If it wasn’t for community college, Leonard Hamilton wouldn’t be who he is today.
That’s the message Florida State’s men’s head basketball coach emphasized on Thursday when he met with supporters in Marianna on Thursday at a function hosted by the Chipola Appreciation Club and the Panhandle Seminole Club.
Before he was the first-ever coach to be named Coach of the Year in both the Big East and ACC, Hamilton began with an education at Gaston Community College (now known as Gaston College).
Hamilton recently was honored in May with the 2015 Alumnus of Distinction award from Gaston College at its 50th Anniversary Gala.
Hamilton is entering his 14th season at the helm for Florida State. Hamilton has guided the Seminoles to seven NCAA tournament appearances with a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2010-2011.
Prior to Florida State, Hamilton also coached at the University of Miami from 1990-2000. Hamilton led the Hurricanes to the Sweet 16 in the 1999-2000 season.
During his visit, Hamilton spoke at-length about his upbringing, his admiration for Chipola College and his outlook for the upcoming Florida State basketball season.
Here’s a sampling of what Hamilton discussed:
On his route that led to enrolling at Gaston Community College and playing on the basketball team: “They hired a guy at Gaston Community College named Mr.Brooks. As I was getting ready to enlist into the Army he started running around the community saying that we’re getting ready to start a basketball program at Gaston Community College, the first time in the history of the school they had a basketball program. Obviously growing up in school I played basketball and football and everything else I could do…I had the opportunity to go to Gaston Community College, needless did I know that would make the biggest difference in my life. That wasn’t necessarily me making that decision it was that guardian angel that I had always looking over my shoulder that ordered my steps…To think where I started from and where I am now because I had an opportunity to go to community college which gave me some direction. The people were very patient with me.”
On the advice he received from his father growing up: “He always said to me: ‘Never let anybody outwork you because whoever is judging might make a mistake. Doing as good as everybody is not good enough. You have to be better.’ He always said: ‘Give everything that you have in everything that you do. Don’t ever let someone say that they’re seeing someone else working harder and giving more effort than you.’ That’s the way I’ve lived my life. The fact that he never bought me anything and made me earn everything, I realized that in order to be successful you had to always hold yourself accountable.”
On the crucial role of community colleges such as Chipola: “I can’t tell you how important it is to keep working and making the sacrifices…You’re making a difference with a lot of young people out there like Leonard Hamilton that would not have an opportunity to be successful without the kind of people that are in this community. So don’t take that lightly. What you do is very, very important…I know how much it is meant to me, a little black kid from Gastonia, NC who had no way. He was just hard-nosed and tough and worked his butt off to have an opportunity to go to a community college and get an education and move on with my life…I hope that you guys will continue to keep making the difference in these young folks’ lives like community college made a difference in my life.”
On the TV-version of Leonard Hamilton vs. the real-version of Leonard Hamilton: “Please tell people I can smile [laughs]. And I do have a little personality [smiles]. It is interesting that people who don’t get the chance to know you they watch you on TV and they try to associate the image that you project on TV with who you really are. I go through the airports and people be walking up to me saying ‘Please smile’. It is beginning to bother me a little bit [smiles] but it is very difficult and I’m sure coach [points to Chipola basketball coaches Bret Campbell and Greg Franklin] you can’t be smiling when you’ve got 18-year-old kids running up and down the court with your paycheck in their mouth. [room erupts into laughter in unison].”
On his respect for Chipola’s athletics: “The men’s basketball team has been one of the best programs in the country for a number of years. There’s no reason why it can’t be back to be as successful as it was in the past. You don’t know [how much] recognition [you get because of] the successful women’s basketball team, the soccer team, the men’s [basketball] team. Around the country people know about Chipola. You have so much to be proud of. So let’s not let that legacy down.”
On the outlook for Florida State this season: “I’m really excited about this upcoming season. We’ve had an awful lot of injuries but it is early and I’m sure we’ll figure out how to overcome those. We’ve got a bunch of experienced guys that are returning. We’ve got some awfully talented young players. Our kids are focused. They give a tremendous effort. I think that this is going to be a year that we all can be proud of and excited about.”
On standout sophomore guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes: “He’s in a transition period right now. Last year we expected him to be our point guard running our basketball team. When we lost our leading scorer Aaron Thomas then we needed him to assume a lot more of the scoring responsibilities. So he’s been kind of in-between running the team and making decisions and facilitating to distributing the ball to now being a guy who had to go and score. He was our leading scorer last year with 14.9 points a game. This year we’ve surrounded him with a lot more gifted-type players so hopefully he’ll be able to show his skills to run the team and make decisions and be more of a facilitator. He’s doing everything he can to make sure that he’s a point guard. He is the only player in the history of the ACC to score 30 points in three different games as a freshman.”
On how to improve Florida State’s 67 percent free throwing from last season: “We recruited better free throw shooters [smiles]. That always helps [smiles]. I think our returning players have improved…We have a 7-foot-4 kid [Jean Marc Christ Koumadje] that isn’t a really good free throw shooter but he’s improved. The other kids we’ve brought in are really good free throw shooters and I’m going to take credit for it if our free throw percentage goes up [smiles and pounds the podium].”
On the current state of the ACC: “The interesting thing about the new ACC unlike what people have known it to be in the past, even though we’ve had great teams like North Carolina and Duke, North Carolina State and Wake Forest, now we’ve added Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. We have become the number one basketball conference ever assembled in the history of college basketball.”
“….Every game that you play in the ACC is a dog fight. It is just like brutal war….Seventy percent of all the games in the ACC are decided by two possessions. Four points normally decides 70 percent of the games in the ACC. So it doesn’t really matter if you’re one of the top two or three teams in the league or if you’re at the bottom of the league, anytime they show up it is a battle. Every once in awhile you might get a blowout here and then and sometimes it might be the top team that gets blown out by the team that’s down there at the bottom. So it is a great conference. In order for us to be competitive, obviously we’ve got to be on the money. So that’s why we [as coaches] don’t smile so much [laughs].”