As the final buzzer sounded and Florida State's disappointing 2012-13 season ended, the name on the tips of Seminoles fans tongues was 'Michael Snaer.'
This was not the way things were supposed to end for the Seminoles beloved senior leader, losing 71-66 on his own homecourt to a Mid-Major in the first round of the NIT. Snaer had left it all out there, playing a full 40 minutes and leading his young Seminole team in scoring with 24 points.
But it wasn't enough.
And as the last grains of sand poured from the top of the hour glass on Snaer's career, Seminole fans were left with one final image of Snaer leaving the court, shoulders sunk, as the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs celebrated under the visitors' hoop.
“I was trying to look at the brighter side of it a little bit, I didn’t want to be too sad that night," admitted Snaer the next day. "A lot of people were calling me, texting me, telling me they’re sorry about the loss but you know I had a great season and everything, I was just trying to just not really accept it yet, I think. My defense mechanism is just to be happy and know there’s a brighter future for this program and for myself.”
Building a Legacy
Just a year ago at this time the Seminoles were fresh off cutting down the nets in Atlanta after claiming the school's first ACC Tournament title, they were seeded third in the NCAA tourmanent preparing to play St. Bonaventure in the opening round of the East Regional.
Florida State had qualified for three straight tournaments at that point, the season before (in 2011) they had lost to that year's Cinderella (VCU) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Florida State would lose to Cincinannati in the round of 32 in 2012, but the program was on an upward trend and Michael Snaer's legacy as one of the greatest players in Florida State history, one of the architects behind the rise of a new ACC power, seemed all but cemented.
That legacy, the chance to build something had been part of Snaer's thinking just a few years earlier when he picked Florida State. Rated the 7th best prospect in the country, equipped with McDonald's All-American hype and his pick of nearly any school in the nation, the 6-5 California native chose to travel to the other side of the country and enroll at FSU over programs like Kansas and UCLA.
"I wanted to go where I could have the most fun if I had to be there for four years," admitted Snaer. "Of course going into it you don’t want to, if you don’t have to, stay all four years. Especially with playing basketball if your career is going to take off maybe after two then you would love to get out, maybe after three you would love to just go and get into that career because it’s something you’ve dedicated your life to.
"But the biggest reason was this was one of the few places that didn't have that history like Kansas, like UCLA and I had a chance to come in and just kind of make history with a lot of firsts, and ever since I’ve been here it’s been like this is the first team to do this, this is the first team to do that, it feels good to hear those kind of things and you know all your hard work is paying off and you’re really making a difference somewhere.”
Snaer made that difference in three years when he went from the blue-chip kid with a high ceiling to one of the clutchest players in the country, lethal with the ball in his hands and the game on the line in the closing seconds. He drilled buzzer-beaters to beat seemingly every team in the ACC at some point. He seemed to come on when Florida State needed him most. And he peaked in the 2012 ACC tournament when he won MVP honors and got Coach K to call him the best competitor in the whole Atlantic Coast Conference.
When he returned for his senior year it was supposed to be the culmination of four strong years at FSU. 2013 was supposed to be Michael Snaer's coronation as the king of the ACC. He entered the season with a swell of All-American hype. He was getting consideration as a lottery player. He was talking about national titles.
Lessons Worth Learning
"We’ve never since I’ve been here, we’ve never been put in a situation where we had to put so many inexperienced guys on the court at one time," admitted Leonard Hamilton after FSU's NIT loss on Tuesday night.
"Michael didn’t have to worry about that because he was surrounded with veterans [as an underclassman]. I think that all the way back to the beginning of the season it became obvious to me that this was going to be a tremendous learning experience for this team. We’ve had some good moments and we’ve had some moments where we have shown that we have a lot of growing up to do."
After three years of firsts on the way to helping Florida State raise its national profile, Snaer and the Seminoles came crashing back to Earth this season. After losing four seniors and two grad students from last year's team, it was up to Snaer to be the lone senior leader on a team that featured seven newcomers and more inexperience than Snaer had ever been surrounded with.
The result was Snaer's role had to be repurposed. He was asked to facilitate more, thrust into a position he had never been placed in as the guy shouldering the load without many proven weapons around him. He still played well, leading the team in minutes (32.7 mpg), points (14.8 ppg) and assists. He carried the entire offensive load on some nights. He hit buzzer-beaters any chance he got (including two within 8 days of each other at one point earlier in the season).
But none of it was enough. Florida State finished the year 18-15, 9-9 in the ACC. They were knocked out in the second round of the conference tournament by UNC. They suffered the loss to Louisiana Tech in the first round of the NIT to add insult to injury.
"This was not the way Michael Snaer was supposed to go out," screamed one disappointed fan in the aftermath of Tuesday's loss.
Snaer could have come out early. His NBA draft stock will arguably never be higher than it was at the end of last season after he had captured tournament MVP honors leading the 'Noles to the first conference title in school history. Had Snaer made the jump last April, he would have never been left muddled amidst the youth and inexperience of the 2012-13 FSU basketball team.
His legacy would have been a perfect three year window in which FSU rose from ACC afterthought to champion.
And Snaer admits, during the season's darkest days he let himself think about that decision. Even wondered once or twice whether he had made a mistake.
"There were definitely times I thought about it. Those were the times where the season tested me a lot, taught me a lot, it tested my character tremendously," said Snaer. "I’m glad I learned all the lessons I learned. It’s been a blessing in disguise to be able to play here another year because it’s taught me so much and I’ve grown so much just as a person.
“You don’t really know what kind of character you have, you always think you have good character until you’ve actually been tested and had to have it revealed to yourself and I never really knew because it’s never been too hard for me as far as basketball goes to never have any bad character but then when it gets to that point where it’s like actually tough and actually testing you that you find out about it and I’ve learned so much just about myself and I’ve been able to overcome so much that I’m definitely proud.
"There’s time when I didn’t show good character, I’m not ashamed to admit that and I had to learn from that I know that’s something I never want to do again. Whenever you’re faced with a situation again you know how to respond now because you didn’t respond correctly the first time. So I’m very glad I had the opportunity to learn a lot from this season, from this team."
Snaer admits it wasn't hard to help lead his junior year. The group was full of experienced upperclassmen who had played for Coach Hamilton for several years each and new what was expected of them.
At various points in the Seminoles' ACC-title season all of their upperclassmen lead in their own way. Whether it was Luke Loucks keeping calm and staying on point as the game heated up or Bernard James making a key block at a crucial time, the burden of leadership was evenly distributed.
No one guy had to do too much.
In a way, that experience with leadership probably didn't prepare Michael Snaer for this season.
"I thought I was a great leader, outstanding, wonderful leader," joked Snaer. "But you have that pressure put on you, those expectations put on you and put that pressure and expectation also on yourself and then you just want to do so well and you know what this team is capable of and you get so frustrated, that frustration is put on you, that’s when it tests you and you find out how good a leader you are.”
All things considered, Snaer's happy he came back though.
"I think this season did not happen by mistake, I really don’t," said Snaer. "I don’t know what you guys believe in, but I believe in God and I think that He definitely put me in this situation and there’s a reason I went through this and I learned everything I’ve learned this season and I definitely think that’s going to come into play later in life whether that’s just if I decide to coach later or even if I’m playing in my career professionally it’s definitely going to come up.”
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