Anthony Polite has always been a role player for Florida State. He quietly built a reputation as an on-ball defender and consistent 3-point shooter, making 35 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Polite was rarely asked to start or play beyond 25 minutes per game.
Polite had never been asked to do too much, not with guards like Trent Forrest and Devin Vassell. But now Polite appears very comfortable with an expanded role. The redshirt junior is playing more minutes and delivering on both ends of the court, averaging 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds — second on the No. 18 Seminoles in both categories. His scoring average is nearly triple that of 4.1 from last season.
“He knows our system, he’s very smart, he’s becoming more and more vocal in the huddles with the team, he’s always thinking ahead, trying to remind our guys of all the little things,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I’m very impressed with him from a leadership standpoint.”
There would be growing pains with the 2020-21 FSU team, as any would that lost two NBA lottery picks (Vassell and Patrick Williams) as well as a starting point guard (Forrest). Some of the pains are evident and others are a reflection of a bizarre preseason and the lack of exhibition games. But it’s also been mitigated by how players like Polite, center Balsa Koprivica (10.2 points, 5.3 rebounds) and forward RaiQuan Gray (7.8 points, 6.5 rebounds) have played.
Discussions about the key pieces to this season’s team have often focused on M.J. Walker and Scottie Barnes as well as what step forward Koprivica would take in year 2 and what a slimmed-down Gray may offer. And, yes, Polite has at times been a forgotten but essential piece of what makes the Seminoles a threat in the ACC.
The 6-foot-6 Polite said he knew early on that he could be very good on the defensive end of the floor.
“I had a coach in high school that told me that defense could bring me really far and he kept pushing me,” Polite said. “He knew that in high school I was bigger than everybody and I would be able to get through it without thinking about playing defense as hard as I play right now but he told me that I could be a very good defender if I work on it a lot.
That progression continued to FSU, where Hamilton and FSU’s assistants have drilled their defensive system and he’s developed into a player who could make the All-ACC defensive team. “He’s naturally a very good contain guy, a very good on-the-ball defender,” Hamilton said.
Polite is also the team’s top 3-point shooter, making 12 of 23 (52.2 percent) of his shots. The key for him has been to keep a routine and be in the gym every day, which wasn’t easy at times due to the pandemic.
“During the offseason, put up a lot of shots throughout the day but once it comes to the season, have your daily routine and you don’t have to put up like 1,000 shots every day anymore,” Polite said. “You might put up 100, 150 shots, but all of them at game speed and I feel like that’s keeping me consistent.”
He has had an affinity for the corner 3, which seems to give him a good sight line to the basket.
“That’s something I worked a lot on,” Polite said. “Corner threes, I feel like that’s somewhere where I could get the ball often. You’re never going to get the same shot in the game twice. So every shot that I practice is going to be in a different spot or the same footwork but in a different spot.”
He’s also shown the ability to drive left-handed to the basket and either score or kick it back out to an open shooter on the wing. Hamilton remarked that “he could be a little bit more aggressive,” a nod to Polite taking an even bigger step forward from the deferential bench scorer mindset of past years.
Polite has not recorded a double-double at FSU but has come very close in December. He set career-highs in points (15) and rebounds (nine) in the win over Gardner-Webb, and also had eight points and nine rebounds in the overtime win over Indiana. After recording six double-digit scoring games a season ago, he already has four in a row going into Tuesday’s game at Clemson (7 p.m. on regional sports networks, listed here).
“As well as he is playing for us I still think he has another level,” Hamilton said. “I think you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with him. Plays hard all the time. I’m enjoying watching his growth and maturity.”
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