BOISE, Idaho (AP)—The last time Florida State made the NCAA tournament, Bobby Bowden was only 68.
Yes, it has been quite a while—11 years, to be exact—since the Seminoles grabbed some headlines on the hardwood.
Such is life when you’re a basketball team playing at a football school—a middling program duking it out with Florida in your own state, to say nothing of Duke, North Carolina and the rest in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I’ve always known this was doable,” coach Leonard Hamilton said, as his fifth-seeded Seminoles prepared to play Wisconsin on Friday in the East Regional. “It was just a matter of finding the kind of players who like what we have and vise versa. It’s finding the right fit.”
In this case, the right fit has been Toney Douglas, the ACC defensive player of the year who also averages 21.3 points a game.
He is being rewarded for taking a chance on Florida State (25-9) instead of going pro when he withdrew from Auburn four years ago, unhappy with his situation there.
“I always wanted to play in a guard’s league,” Douglas said. “I wanted to be known as one of the best guards in the country and in the conference. And also, the North Carolinas and Dukes, they already built legacies of winning. Me, I thought I could make a difference by coming to Florida State and starting that legacy and being one of the first.”
Indeed, this qualifies as big for a school with a total of 11 NCAA appearances and, except for a flurry of bids in the late 80s and early 90s, nothing much to choose from in terms of tradition.
The Dean Dome? Cameron Indoor Stadium? Florida State plays at the Donald L. Tucker Center (Which sounds better than the old name, the Leon County Civic Center).
Michael Jordan? James Worthy? Florida State produced Dave Cowens and Sam Cassel.
Tobacco Road? Florida State plays on West Pensacola Street.
“I have no problem with our arena,” Hamilton said. “I look out the window and I see the president’s office.”
Trying to stop the Florida State resurgence before it gathers steam is Wisconsin, a defense-oriented team with nobody averaging more than the 12.6 points per game Marcus Landry scores.
The Badgers (19-12) looked like sure NCAA material back around New Year’s. Then came a six-game losing streak, the likes of which hardly anyone can endure if they want to be playing this time of year.
Coach Bo Ryan explained how he pulled his team out of that mess.
“Growing up in Chester, Pennsylvania, and that’s the truth,” he said. “When you grow up on the streets of Chester, growing up on the playground, the things my parents taught me. I’m a hard guy to get to. It’s hard to get me to the point where you feel you have no hope. That’s my background and I try to instill it in my players and I’ve got some pretty tough players.”
They had to stay tough all the way through Selection Sunday, when they were one of the last teams to make it off the bubble, a 12th seed for a program more used to seeing 2s and 3s by its name.
“When they went through the first two regions and we still weren’t called, my heart started beating a little bit,” forward Joe Krabbenhoft said. “But we always thought we had a chance.”
Indeed, they did, and the Badgers find themselves in the tournament for the 11th straight year—in other words, a streak that started the last time Florida State made it.
“It wasn’t easy sitting there, watching the team struggle for all these years,” said Luke Loucks, a freshman guard for the Seminoles who grew up down the coast from Tallahassee, in Clearwater. “It was frustrating as a fan, watching the Gators winning back to back. It was tough sitting here seeing that.”
And though Florida—champion in 2006-07—and Florida State would never subscribe to emulating each other, there certainly is something the Seminoles can learn from the Gators’ success: Namely that being a good football school doesn’t preclude you from being a good basketball school, too.
“I’ve coached at Oklahoma State, I’ve coached at Miami,” Hamilton said. “Is Ohio State just a football school? Is Texas just a football school? You can get past that football, basketball thing. They can work together. And I’ll tell you, good football is always a plus in a lot of ways. It pays a lot of bills.”
Basketball pays most of those bills in the ACC, though, which puts Florida State in a unique spot. If the arrow keeps pointing up on Hamilton’s program, maybe the Seminoles really can have both.
“I look at it like, North Carolina has a great program, Duke has a great program,” Douglas said. “They had to start somewhere. So why not us?”