March 5, 2012

Hamilton, 'Noles recount an emotional ACC finale

Hamilton proud of win, prouder of graduates

Seminole head coach Leonard Hamilton was proud of the way his team started its Sunday afternoon. He was proud that the 'Noles weathered a late Clemson rally to finish on the long end of an 80-72 final, good enough to tie a program-best 12 ACC wins.

And while those details are great for the immediate, Hamilton was not without perspective in his final home press conference of the season. The thing he truly beamed about was the relationship he's fostered with each of his six seniors.

"The thing I'm most proud of," Hamilton began, "they're all on schedule to graduate. Two of them will have their Master's degrees."

With this group, an unusually high six seniors, who can blame Hamilton for being proud? Three of his graduates - Luke Loucks, Deividas Dulkys and Xavier Gibson - will go down as the winningest four-year members in Florida State basketball program history. Point guard Jeff Peterson has become increasingly solid in his lone season on the way to his Master's Degree. And in addition to JUCO big man Jon Kreft, Hamilton has gotten to coach and know one of the more unique players in recent memory: Bernard James.

"We want to be successful and that's what we are supposed to be doing," Hamilton said. "But when you look back at your career, and you realize you've been a part of helping young men grow from teenagers to adulthood, and you look at the progress that they're making... the true evaluation of our work won't be realized 'til five, six, seven, eight years down the road.

"You hope that you've been a part of helping shape them into the kind of fathers and husbands and neighbors and citizens that they'll be. Hopefully when we lay the whistle down, it won't be the trophies and the rings and plaques, but it will be the relationships that we've established with these guys."

An emotional final meal

Although Saturday night wasn't the final time this group of Seminoles will have a team meal, it was the last instance of their regular routine.

The six seniors who would be honored before the tip of Sunday's matinee took that opportunity to talk about the lessons they learned in Tallahassee and the importance of being a part of the Seminole basketball program.

Coach Hamilton said that as his players took turns addressing to the team, the room quickly became emotional.

"As we finished our last team meal, there were very few dry eyes with them as they shared how much of being a part of the team has meant to them," Hamilton said. "These guys were very focused and emotional. They have been guys who have grown closer and closer together."

The talk carried such a degree of meaning, Bernard James said, that he would recommend Florida State's returning players make such an address to begin next season instead of waiting until the final night.

"Men typically don't like to share their feelings," James said. "Sometimes that leaves a little distance in between teams that can get a lot closer. When guys show their emotions like that, and talk about some of the things they've been through with their teammates, and what it means to them, it brings a team closer together. And that definitely showed today."

For his part in the meeting, James opened up to share the lessons he's learned leading up to and during his career at Florida State.

"I mainly talked about me dropping out of high school and not really thinking that college basketball was an option for me," James explained. "Going from a non-basketball player to a Division-I basketball player in the ACC and how instrumental Coach Ham was in that whole process. Just how much I've learned - although they're a lot younger than me - how much I've learned from these guys as far as basketball and life.

"I've learned a lot from these guys and I've grown as a person since I've been here."

Hamilton said the emotions his players shared Saturday night channeled into a focused effort against Clemson, adding that he "loved the body language" and the ability to finish off the win at the free throw line.

"They'll have those memories for a long time," he said.

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