What could have been.
While many of the Florida State Basketball faithful are left asking this question after the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled due to pandemic, the respect earned around the college basketball world is still in full effect.
Longtime college basketball coach, turned star TV analyst Dick Vital illustrates as much in his new book “The Lost Season.” In the book, “Dickie V” picks Florida State as his national champion, edging out Michigan State in the final to lift the trophy.
“This team could beat anybody,” Vitale said on Thursday morning in a Zoom interview with FSU writers. “They had so many weapons.”
Vitale said the project began as “therapy” but also acknowledged it was “fantasy.” When the NCAA Tournament was canceled in March, Vitale connected with longtime friends who helped him collaborate on a “what might have been” look at the field of 68 with his book.
He argues that he first realized when FSU defeated Louisville, initially on the road and then at home, that the Seminoles were one of (if not the best) team in college basketball. He reflected that FSU was “very difficult to prepare for” due to coach Leonard Hamilton’s philosophy of using the sum of the parts on the roster.
“This team had potential to make a lot of noise,” Vitale said. “They won a very difficult ACC regular season. It wasn’t a team that just got hot for two three games in the tournament. They had been tested all year long. Leonard had them to perform all year long. Against really special, special teams.”
FSU went 26-5, raising its first ACC regular-season championship banner following a win over Boston College on March 7 at the Donald L. Tucker center. The Seminoles went 16-4 in the ACC, including wins over Louisville on Jan. 4 and Feb. 24.
“I appreciate you recognizing us and now we have to try and do it again,” Hamilton said. “I hope next year we will be national champions. We won’t be that mythical one. But being the mythical one is better than not being one at all.”
As for the upcoming season, Hamilton was giddy on the team’s prospects, due to the experience earned by the squad this past year.
“I really, really like this team,” Hamilton said. “People like Malik Osborne, RaiQuan Gray, Wyatt Wilkes and Anthony Polite have really, really made tremendous improvement, along with Balsa (Koprivica).
“I also think that you didn’t really get a chance to see what RayQuan Evans could do because he was injured in the beginning of the year. I really, really like Scottie Barnes and Sardaar Calhoun. Physically, I think we brought in some guys that can fit our system.”
In particular, Hamilton is high on forward Osborne’s development in his second season since taking a redshirt following his transfer from Rice.
“Malik Osborne has really, really made the biggest jump, I think, of all our kids,” Hamilton said.
“He’s already a really outstanding athlete, a really hard-playing guy. But I think just from going from the five to the four (center to power forward), if there’s a such thing in our system, we switch one to five, it gives us a chance to really be quick and defensively and athletic and strong.”
Vitale’s book is a fundraiser for pediatric cancer. Vitale hosts an annual gala each year in Southwest Florida, and this year’s virtual event raised $7.4 million for cancer research. Hamilton, who has lost a number of family members to cancer, attends annually and has previously been a featured speaker.
Vitale said he will autograph copies of the book if fans order through dickvitale.com. The paperback book costs $29.99 and Hamilton has written a foreword.
The Seminoles look to build on their recent success with another ACC Championship and opportunity to reach the school’s first Final Four since 1972.
That would make this season validated for FSU and launch them into basketball’s elite, with a capital “E,” baby.