The 2015 recruiting class put together by Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton and his staff has been hailed as one of the better hauls in the country, with this talented group (led by Dwayne Bacon) expected to give the program a much-needed boost this coming season. They join a backcourt that has two seniors in Devon Bookert and Montay Brandon, and the point guard position is a spot where Florida State was in need of an addition.
Saturday night the Seminoles landed their point guard, as Arsenal Tech (Indianapolis, Indiana) point guard C.J. Walker announced via Twitter that he’s committed to the ACC school. The 6-foot Walker, who was originally a Purdue commit and attends at the same high school that produced former Kentucky forward Trey Lyles, is Florida State’s second commit in the Class of 2016.
Four-star shooting guard Trent Forrest verbally committed to Florida State in early May.
“He’s a left-handed guard who had a really good spring,” NBC Sports recruiting insider Scott Phillips said of Walker. “He has the ability to hit shots and also create for others, and he’s really good in pick and roll situations.
“He’s a nice piece for Florida State because it gives them a point guard who can really distribute, and he isn’t afraid to get guys the ball given all the talented wings and two-guards they’ve added in these last few recruiting classes.”
Walker played for the Speice Indy Heat program this spring, averaging 16.8 points and 2.8 assists per game in Nike EYBL play. In 2016 he’ll join a backcourt that is currently filled with underclassmen.
Bookert, Brandon and junior college transfer Benji Bell are the only scholarship upperclassmen on the perimeter, with sophomores Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Robbie Berwick and freshmen Bacon, Malik Beasley and Terance Mann completing the group.
Rathan-Mayes, an ACC All-Freshman Team selection, led Florida State in both scoring and assists in 2014-15.
Florida State junior guard Aaron Thomas finished the 2013-14 season in solid fashion, averaging 17.4 points per game on a team that reached the semifinals of the Postseason NIT. With Xavier Rathan-Mayes eligible to play after sitting out all of last season as a non-qualifier, Florida State was expected to have one of the better perimeter tandems in the ACC.
Unfortunately for head coach Leonard Hamilton he won’t have that luxury in 2014-15, as it was announced on the eve of the team’s ACC opener at Notre Dame that Thomas has been ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season. Thomas was leading the Seminoles in scoring, averaging 14.8 points per contest, and in Florida State’s 96-73 win over UCF on December 6 he scored 22 points on 10-for-17 shooting from the field.
The loss of Thomas is another blow Florida State has been dealt at this early juncture in the season, with Devon Bookert currently out after re-injuring the foot he originally broke in the spring. Add in Robbie Berwick playing with a broken nose, and the Seminoles are nowhere near 100 percent on the perimeter.
The loss of Thomas puts even more pressure on guards Rathan-Mayes and Montay Brandon as well. Rathan-Mayes is averaging 12.3 points and 4.0 assists per game, and he’s been asked to be both a scorer and distributor for Florida State. Brandon’s averaging 13.4 points per contest, and he scored 23 points in the Seminoles’ win over UCF.
Without Thomas, those two become even more important to a team that was picked to finish eighth in the preseason ACC media poll.
After having his debut in a Florida State uniform pushed back a full season due the NCAA ruling him academically ineligible to compete, redshirt freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes was expected to be one of the headliners for the Seminoles in their season opener against Manhattan.
Unfortunately for Rathan-Mayes that wasn’t the case, as head coach Leonard Hamilton held him out of the 81-66 victory for an unspecified reason. According to Dustin Tackett of the Orlando Sentinel, following the game Hamilton did not elaborate on the reason why Rathan-Mayes, who was on the bench but not in uniform, didn’t play Saturday but the guard will be available Tuesday night when the Seminoles host Northeastern.
With Rathan-Mayes sidelined other underclassmen stepped forward for Florida State, which struggled early against the Jaspers but turned things around late in the first half. Two of the players providing that needed spark were freshmen Phil Cofer and Robbie Berwick, with Cofer finishing the game with four points and six rebounds and Berwick tallying 11 points himself.
In total six Florida State players scored between 11 and 14 points (Aaron Thomas led the way with 14), and as the game wore on the Seminoles’ length and athleticism slowed down a Manhattan offense that produced six first-half three pointers. Steve Masiello’s Jaspers finished the game shooting 28.6% from the field, and they made just 25 percent (7-for-28) of their two-point field goal attempts.
The game wasn’t the smoothest, with their being a combined 42 turnovers (21 apiece) and 80 free throw attempts, but Florida State used its size and athleticism to turn things around after a slow start. Rathan-Mayes will give Florida State another offensive weapon moving forward, and if Saturday’s win is any indication of what’s to come the Seminoles will once again be formidable defensively.