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The Early Read: Okaro White Says FSU Basketball Culture Already Changing

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I had the opportunity to sit with Okaro White last week and talk about the upcoming season. The junior forward will be seeing a lot of extra duty this year with the departure of six seniors, including big men Jon Kreft, Xavier Gibson and Bernard James. 

White has been working his tail off to prepare for his increased role, and I'll have plenty on that later, but we'll start with something White noticed in this year's incoming class of recruits. White says he was stunned by team participation over the summer and that new NCAA rule changes really helped with player development.

"We [had] more time to do stuff, I know they changed the rule where we’re getting more time over the summer that we normally didn’t get with coaches, so that helped a lot. As far as any of the freshmen coming in, when I came in I know they now know more than I did when I was a freshman, so that helps a lot.”

Every year Leonard Hamilton talks about how it's a process with each team and they have to grow and develop before they hit their stride, with his defensive systems that can typcially take a while, but with more time this past summer the 'Noles may be able to pick things up faster and gel more quickly during the upcoming year. 

That wasn't really what White was marveling over though, for him it was the attitude of the incoming group.

“I think over the last couple years especially, everyone’s labeled coach Ham as like the defensive guru," White said. "Coming in they kind of already know like 'hey this is what it is,' and we consistently tell them, me and Mike [Snaer] and Terrance [Shannon], that you’re not going to play if you’re not playing defense, no matter how good you are on the offensive end.

“I think they actually pretty much came in with the mindset that I know defense is going to be the first thing [that will] get me on the floor. They keep on asking us questions and stuff about that.”

Ian Miller mentioned something about this when I spoke to him too, recruits now know that they'll get a very good defensive education at Florida State, that the Seminoles' forte is defense.

As Miller put it, Florida State graduates are more well-rounded, which is why you see a lot of them end up in the NBA or playing professionally overseas.

White elaborated even further, that Hamilton is addressing a fairly glaring deficiency at the high school coaching level.

“For me, myself, I never really looked at defense as in depth as what we look at it [here]," said White. "I always just thought you just stick your arms out and don’t let your guy go by you but there’s actually more to it and there’s a lot of defensive schemes that are not even very much different from each other but just that little tweak can cause an offense to stop scoring and stuff. So we have a lot of different schemes that we use and it’s really just remembering all those schemes. It takes a while to remember.

“I think that’s a high school thing, period. My last few years of high school, my coach he prided himself on defense, but what you don’t really find in high school is coaches [doing that], my coach did, but he was no where as in depth as we are here, so it’s just a whole different level here.”

That shift in perception, that Florida State is a defensive-minded program with a defensive guru as a head coach and a rising profile has helped the Seminoles to find the players they need to run their system well. 

Miller said a couple weeks ago that FSU gets the guys it needs, not necessarily all the McDonalds All-Americans, though they do get a few, but guys who fit into their system well.

White agreed.

“Definitely, and that’s the big key too," said White. "As long as we can keep our D up, and I think we will, this offense is probably running a lot smoother and we’re going to be a lot quicker and we’re going to be more of a fast break team.”

If what White is saying isn't just camp-speak and holds true this season, it means Hamilton is beginning to succeed in recruiting the kind of guys who can maintain the Seminoles' lofty defensive standards, but not at the expense of their offensive ability. 

Okaro genuinely believes that Florida State's defense won't drop off this season even in spite of losing six very solid seniors. 

He also thinks the offense is set to improve with Ian Miller and Michael Snaer in the same backcourt and an infusion of speed into the rotation. If that's the case, White will have to have a huge hand in it. He's been working hard to ensure he's ready to take on that load.

“I’ve done a lot of individual work just this summer, I’ve probably done more stuff than I did my first two summers," White admitted. "Just realizing the role I’m going to have to have this year, that it's stepped up, I’m working on everything, outside-in, inside-in, I keep on working on my quickness because I know that’s a strength of mine, going around bigger guys. Not being as big or girthy as them I could probably get around them a little faster so I’ve been trying to get my quickness up to the highest potential.”

White says that's what fans will see has improved in him the most this season, his quickness. He'll need it because at 6-8, 210, he's not exactly going to overpower a lot of defenders.

Last season White averaged 7.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg and was a solid defender as part of a rotation that featured Dallas Mavericks draft pick Bernard James, and seniors Jon Kreft and Xavier Gibson. Terrance Shannon would have factored were it not for a shoulder injury suffered early on.

This season only White and Shannon have any experience at forward, which is why White will be so integral to the Seminoles' success.

As for Shannon:

“Terrance is very excited to get back on the court, I kind of feel sad for him that he took that medical redshirt when he got hurt," said White. "But he’s been working on that shoulder, he doesn’t let the shoulder bother him, he doesn’t really talk about it, he doesn’t want to talk about it. [But] he’s pretty good, he’s ready to go, just excited about the season.”

Media day is today, so I'll have plenty more basketball to sprinkle in leading up to the start of the season later this month. But for now, back to football.

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