Anthony Polite and Malik Osborne refuse to be disengaged.
They are as frustrated as anyone on the Florida State’s men’s basketball team. About the unlikeliness of the Seminoles making the NCAA Tournament. About FSU’s first five-game losing streak since the 2015-16 season. About the possibility of never playing for this team again.
With the final season of their college careers nearing a close, Polite and Osborne are not ready to give up. They have been heavily involved since recently undergoing surgery on their wrist and foot injuries, respectively.
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Osborne and Polite won’t dress out when FSU (13-10, 6-7 ACC) travels to play North Carolina (17-7, 9-4) at 2 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN). But their presence will be felt.
“They are at practice every day. They are there encouraging and offering wisdom,” Seminole head coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I came into the locker room the other night after our loss. Malik was in there being extremely vocal and using his experience and wisdom he’s gained over the years by aggressively talking to our team.
“…He has been around. He understands the strengths and weaknesses of our team. What we should and shouldn’t be doing. How well we execute the game plan. And he was verbalizing that about as well as the coaches could.”
FSU is expected to be without Osborne for the rest of the season. And last week, Hamilton initially predicted that Naheem McLeod would not be available for 6-8 weeks a couple days before the 7-foot-4 center underwent surgery on his hand. Polite fractured his wrist in the Jan. 29 loss to Virginia Tech before receiving surgery on the injury Monday morning.
But Polite said he remains hopeful about completing his recovery soon.
“Probably the next couple weeks,” Polite told the Democrat on when he expects to return. “Whether it’s 10 days or 15 days, I’m not sure yet. It really depends on how my hand feels.”
Hamilton’s assessment of Polite was not as optimistic.
“It is extremely doubtful that Anthony will be back at all,” Hamilton said. “He keeps telling me that he will be ready, but I don’t have very much confidence that that’s going to happen.”
Polite coming back would significantly improve the Seminoles. The redshirt senior brings as much experience as anyone on the roster and averages 9.7 points per game. Adding Polite to the mix would also partly fix FSU’s jumbled rotation issues.
Without Polite, Osborne and McLeod, the Seminoles have been forced to use rotations that heavily consist of first-year players. Polite coming back would likely pivot freshman Matthew Cleveland to once again be the sixth man.
Cleveland thrived in that role before being upgraded to starter following Polite’s injury.
“I can’t worry about what we don’t have. But there’s no doubt that we are going to miss him,” Hamilton said of Polite. “He is our most experienced guy. But we have to go with who we are.”
A reinstated Polite would give FSU a better chance to finally string together wins again. Even if Polite sits out for the rest of the season, he will still look to be impactful.
“Just give as much energy as I can,” said Polite on how he’s helping the team while sidelined. “Try to be contagious. Be on the sideline screaming, yelling, making it seem like I’m on the court with it. I’m trying to remind them of the little details that we’ve got to keep on the court in order to be successful.”
For teams like the Seminoles that are looking to significantly strengthen their inexperienced roster, they could look at what the Tar Heels have accomplished this season.
First-year UNC head coach Hubert Davis inherited a roster that desperately needed more veterans. Forwards Brady Manek (Oklahoma) and Dawson Garcia (Marquette) joining the Tar Heels via the transfer portal markedly improved their chances.
Manek and Garcia have been meaningful contributors and average 13.7 and 9 points per game, respectively. Garcia is not expected to be available for the rest of the season, though, because of family medical issues.
Across Roy Williams’ final two seasons as UNC’s head coach, the Tar Heels combined for 32 wins. They had not produced fewer victories across a two-year span since the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons.
“It has turned their whole season around with just those two additions,” Hamilton said. “Another year of maturity has made them go from a team that was inconsistent last year with their inexperienced guys to now a team that I think can really win the national title.”
Guard Caleb Mills (Houston) and McLeod (Chipola College) were FSU’s transfer additions this past offseason. Both of them have impressed at times but weren’t enough for the Seminoles to overcome the adversity they have recently faced. Mills leads them in scoring with 13.3 points per game. McLeod reached double figures in back-to-back games before suffering his injury against Clemson last week.
Hammering the transfer portal again this offseason could help FSU replicate UNC’s turnaround. Hamilton is not prepared to disclose his recruiting plans just yet, though.
“What we have to do is focus on what we are doing now,” Hamilton said. “Don’t allow ourselves to get too far down the road worrying about next year. Make sure we give all of our attention. And then maybe add some other scenarios in our plan.
“There’s a template all over the country of guys staying for an extra year, kids coming out of the portal. Those things will happen as we finish the end of the season. Right now, we are focused on what we have at hand.
“We’ve shown our ability to bring guys in who fit in our system. Hopefully we will continue to do that. We are going through a period now that’s obviously an adjustment. But as we move through this, we have to make good decisions to make sure we make the right moves at the end of the season that will assure us that we will be right back on the winning ways that we’ve always been.”
Playing UNC means FSU will face a top-four ACC team in three-point shooting for the third time in the last four games.
Virginia Tech and Clemson are the other two teams. They finished 18 of 25 (72%) and 6 of 15 (40%) from deep against the Seminoles, respectively. FSU has struggled to defend outside shots beyond those two games, too. The Seminoles come in at No. 335 nationally in three-point field goal percentage defense (37.3%).
The Tar Heels are No. 12 in three-point field goal percentage, connecting on 38.4 percent of their attempts. UNC guards Caleb Love, R.J. Davis and Leaky Black, and Manek all average at least 40% from beyond the arc.
FSU may not be able to simply sell out defending the perimeter. Junior forward Armando Bacot can be dominant in the paint. He’s tied at No. 2 in the country for the most double doubles with 18.
“It makes it extremely challenging to defend (Bacot) one on one because of who he is,” Hamilton said. “But you’ve got to make sure you contest those threes as well. They create a tremendous challenge for the defense, which gives Bacot a lot more room to operate inside. That’s one of the reasons why he’s having the kind of year he’s having.”
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where: Dean E. Smith Center
TV/Radio: ESPN/101.5 FM
Reach Carter Karels at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @CarterKarels.
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Anthony Polite and Malik Osborne refuse to be disengaged.