Former UK assistant building powerhouse at Florida State


AP photo

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton directed his team during a game against North Carolina in the semifinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

By Keith Taylor, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON (KT) — Leonard Hamilton knows what it’s like to be part of one of the top basketball programs in the nation.

The Florida State coach spent 12 seasons (1974-86) as an assistant and later associate head coach at the University of Kentucky under Joe B. Hall and the late Eddie Sutton before moving on to lead the basketball programs at Oklahoma State, Miami of Florida and Florida State. Prior to coaching the Seminoles, he spent one season with the Washington Wizards.

Since taking over at Florida State two decades ago, Hamilton put the Seminoles on the proverbial map. During the past six years, Hamilton’s teams have won 140 games and were considered a contender for the national title before last year’s NCAA Tournament was called off because of the ongoing pandemic.

Part of a league that features Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville, Hamilton has made the Seminoles relevant in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The year, the Seminoles are the only ACC team remaining in the NCAA Tournament. Florida State will take on top-seeded Michigan in the Sweet 16 at 5 p.m. Sunday in Indianapolis.

We’re in a basketball conference with some of the most rich tradition of successful traditional basketball programs in the history of college basketball,” Hamilton said earlier this week. “I’m not sure we’re ever going to make up for the 75 or 80 years of the success some of the programs in our league has enjoyed. We’re trying to find a way to carve our own little niche out, and I’m not really sure how long it’s going to take us to be considered, or if we ever will be considered in the blue blood status.”

Hamilton considers his squad part of new blend of elite programs that would also include Gonzaga, among others who aren’t traditional powerhouse programs but have become relevant on the big stage during the past decade.

“We kind of coined our own phrase: We’re new bloods,” Hamilton said. “We’re new on the block. We didn’t get invited to the blue blood party, so we coined our own phrase of new bloods, of guys trying to earn the respect.”

Hamilton added that earning elite status is “not something we are overly concerned about” but likes the progress the program has made under his watch.

“We’re proud of the fact we are making progress with our program,” he said. “Hopefully in the next 80 years, somebody might put us in the blue blood category, and we continue to keep having some success I doubt if I’ll still be around then, but hopefully they will look back and say that we contributed to the improvement and establishment of our program.”

The recent success the Seminoles have enjoyed has been mainly because of a defense-first approach that he refers to as a “junkyard defense.”

“We wanted to give our defensive system an identity,” he said. “We even have a mascot of a junkyard dog (named (Stopper). Our defensive philosophy has been the same for many, many years. We just wanted to give our guys something to be a little proud of and a phrase that would give them something to hang our head on and something to relate our system with.”

That system has been successful for Hamilton and he’s just two wins away from reaching the Final Four for the first time as a head coach.