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The Daily Tar Heel

Seminoles aim to reach uncharted highs

A heartbreaking overtime loss is one thing. But when the loss comes in the NCAA tournament with the game-winner dropping through the net as hopes to advance expires, the loss isn’t just heartbreaking.

It’s gut-wrenching.

Last year, Florida State’s season ended at the hands of Cinderella team Virginia Commonwealth in the Sweet Sixteen.

“It’s just been kind of haunting in the offseason,” senior Bernard James said. “That’s been a huge motivation. I think about that game every day.”

With the help of players like first-round NBA draft pick Chris Singleton and point guard Derwin Kitchen, Florida State compiled a 23-11 record last season, finishing third in the final ACC standings.

Though replacing Singleton and Kitchen will be no easy feat, the squad returns three starters, including James, sophomore Okaro White and junior Michael Snaer.

Poised to fill the gap left on the court by Singleton, James is perhaps more prepared than most to take on the tall task.

His journey to Florida State is unconventional, as he served six years in the United States Air Force after high school followed by playing two seasons at Tallahassee Community College.

“I had known people who had dropped out, and I saw what they were doing with their lives and I didn’t want to take that path,” James said. “I felt like the military was really my last chance to salvage everything and get back on track. So when I got the opportunity, I jumped on it.”

Florida State is not lacking in veteran talent. In addition to the nine returning juniors and seniors on the roster, Florida State also welcomes graduate student Jeff Peterson.

Peterson is a product of programs at both the University of Iowa and the University of Arkansas, making him the first student-athlete to play basketball in the ACC, Big Ten and SEC. With only one year of eligibility, the transfer is expected to make a big impact in the point guard role.

The Seminoles also enter this season looking to lead the country with the lowest defensive field goal percentage for a record-tying third consecutive season.

And while defense hasn’t been a problem for the Seminoles, coach Leonard Hamilton said that the team’s defensive strength has allowed time for its offense to grow.

“We have not been tremendously skilled offensively, so we’ve got a reputation of only concerning ourselves with the defense,” Hamilton said. “We’re fortunate we have a system that works on the defensive end while we’re developing out skills on the offensive end.”

Being selected third in the preseason is only a jumping off point. For the Seminoles, their end goal is to reach a level uncharted by basketball players wearing garnet and gold.

“Coach really wants us to focus on the game-by-game,” James said. “Because that’s the only way you get to the end, to the Final Four, is to take every game like it’s your last game and you have to win it.”

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