Hamilton adds perspective to the end of record-breaking season
By Tim Linafelt
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Even as they loaded the team busses last Thursday morning, and even as they got settled in the locker room and then made their way onto the court at the Greensboro Coliseum for pre-game warm-ups, Leonard Hamilton and his staff had a feeling that something like this could happen.
That, because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, Florida State’s ACC quarterfinal game against Clemson might not be played as scheduled.
And that the ACC men’s basketball tournament, held every year since 1954, could be canceled.
Those feelings, tucked away in the back of the Seminoles’ minds as inched closer to tip-off against Tigers, officially became reality at 12:15 p.m. – 15 minutes before scheduled game time – when the league announced in an official statement that the remainder of the tournament had been called off.
In doing so, the ACC joined other conferences from around the nation as well as the NBA in canceling competition in response to the coronavirus. The NHL followed suit about an hour later.
“We believe that it’s the right decision to make at this particular point in time,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford, speaking into the arena’s public address system and surrounded by players and supporters from both FSU and Clemson.
“You can ask why (the decision) was not made sooner. It’s a fair question,” Swofford continued. “The answer is that it’s an extraordinarily fluid situation, with information coming to us as it changes. I used to say by the week, then I said by the day. Now I say by the hour.
“Hopefully we’re doing the right thing in the context of this great country of ours.”
ACC bylaws say that, if the tournament is not played, the regular-season winner is considered the champion and receives the league’s automatic-qualifier bid for the NCAA tournament.
That provided some measure of satisfaction for Florida State on an otherwise strange and disappointing day.
Gathered in front of a few hundred fans and media, the Seminoles were officially declared ACC champions and were presented with a championship trophy.
They received a healthy ovation from both FSU fans and Clemson fans alike.
FSU coach Hamilton said that his team was disappointed to not be playing, but also understood why things played out the way that they did.
“As a coach, you’re always trying to prepare yourself for the unexpected,” Hamilton said. “But this is truly one of those circumstances that we’re preparing ourselves for what we don’t know what to expect the outcome will be.”
That much was apparent in an unusual – and quick – morning at the Coliseum.
As of about 10:30 a.m., Swofford held a press conference that the day’s games were to proceed, albeit without fans in attendance.
A little while later, both teams were on the floor for stretches. Both teams then headed back to the locker room to make their final preparations for the game.
Right around then, news began to pour in from other tournament sites around the nation. First, the AAC announced that its conference tournament had been canceled. Then the Big Ten. Then the SEC and the Pac-12.
By then, the news seemed inevitable. But at 11:55 a.m., the Seminoles took the court again and started running through their layup lines – by themselves. Clemson remained in its locker room.
Soon after, Hamilton was called into a meeting with Swofford and FSU athletics director David Coburn.
“I was prepared mentally for what I thought was getting ready to happen,” Hamilton said.
A few moments later, the Seminoles were directed off the court and back into the locker room, where their head coach gave them the news himself.
“They were disappointed when I told them it had been canceled,” Hamilton said. “But I challenged them to be mature and understand the challenges of what’s going on in the world, and that they had to be patient with the process, and I felt very confident that we were making the right decision.”
More than that, though, Hamilton wanted to alleviate any concerns that his players or their families might have had about the virus.
If that means medical advice or testing, the program is committed to it.
“Whatever we could do,” he said, “to make sure that we made them secure and their parents secure, that we were doing the very best that we could to make sure that everything we did was in their best interests and their safety, and that we would do that. …
“I wanted them to understand that’s how we operate and that’s what’s going to happen. I wanted to ease their minds.”
As for what comes next, Hamilton isn’t sure. And he wasn’t inclined to speculate.
His top priority, though, is to do everything possible to ensure the team’s overall health and wellbeing.
“I don’t even know if we’ve ever had a situation like this,” he said. “This is unusual. This is something that’s different. And we’ve got to handle it with a mature way.”