Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton challenging his team ahead of clash vs. No. 5 Duke

·7 min read

As Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton sat in his office Monday morning, he pondered the words of Martin Luther King Jr. on the national holiday named in his honor.

He considered how much adversity King faced and recalled his countless speeches and quotes that are still recited today 54 years after his death.

In thinking about how King's message can be used to help his team, he realized how it applies before the Seminoles (10-5, 4-2 in ACC) host No. 5 Duke (14-2, 4-1) Tuesday at 9 p.m. at the Tucker Civic Center.

"I was thinking about the challenges that he had and he just wouldn't accept mediocrity. He was just focused on overcoming challenges," Hamilton said of King.

"Right before I got on my computer to make this call, I said, 'I can't be accepting of anything other than our guys' best.' That was a theme of Martin Luther King. He just wouldn't make any excuses. He was determined that he was going to fight for what he believed was right."

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Hamilton said once more on Monday that he is doubtful that FSU senior forward Malik Osborne will be available for the Seminoles' game against the Blue Devils.

Osborne missed Saturday's road win at Syracuse due to the ankle injury he had been playing through during the prior three games. Osborne leads the Seminoles in rebounds per game this season (7.2) and is second only to Caleb Mills in points per game (11.1).

If he is indeed out for another game, FSU will have to once again rely heavily on a few first-year Seminoles in junior college transfer center Naheem McLeod and true freshman 7-foot-1 forward John Butler.

Throughout this season, Hamilton has cited his team's inexperience for some of its struggles. FSU has six new players on this year's team, four of whom are playing their first seasons of Division-I college basketball.

But he changed that tune ahead of the Duke game, throwing down the gauntlet and challenging his newcomers who have shown growth over the Seminoles' recent run of success.

"At this point, I'm looking at them and saying they're young, they're inexperienced, but in reality, that's almost disrespectful to them. So I'm expecting them to step up," Hamilton said.

FSU freshman forward John Butler is one of the Seminoles who will need to step up if Malik Osborne is again unavailable for the Seminoles' home matchup vs. Duke on Tuesday.
FSU freshman forward John Butler is one of the Seminoles who will need to step up if Malik Osborne is again unavailable for the Seminoles' home matchup vs. Duke on Tuesday.

"I'm expecting them to play at a higher level, just like the players that we are playing against. I'm not willing to accept the fact that these guys are inexperienced, everybody's inexperienced at some point in time. It shouldn't keep you from going out and doing your very best. That's the way we're going to approach this...

"I'm gonna quit talking about their inexperience. I want them to go out and get the job done regardless of who we're playing. Duke's up next so we've got to be at our best. The inexperience, the adjustment, learning each other, at this point, we've got to get past that."

The likely absence of Osborne would be quite bad timing for FSU heading into a matchup with a Duke team led by a few standout forwards.

Paolo Banchero may be the No. 1 pick in this year's NBA Draft after finishing out his season with the Blue Devils. The 6-foot-10 forward enters the FSU game averaging 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Fellow forward Wendell Moore Jr. is averaging 15.4 points per game and shooting 55% from the floor and 37.7% from three-point range.

As if that one-two punch wasn't enough, Duke center Mark Williams is 9.3 points and 3.4 blocks per game this season. He's coming off a near triple-double with 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks in the Blue Devils' win over NC State Saturday.

"We need games like what we're facing tomorrow night to let our guys know what it's like to go against the best," Hamilton said.

"To be able to compete against the best, you have to be at your best. This is the way it is in the ACC."

Hamilton has coached against some especially talented Duke teams over his FSU tenure, including two that won national titles. However, he believes this team is among the best that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is retiring at the end of this season, has ever had.

"We have a team that we're playing tomorrow night that I think is one of the best Duke teams that I've seen. It might not have some of the preseason decorated players with the reputation that some of those guys have had coming to Duke, but in terms of execution, in terms of playing the right way, they have the ingredients, I think, to win a national title..." Hamilton said.

"Regardless of what the rankings might say, Duke is the No. 1 team. I personally think they're the No. 1 team in the country regardless of where they're ranked."

FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said before the Seminoles host Duke Tuesday that he believes that the Blue Devils are the best team in the country.
FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said before the Seminoles host Duke Tuesday that he believes that the Blue Devils are the best team in the country.

While FSU has had success against the Blue Devils at times -- beating No. 1 Duke teams three times at the Tucker Civic Center in less than a decade between 2002 and 2011 -- that hasn't been the case as much lately.

FSU has lost its last five games against Duke, failing to win any since an 88-72 home win over No. 7 Duke back in 2017.

Due to COVID circumstances, this will be the Seminoles' first game against the Blue Devils in nearly two years since February of 2020. Both the regular season and ACC Tournament matchups last year were canceled due to COVID-19 issues.

This will also be the Seminoles' first time hosting Duke in over three years, the last time being an 80-78 Duke win on Jan. 12, 2019.

This isn't the last time these teams are scheduled to face off. FSU is set to make a return trip to Durham on Feb. 19. But still, Krzyzewski took a few moments to praise Hamilton on Monday's ACC coaches' conference call.

"We should understand what a treasure Leonard has been to the ACC and his program," Krzyzewski said.

"Florida State has always been a good program but he's made it a national power program. We're going to have our hands full against their defense."

Hamilton reflects on Joe B. Hall's death

Hamilton admitted it was a hard weekend for him.

Saturday morning, hours before FSU's game at Syracuse, he found out that Joe B. Hall, who he coached under for 12 years as an assistant at Kentucky from 1974 to 1986, had passed away.

Hamilton credits Hall for a great deal of the success he's had on his coaching journey. After all, it was Hall who got him back into coaching after he had left the profession to take a job selling chemicals.

Dec 1980; unknown location, USA; FILE PHOTO; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Joe B. Hall during the 1980-81 season. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1980; unknown location, USA; FILE PHOTO; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Joe B. Hall during the 1980-81 season. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

He had made that choice out of frustration after Austin Peay's retiring president told him that he didn't have the conviction to make Hamilton the school's first Black head coach despite Hamilton's success as an assistant coach at the university.

Hall called Hamilton out of the blue and convinced him to join his Kentucky staff, making him the program's first Black assistant coach.

While at Kentucky, Hamilton won a national title as an assistant coach in the 1977-78 season. He's gone on to amass over 600 career wins as a head coach at Oklahoma State, Miami and FSU.

And he owes Hall for setting him on that path.

"Joe Hall rescued me from a mistake, an emotional mistake..." Hamilton said.

"Joe Hall meant an awful lot to me. I learned a lot from him. I went from being discouraged to the top and that's divine intervention."

Florida State vs. No. 5 Duke

When: Tuesda 9 p.m.

Where: Tucker Civic Center

TV/Radio: ESPN/101.5 FM

Reach Curt Weiler at cweiler@tallahassee.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State basketball looking for much-needed quality win vs. No. 5 Duke