Florida State taking its ‘new blood’ attitude back to another Sweet 16

Krysten Peek
·6 min read

Charlton “C.Y.” Young and Leonard Hamilton were sitting in the living room of a big-time recruit chatting with the family and his high school coach. Young had been there before. He’d been a college coach for 26 years and taken many recruiting trips during his time at Auburn, Georgia Tech and Florida State.

It’s 2018, and the Seminoles had just made a run to the Elite Eight. The evening was going great and the conversation was flowing. At one point, someone in the room said, “Coach, this kid is really good and you know the blue bloods are going to be coming.” Young simply replied, “That’s fine. We’re the new bloods.”

It was the first time Young had ever said the phrase “new bloods.” It felt right at the moment and walking out of the recruit’s house, Hamilton, FSU’s head coach since 2002, turned to Young and said, “That’s it. That’s who we are now. The new bloods.”

This is Hamilton’s 19th season at Florida State. The Seminoles were coming off a losing season in 2001-02 finishing 12-17 (4-12 in the ACC) when he took over. Florida State has always been known as “a football school” and Hamilton was determined to change that narrative. His first hire was Stan Jones, who has also been at FSU for 19 seasons and is now the associate head coach. Young joined the staff as an assistant coach in 2013 after four years as the head coach at Georgia Southern.

“I was always battling the blue bloods in recruiting,” Young told Yahoo Sports. “That term has controlled the minds of college basketball for 75 years.”

Florida State center Balsa Koprivica (5) gets a hug from teammate Scottie Barnes, right, after a dunk during the second half of a second-round game against Colorado in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Florida State center Balsa Koprivica (5) gets a hug from teammate Scottie Barnes, right, after a dunk during the second half of a second-round game against Colorado in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Slowly but surely, things started to turn around. In 2015, 7-foot-4 center Christ Koumadje, four-stars Terance Mann, Malik Beasley and five-star Dwayne Bacon committed to FSU, giving Hamilton his most talented recruiting class at Florida State.

“I was very excited about coming to play at Florida State,” Bacon said after committing to FSU. “It's a great fit for me. I liked how the coaches were upfront with me. I have a chance to play right away and I fit their playing style."

That 2016 team was the stepping stone to get the Seminole to where they are today. The following season, top-10 recruit Jonathan Isaac joined the squad giving them the boost they needed to make the first NCAA appearance in five seasons. All four players are now in the NBA after committing two to three years to Hamilton and his coaching staff.

“Coach Hamilton and his assistants do a great job developing guys for the NBA,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “Each player buys into their role and that’s important, especially at the NBA level. A rookie’s role usually diminishes ten-fold and it’s hard for some guys to accept that. That’s why you see so many of his guys going so high in the draft now. NBA teams know what kind of player they’re getting.”

Florida State has had seven players drafted in the last five years, a considerable amount for any college program. Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell were both lottery picks in the 2020 draft. Williams became the highest-picked player from FSU in the last 50 years, going No. 4 to the Chicago Bulls. There wasn’t a single player from a blue blood program taken in the lottery in last year’s draft.

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FSU lost two lottery picks but gained a coveted five-star recruit in 6-foot-9 point forward Scottie Barnes. Florida State was first in the ACC conference a year ago. It finished second this season, despite losing Williams and Vassell, and is one of two ACC teams left in this year’s tournament.

“Every year, no matter what we accomplish the season before, it’s like we didn’t do enough,” Young said. “We’re here to take the respect we deserve. Everyone has bought into the new blood culture. All of our current players, former players, coaches and fans. It’s given us an identity.”

In the last four seasons, Florida State has won 94 games, made three Sweet 16 appearances (not including last year’s canceled tournament) and have been a perennial top-10 team each of the last three seasons. The Seminoles have the best home record out of any Power 5 conference since 2018 (43-2) and beat five ACC teams this year by 19 or more points.

“FSU deserves way more respect in our league and in college basketball in general,” a long-term ACC assistant coach told Yahoo Sports. “Leonard Hamilton is Florida State and Florida State is what it is because of him. They’ve really done an amazing job recruiting and finding the right guys for that program.”

This is the eighth tournament appearance for Florida State since Hamilton took over. In 2018, Florida State made it to the Elite Eight and lost to Michigan. It was their deepest tournament run since 1993. A year later, FSU took down Ja Morant and Murray State when he was the hottest player in the tournament. The following round, they battled with Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and lost with Mark Few eventually making his first ever Final Four appearance.

Florida State was ready to make a statement and go far in the 2020 NCAA tournament before the whole thing was called off due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The Seminoles were 26-5 and a projected No. 2 seed.

There was a lot of anticipation and excitement heading into the tournament this year. The bracket-busting upsets started on Day 1 and continued throughout the weekend. Florida State would not be among them.

The fourth-seeded Seminoles edged out UNC Greensboro, then held sharpshooting Colorado to just six 3-pointers in a 71-53 victory on Tuesday to punch its third-straight ticket to the Sweet 16.

Only two other teams have made three or more consecutive runs to the Sweet 16 — Gonzaga and Michigan. Both teams are still in the tournament and, like Florida State, neither are considered blue blood programs.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’re making progress with our program,” Hamilton told Yahoo Sports. “We didn’t get invited to the blue blood party. We’re new on the block, so we coined our own phrase. We’re the new bloods.”

So what is it going to take for Florida State and the new bloods to finally get the national recognition they have worked so hard for all these years?

Take down No. 1 seed Michigan in the Sweet 16? No.

Make a Final Four appearance? Probably not.

“I think we have to finally win a national championship to get the respect we deserve,” Young said. “That’s what it’s going to take this year and we’re locked in on that goal.”

There are 16 teams left in the NCAA tournament and not a single blue blood program in sight. College basketball better take notice. The new bloods have arrived.

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