning streak entering the conference tournament - could be enough considering the ACC is down from last season when 10 of 12 teams finished with at least 20 wins. Oddly enough, Hamilton sounds more optimistic about his team now than at any point this season despite the circumstances. ''We have kind of adjusted to the players that we have available, pretty much playing within ourselves, and our defense has improved,'' Hamilton said. ''We mathematically still have a chance to finish with a decent year, and our kids are motivated now trying to get the most out of the last [three] games.'' As for Mims, following Saturday's victory over Boston College, he wasn't nearly as glum as nine days earlier. ''The sky is still the limit,'' he said. ''I wasn't born to be a quitter. You can't give up at this moment.'' IMAGE REPAIR: During interviews with four athletic director candidates last month, several members of FSU's search committee voiced concern over the amount of negative publicity the school was receiving due to an academic cheating scandal involving more than 50 student-athletes. FSU officials apparently took notice, embarking on a campaign to promote the positive aspects of the school's athletic department. In the past two weeks, the ACC's Web site featured a story on FSU's Student-Athlete Advisory Council, and FSU's sports information department is releasing a ''good news email'' each week highlighting news from the Athletic Student Services department. SPEAKER OF THE CLUBHOUSE: The baseball team's exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater on Tuesday night was rained out. Instead of playing the Phillies, the Noles talked to them, including a 30-minute speech from Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. ''He is one of those guys that you would like to pick his brain for as long as you can,'' FSU catcher Buster Posey said. ''It was a good experience. It stinks that we didn't get to play, but we still had a good time.'' X-MAN RUMORS: Former FSU quarterback Xavier Lee wasn't invited to last week's NFL Combine, which doesn't bode well for any aspirations he has of playing in the NFL. Rather than move to tight end and try to restore his academic eligibility, Lee opted to leave school early and enter the draft. Since making it official in early January, rumors of Lee's whereabouts have floated across cyberspace. At one point, he was reportedly in DeLand working out. A few days later, he was in Miami attending an FSU basketball game. The latest rumor has him heading north to play in the Canadian Football League. Regardless of where Lee is today, FSU officials confirmed Tuesday he is scheduled to work out for pro scouts at FSU's Pro Day on March 19. NOLE NUGGETS: Senior sprinter Walter Dix, a seven-time NCAA champion, is training for the national indoor meet and won't make the trip to this weekend's ACC Indoor Finals ... Former FSU softball player Veronica Wootson, who finished her career last spring third on the school's career hits list, is back working as a team manager ... Senior guard Shante Williams became the 21st player in school history to score 1,000 points in Sunday's loss at No. 5 Maryland. Williams will be honored on Senior Day prior to Sunday's regular-season finale against Clemson ... Starting OF Jack Rye, who missed last weekend's season-opening series, had the cast removed on his broken right thumb Monday. Rye is listed ''day to day'' entering FSU's four-game series against Auburn. FSU SHORTS HONOR ROLL: Tampa native Clint Bowles, an FSU freshman, was named ACC Men's Tennis Player of the Week. SOUND-BITE CENTRAL: ''We're willing to lose a conference meet if the mission is national.'' - Track and field coach Bob Braman on FSU leaving some of its top performers home for this week's ACC Indoor Championships. LOOK OUT FOR: The women's basketball team closes the regular season with home games against Miami on Thursday and Clemson on Saturday. The Noles need to win both to strengthen their bid for a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Who will be FSU's highest pick in the NFL Draft? To vote or monitor results, log onto TBO.com, keyword: Noles. TBO.COM POLL: Which of the three current longtime FSU coaches who have fields named after them will retire first? Football coach Bobby Bowden (67.2 percent); baseball coach Mike Martin (19.5); softball coach JoAnne Graf (13.3). BLOG BONUS: FSU receiver De'Cody Fagg's NFL dreams are on hold after a serious knee injury at the league combine. What about Geno Hayes, Letroy Guion and Andre Fluellen? To read more of this blog post, log onto TBO.com, keyword: Noles.
Reporter Scott Carter can be reached at (850) 294-3088 or [email protected]