LOS ANGELES, Calif. — After the sneakers have been tightened, the scouting report has been finalized and the last words of pep-talks have been uttered, each member of the Florida State basketball team touches a sign.
It’s not a unique routine in college athletics. Some programs slap a university-old slogan, such as ‘Play like a champion today.’ Others touch an artifact, like Clemson football’s Howard’s Rock. Each are bound by decades of tradition, celebrated by players and fans young and old.
That’s not the case for the Seminoles. Before each game, they touch a sign of a collared, snarling junkyard dog — new school as can be. Let coach Leonard Hamilton explain.
“In the South where we’re raised, a junkyard is where a lot of broke-down cars are in a big old fence,” Hamilton said. … “So they have these junkyard dogs that just run around all the time, and they’re ferocious and they get after you, and they’re mean and they’re ornery and they’re tough.
“So we adopted the junkyard dog principle because that’s the way we want to play. We want to be consistent. We want to be like junkyard dogs that really want to protect their yard.”
This might sound familiar. Throughout the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan clipped a picture of a pitbull to their locker room white board. Like that of the Seminoles, it represents the mindset coach John Beilein craves that his players carry.
It’s not, however, the most permanent metaphor. The Wolverines’ whiteboard has been pitbull bull-less in Los Angeles, after all.
But for Florida State, junkyard dog is a mindset as enduring as the tradition of touching the sign itself — and it’s what has carried it to Saturday’s Elite Eight matchup against Michigan.
“It’s just getting all the way down and getting the little things like deflections, steals, simple stuff like that,” said forward Phil Cofer. “This year’s team, it’s definitely locking in. That’s what wins games.”
That ethos has been preached to Cofer throughout his four years with the Seminoles. For him, it’s become a second nature, ditching the chase of glamor for the chase of loose balls.
What is new for Cofer and Florida State, however, is the team’s by-committee approach.
During a game back in the infant moments of the season, six Seminoles reached double figures, leading to a 35-point drubbing of The Citadel. Even with some initial hesitation, that’s been Florida State’s approach.
No Seminole averages more than 13 points-per-game. Yet, they still command adept scoring ability, ranking 33rd in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.
“At first, everybody was kind of like, ‘Uh, I don’t know about this,’ ” Cofer said. “But when we start winning games, it kind of changes everything like, ‘Alright, man let’s get this no matter what our stats are.’ ”
One night will be Cofer’s time to shine. The next, it might be point guard Trent Forrest’s. The following, forward Terrance Mann’s. It doesn’t matter, as long as the final score stays in their favor.
“The coaches preach it all the time, like it’s going to be a different guy every night,” Cofer said. “Everybody’s locked in and playing towards each other.
“I think everybody doesn’t really know, but at the end, if we get the win, we get the win. And I think everybody’s locked in to winning more than, ‘how many points I score.’ ”
That might be the Wolverines’ biggest challenge in preparing for Florida State. In the Second Round, Michigan knew that point guard Rob Gray would facilitate a sizable chunk of Houston’s offense. On Thursday, the Wolverines’ blueprint was stopping Texas A&M’s monstrous front court.
But the Seminoles present a different formula. Their scoring can come from any place at any time — just like the bite of a junkyard dog.
“We recognize that we’re a talented team, so going into games we don’t feel like underdogs,” said forward Mfiondu Kabengele. “We feel like we belong and we’ll go in very aggressive, very confident.”