October 11, 2013

FSU looks to White to rebound

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Head bent over, long legs pumping, Okaro White raced his teammates. It's just a regular weekday practice; no game coming up, nothing really to prove, just wind sprints at the end of a long day.

Nonetheless, White was still pumping on the far baseline, turning his head down the line of sprinting teammates to make sure nobody beat him.

That's what Florida State wants to see: If the Seminoles are going to go places this season, White will have to be the one leading them.

White said the process of taking the lead has evolved gradually as his role as increased each year. Last season, White finished second on the team with 12.9 points per game and led FSU in rebounds. He's increased his averages each season with more playing time and said he wants to continue that progression this year.

But more so than progression on the court, White said he's been able to gradually expand his leadership role. As the most experienced senior on the team, Hamilton said he's noticed White's attention to detail in practice.

"He's leading by example," Hamilton said. "His rotations defensively are always on point, offensively he's helping direct guys when they're not quite in the right position. He's the senior guy on the team. And he's leading by example. He's not a real loud vocal person, he's a quiet person by nature. But his experience is something that's very welcome with this team. I think guys understand a little bit more how to follow. It's hard to be a leader when guys don't know how to follow. I think they understand the value of having a guy who's been there and done that."

White said he's tried to find out how best to deal with each teammate individually and take different approaches with each.

"I've never been a loud guy," White said. "But I also feel the way I try to lead these guys is working. I feel like you don't have to be a Bobby Knight or a guy like that. Everybody has to get coached differently and once you gain the respect of everybody and treat everybody like a man, when you get into those occasions when you do yell, they don't take it as a shock.

It's apparently paid off so far; fellow senior Ian Miller said he's noticed a different atmosphere in the locker room, players closer as a whole instead of partitioned off into smaller groups.

This summer, White stayed in Tallahassee to work on his outside game, knowing that he would likely have to move to the perimeter in 2013-2014.

Sure enough, when Florida State lost freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes to eligibility issues, it left FSU dangerously thin on the perimeter. That means White will spend plenty of time at the small forward position this season. He said he doesn't mind moving back to the perimeter after spending much of last season in the post. It's a return to what White did in high school and early in his career.

White said it also helps to have three seven-footers in Kiel Turpin, Boris Ojanovsky and Michael Ojo to free him up to roam defensively.

And at least on paper, White's build, skill set and his new role mesh well with a former successful Seminole: Chris Singleton. Hamilton welcomes the comparison.

"I think we're going to use Okaro like we used Chris a few years ago," he said.

One thing White and FSU will have to do to reach the same level of success from those teams is improve defensively. Florida State has made a hallmark of putting stingy defenses on the court, leading the country in field goal percentage defense in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. In 2012-2013, FSU's defense fell apart, ranking 221st in the country in FG percentage defense. That type of defense will look even worse in an ACC recently bolstered by adding Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, with Louisville on the way in 2014-2015.

Hamilton attributed last season's drop to the learning curve of seven first-year players.

"I think that's just the repetitions of doing things over and over and over at the same level of speed that you need in a game allows those habits to start being formed," Hamilton said. "I think there were a lot of things that seven first-year players just did not learn fast enough for us to be as efficient as we have in the past. Our defensive system has been consistent the past 15 years."

At least on paper, moving White to the perimeter, combined with an extra year of experience for everyone on the roster, could help solve some of those issues and give Florida State the type of size and athleticism that its best defensive teams have had in the past. But as far as potential goes, FSU knows it'll run as far as White takes them.

"Okaro is really the only real experienced senior we have that has gone through that freshman sophomore junior year completely and he's responded appropriately," Hamilton said. "He understands."




 

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