Florida State men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton was the first black athlete to play at UT Martin and has experienced firsthand the changes the civil rights movement has brought to America since the 1960s.
Hamilton, 71, is a guest on this week’s edition of March Madness 365. The entire interview is worth listening to for Hamilton’s wisdom, but there are certain parts that stand out. Today’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death seem different to him, for example, then what he remembers from the 1960s. That can perhaps be traced in part to sports.
“A lot of the times when I turn the TV on and see the demonstrators sometimes over half of the demonstrators are not African-American,” he said. Then later, “Integration of sports has done more for integration in America than any other thing that has happened in my life. It really has done a great [job]for just opening up the world’s eyes, America’s eyes that diversity can be a positive thing if given opportunity.
“Hopefully this will just a create a mindset that we all need to get together and have serious conversations and let’s not just brush it under the rug, let’s see how we can improve and make this country a better place for all of us to live.”
His interview with Andy Katz starts at about the 2:30 mark of the podcast. This episode also features an interview with Minnesota guard Gabe Kalscheur.
Later on in his interview, Hamilton selects 10 players he has coached at Florida State and categorizes them to create the ultimate Leonard Hamilton-coached player.
Here are his 10 picks:
The Quarterback — Luke Loucks (Guard, 2008-2012)
After going back and forth between Trent Forest and Luke Loucks for “the quarterback” category, Hamilton ultimately tapped Loucks as his playmaker, saving Forest for another attribute.
Loucks was a four-year player at FSU during the 2008-2012 stretch where he landed the starting point guard spot his senior season. He helped lead the ‘Noles to their first-ever ACC championship in 2012. He recorded an ACC championship game record with 13 assists against North Carolina that year, as FSU beat the Tar Heels 85-82.
The Clutch Gene — Michael Snaer (Guard, 2009-2013)
Another four-year player for Florida State lands here as Michael Snaer’s ability to hit big shots at the end of games earns Hamilton’s pick for “the clutch gene.”
Snaer was known for breaking the hearts of ACC opponents during the final seconds of games, as he knocked down four game-winners in ACC play just in his junior and senior years.
The FSU guard averaged 11.7 points per game throughout his career in Tallahassee including leading the team during the 2012-2013 season with 14.8 points per game.
The Athletic Wonder — Al Thornton (Guard/Forward, 2003-2007)
Leonard Hamilton and Florida State basketball are known for high-pressure defense and run-and-gun style of play — a type of play that attracts some high-quality athletes. Hamilton goes with former first-round draft pick Al Thornton for this spot.
“I haven’t been around anybody any more athletic,” Hamilton said of Thornton. “My nod from an athletic standpoint has to go to Al Thornton.”
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Thornton played all four years at FSU and finished his career averaging 19.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game his senior season.
The Shooter — Tim Pickett (Guard, 2002-2004)
Leonard Hamilton gives to nod to Tim Pickett as his all-time best shooter at FSU after going back-and-forth between him and this past season’s leading scorer Devin Vassell.
Pickett was drafted in the second round of the 2004 NBA draft and was lethal from outside for FSU. He averaged 17.1 points per game for FSU his freshman year and 16.5 his sophomore year leading the ‘Noles in the category both seasons.
“If he crossed half court, and could see the orange on the rim it was a good shot for him,” Hamilton said.
The Bucket Getter — Toney Douglas (Guard, 2006-2009)
Toney Douglas averaged in the double-digits in points per game each of his three season at FSU after transferring from Auburn. He ended his career scoring 21.5 points per game his senior season with the Seminoles.
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“Toney was here with me for three years and had more of an opportunity to pull us out so many times,” Hamilton said.
The Lockdown Defender — Chris Singleton (Forward, 2008-2011)
Chris Singleton gets the nod here from Hamilton as he averaged nearly two steals per game during his time at FSU and was named the 2011 ACC defensive player of the year.
“Because Chris was 6’9″ and so versatile, he could guard a power forward and could have guarded a point guard,” Hamilton said.
The Dirty Worker — Ryan Reid (Forward, 2006-2010)
When it comes to banging on the inside, grabbing rebounds and just doing the general “dirty work,” Hamilton gives the nod to Ryan Reid.
Reid overlaps with several other players on this list, as far as the years he played at FSU, sharing time with Chris Singleton, Michael Snaer, Toney Douglas and Al Thornton — all of whom fulfilled their own roles during their time at FSU, but no one was willing to get dirty like Reid.
“Ryan Reid was just an unbelievable dirty-work guy, who was just a banger, a physical guy,” Hamilton said. “He was a guy who just would not let you play your game.”
The Glue Guy — Terance Mann (Guard/Forward, 2015-2019)
Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele were both considered for the glue category — two players who helped lead Florida State to deep tournament runs in 2018 (Elite Eight) and 2019 (Sweet 16), but Hamilton ultimately chose Mann.
“I have to give the nod to Terance Mann,” Hamilton said. “Terance Mann was a guy who played four positions for me, he defended all the positions, he always made the right decisions, he was a stat stuffer.”
Mann didn’t rack up the stats in one particular category but was balanced across the board during his time at FSU. He averaged 9.4 points, 5.1 boards 1.9 assists per game during his career and shot over 55% from the field.
The Coach — Trent Forrest (Guard, 2016-2020)
This past season was the first season in Florida State history where the Seminoles won the outright regular-season ACC title — something that couldn’t have been done without their leader Trent Forrest.
Hamilton originally wanted to tap Forrest for “the quarterback” position because of his ability to make plays for him and his teammates but the 2020 second team all-ACC point guard lands here because of his basketball IQ and desire to lead on and off the court.
“Trent got it done for us every time he was called upon,” Hamilton said.
The Captain — Bernard James (Forward, 2010-2012)
Bernard James had one of the more interesting paths to college basketball, according to Leonard Hamilton. James did not play basketball in high school. He didn’t play organized basketball until 2003 when he joined the Air Force. He then went on to play for Tallahassee Community College before transferring to FSU.
Hamilton credits the second-round NBA draft pick with leading his 2012 squad to an ACC tournament title.
“He missed a layup and went back up with his elbows over the rim and dunked the ball back in the basket and it inspired our whole team,” Hamilton said. “And from that point on we took off and went and won the ACC tournament.”