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FSU takes long view with player development

For all the discussion of college basketball losing one-and-dones as well as sophomores to the NBA each season, there is also a very good argument for the player development some college programs offer. The NCAA Tournament is full of veteran teams that either made upset bids or led top seeds to the Sweet 16.

Exhibit A is Florida State. But it’s not just long-term development. It’s taking a long view. Among its nine players who play at least 14 minutes per game, three took a redshirt season at FSU to begin their careers: RaiQuan Gray, Anthony Polite and Wyatt Wilkes. A fourth, Malik Osborne, took a redshirt following his transfer from Rice.

The reasoning varies. Polite’s was due to knee injuries in year 1 in Tallahassee. Gray and Wilkes needed time to develop. Osborne had no choice but to practice and wait, something no transfer will need to do again as the one-time transfer rule (within a four-year window) is a likely slam dunk to be approved by the NCAA in April.

Still, it’s worthy of further examination. College basketball’s scholarship limitations are restrictive. Each one is incredibly valuable. Misses on the recruiting trail would show up sooner or later. Why bother to redshirt? Most college basketball programs simply can’t do it and if a player looks as if he’s ready, or close enough, he will at least play a few minutes.

Polite is the most recent example of a player who the coaching staff was patient in developing only to have him pay off over the course of the regular season as well as postseason. In Monday’s win over Colorado, Polite scored a career-high 22 points (on 8 of 12 shooting), pulled down five rebounds and had four assists and four steals.

“Anthony is one of the better on-the-ball defenders that we’ve ever coached at Florida State,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He is sound fundamentally. Has a high basketball IQ. He’s a Seminole. He plays within himself. You barely ever see him forcing a shot. He rebounds, gets deflections and steals.

“He’s really grown into it from his freshman year. He had a rash of knee injuries as a freshman, and he had to be redshirted. So now you just see him coming to his own and making a major contribution. I’m just so proud of him.”

There’s always a rush to grab the next plug-and-play five-star or four-star prospect in college basketball, especially with the frequent roster turnover as players can go to the NBA at any time. And FSU’s staff has been quite successful molding five-star prospects. But there’s something to be said for patience in player development, too. Consider:

Gray is first on the Seminoles in rebounding (6.5), second on the team in scoring (12 points) and third in assists (2.2). He has been FSU’s most consistent scorer since the calendar turned to 2021, with 10+ points in 13 of the last 16 games.

Polite is fourth on the team in scoring (10.2 points) but is an all-around contributor with 4.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.35 steals and is a 44 percent shooter from 3-point range. His defense is often critical in limiting an opponent’s guard.

Osborne was forced to take a redshirt following the transfer from Rice but has been an emotional leader as well as brought versatility, someone who can play power forward or center. Hamilton doesn’t often take a transfer, preferring instead for a high school prospect, junior college or even a grad transfer. But Osborne is averaging 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Wilkes is a streaky-good 3-point shooter who has delivered some big games in his career and is a 38.1 shooter from deep.

The coaching staff’s fundamental concept of taking the long-term view in development is clearly one of the reasons why the Seminoles have had success this season. Having veteran rosters also are critical in pressure-filled NCAA Tournament games, too.