Nathanael Jack can shoot. There’s never been a question about his confidence in taking and ability at making 3-pointers. Defense was where he had to improve to see more time on the court.
Jack has done that, earning top defensive player honors from the coaching staff in two of Florida State’s games going into Wednesday’s matchup vs. NC State.
“The biggest thing I’ve focused on has been defense,” Jack said. “They wanted me to be a better on-ball defender. And they wanted me to be a better off-ball defender. I took that very personally. I know what I am capable of doing. I felt like I wasn’t doing it to the best of my ability last year, so I was focusing a lot on defense, a lot on being able to move my feet, get a lot quicker, get a lot faster.”
Jack’s gains on the defensive end have led to some minutes here and there off the bench. But nothing like what he did on Wednesday in the 105-73 win over the Wolfpack, drilling 7 of 8 shots (including 4 of 5 from 3-point range) and easily surpassing his career-high with an 18-point performance. By comparison, he had scored just 17 points in his five prior games this season.
“I had a lot of fun,” Jack said. “I felt very relaxed. We shoot every day. I work on my jumper countless number of hours every day. If I get an open look, I’m going to most likely knock it down.”
Jack’s shooting percentages are impressive but also reflect a small sample size. He’s 12 of 21 (57.1 percent) from the floor and 8 of 16 (50 percent) from 3-point range. But he’s also evolved into more than a 3-point specialist. While improving on the defensive end, he’s also shown improvement in driving to the basket and hit a floater against NC State.
Landing the 6-foot-5 Jack a few years ago was fortuitous for FSU, which has been able to develop the junior-college standout. Jack bounced around from high schools in Canada, North Carolina and Miami before later discovering “some issues” with classes on his Canadian school’s transcript and how it transferred to the U.S. He settled on Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne, helping the program to the junior college national tournament in each season. He picked FSU over Kansas and a number of other schools.
Now at FSU, Jack could be a solution to what was an early season question mark: Are the historically deep Seminoles deep enough in 2020-21? There clearly were questions in December, but the win over NC State produced 44 bench points and the production is encouraging.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton has said the challenges of the schedule this season have impacted the team’s early development. The lack of a traditional preseason and no exhibition games set the Seminoles back a little. So too did the two-week layoff as the team was in the COVID protocol.
Hamilton said “it takes a while,” emphasizing a need to figure out various rotations as well as how and when to use a bench player like Jack and others.
“We thought he could shoot all along,” Hamilton said. “Tonight he was just relaxed. He wasn’t rushing anything. He was extremely confident. Played solid defense.”
FSU’s historical night
The Seminoles shot 70.7 percent from the floor in what is a new school record for an ACC game. And the 66.7 percent performance from 3-point range is tied for second among FSU’s ACC games.
FSU’s 32-point win over NC State is also the largest in the series between the schools.
The Seminoles will go for their 20th straight ACC home win on Saturday against North Carolina (noon on ESPN).
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