Previously on the Run the Floor fan series, we've done Q&A's with a fan from UNLV who was on vacation with his team in Canada, with Nicole the hoops junky from Indiana and, with a 79-year-old fan of Kentucky. Now it's on to Florida State.
Joining us is Luke Loucks. He's the all-time leader in games played for the Seminoles, and along with Deividas Dulkys and Xavier Gibson, is one of three Seminoles in history to play in four NCAA Tournaments. Now he's playing professionally in Latvia, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for Run the Floor.
So, without any more of my yammering, let's get to it.
RTF: You come from an FSU family. Your father, your uncles… But how was that growing up? Did you root for the Noles prior to accepting a scholarship to play basketball there?
LL: Some of my greatest memories growing up as a child were Saturdays watching FSU football in their "glory days." I always had a special place in my heart for Florida State. Obviously, once I started getting recruited by them they had a unique advantage in that I had already been surrounded by a family of 'Nole supporters. My parents and I decided that we wouldn't focus on this through my recruitment as I wanted to give all the schools a chance, but in the end I couldn't give up the opportunity of playing for FSU and Coach Hamilton's program.
RTF: Now you're playing professionally in Riga, Latvia. (I'll admit that I had to look it up on a map to figure out where it was). Obviously, you haven't been there during a college basketball season, but what's your sense of any Latvian connection to American college hoops? Do they watch? Do they know the stars? Being the new guy on the team, do you get stopped around town?
LL: I have to admit, when my agent came to me and said there is some interest in a team from Riga, Latvia my wife and I had to look it up as well. It is a large city and they do follow sports closely. Many of my teammates have either played college hoops or follow it closely so they do watch and know who the stars are. One of my teammates played for Gillespie at Texas A&M, one played for Howland and later Dixon at Pittsburgh, one played at Rhode Island, another at St.Marys, one at George Washington for a bit… so we talk college basketball a lot.
People around town often stare or sometimes wave when I am driving because our car has the VEF Riga logo on the side of it, but I wouldn't say it's like college where everyone knows who you are. A few of our guys are Latvia's best basketball players and play for the national team so obviously everyone knows them. Basketball is still gaining popularity in Riga and Hockey is the most popular sport. However, from talking with my teammates I feel like the better the team gets the past few years, the more popular it becomes. That's usually how it works! You win and you get more fans and attention.
RTF: Speaking of that, how are you going to watch Noles games? A lot of games will be on one of the ESPN channels (or on the internet via ESPN3), but tip-off will be, what, 2 am for you? Will you be able to follow the team as closely as you'd like?
LL: So far, I've watched FSU football on what is called a slingbox. If you haven't heard of it, look it up. It's amazing! Basically, you can stream your cable from home and watch it online where ever you are in the world. I plan to do this for the basketball games, at least the ones of national TV, as well. For the late night games I will just have to go to sleep early and wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning to catch the games. If I'm too tired to do that I will have to find a way to watch the replays online somewhere. One way or another, I will be following the team as closely as possible!
RTF: What do you think your reaction will be when watching the team for this first season since you graduated? For regular fans, we're all completely detached from the team, but obviously these guys are your former coaches and teammates. So as someone who just spent four years with Coach Hamilton and his staff, will you be watching as a fan or more as something like a coach?
LL: I think it will be an odd mix of being a fan and a teammate/coach when I watch the team this year. I'm sure i'll get mad and yell when guys mess up… like fans did last year when we messed up. On the other end I can reach out to the guys on the team and talk to them like former players did with us last year. I remember when we were struggling last season in the beginning many former players sent us some messages online with tips and motivation. It'll be a peculiar feeling watching us play this year and not being able to do anything to help but I think all of us who have moved on feel like we left the program in a better place then we found it and the players now have a great foundation to build off and have continued success.
RTF: You entered the program just as Coach Hamilton was elevating it to a new level – from one that was solid, but relatively unknown on the national scene, to one that has now been in the NCAA Tournament four straight years (of 14 total appearances for the program). Your class was the program changer. With that in mind, what are your expectations for this team?
LL: Again, our class's goal was to leave the program in a better place then we found it. Our coaching staff used this as a great recruiting pitch to all of us and we really embraced it. We all wanted to change the culture of FSU basketball and rewrite the history books…not as individuals but as a team. Everyone bought in to the idea that if we put aside our selfish ambitions and do things together as a team, we can beat opponents with more talent, more skill, or more athleticism.
Talent-wise alone, I think this years team could be much more talented than last years. However, we will have to rely on a bevy of young, inexperienced players. If the young guys are able to learn on the fly and mesh well with the obvious stars and leaders of the team, this year could be very exciting. Mike, Terrance, Ian, Okaro, and the other upperclassmen know what it takes to win. The young, talented newcomers must trust these guys and follow their lead. There will be growing pains and bumps in the road but as long as the young guys don't get frustrated or overwhelmed and understand that being a role player is just as important as being the all-american, this team will be very exciting and very successful.
RTF: Michael Snaer, Ian Miller and Okaro White are getting the bulk of the preseason hype. Who are a couple other players who won't surprise you if they have a big season?
LL: Obviously Mike, Ian, and Okaro are all NBA-level talent and have all had huge games throughout their careers. They will be the go-to guys. You guys have seen Terrance and Terry so you know that they both have great upsides and bring a ton of energy, grit, and athleticism to the team.
Since none of you have seen them play, I'll just give you a brief run-down of the new guys and what I think about them! It's hard to say who else will have break-out type years… I played with them quite a few times this summer and I was impressed with all of new guards.
The new guards are all going to be great in their careers. Devon isn't flashy but he athletic and is an unbelievable ball-handler and very smart for how young he is. He sort-of reminds me of a young Charlie Ward. Great on defense, knows how to play, can get everyone involved and is a very capable scorer. Montay has a great body and can play any of the guard positions. His jump shot is still a work in progress but he is a very impressive athlete and basketball player and has a bright future. It's not often you find a 6'7 athlete who can handle the ball like a guard. I was really impressed with Aaron. He is a great scorer and doesn't back down from anyone. Aaron has a very quick first step and is athletic enough to dunk on any big guy around the basket. He always seems to be in the right position and that's odd for a newcomer. He just knows how to play and knows how to score. I think all three of these guys will impress Nole fans this year and each one of them will have a few HUGE games for us.
The new big guys are BIG (Ojo is the largest human being I've ever seen besides Shaq, as that's a close call), but they will need some time to develop under Coach's system until they are ready to shine. That's not saying they won't contribute, but I don't expect Ojo or Bo to average a double-double in their first season. With that being said, Ojo uses his massive size to dunk everything near the basket. I was scared for the basket when he was doing post-moves with Coach Jones. Bo is a prototypical European with a very smooth mid-range game for a 7-footer. He is super-skilled, but needs to add some pork chops to his ribs before he's ready to bang around the basket. Robert is a little undersized but very bouncy and athletic and long so he makes up for it. He also has a great mid-range jumper and a high motor. Turp impressed me last year with his work ethic and determination. He is a fluid 7-footer and has really improved his post-moves around the basket.
Out of all of the new guys it's hard to just pick one guy who will break out. If I had to, I would put my money on Aaron just because he has a great feel for the game and has all of the tools to be a star. However, Coach has once again done an excellent job at rebuilding and reloading and it wouldn't surprise me if any of these guys had a breakout year.
I hope everyone has a great time at Seminole Madness and enjoys watching our team this year. I know I will!