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NBA’s top talent producer? Gastonia’s Leonard Hamilton and Florida State have a strong case

By Richard Walker

When you think of Florida State athletics, most think of the school’s football and baseball programs.

Gastonia’s Leonard Hamilton with his 2021 ACC basketball tournament championship net.

Gastonia native Leonard Hamilton certainly supports the Seminoles’ football and baseball teams, but his basketball program is becoming one of the biggest pro basketball talent producers in all of college basketball.

Since arriving at Florida State 19 seasons ago, Hamilton has helped produce nine first-rounders, including three in the last two years.

ESPN’s “The Undefeated” writer Marc J. Spears put it this way last Thursday before Scottie Barnes went No. 4 overall to the Toronto Raptors in the 2021 NBA Draft.

“Many may think of traditional schools such as Duke, Kansas and Kentucky as the renowned programs to produce the top NBA players,” Spears wrote. “One school that should also be in that conversation is Florida State and its head coach Leonard Hamilton. Florida State is tied at fourth with Villanova and Washington for total draft selections over the past five years, behind only Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Florida State has had seven draft selections since 2016, including five first-rounders: Patrick Williams, Devin Vassell, Mfiondu Kabengele, Jonathan Isaac and Malik Beasley.

Hamilton has been involved with coaching 40 eventual NBA players during his coaching – and that number will grow with three more players getting drafted last week.

It all started when the 1966 Gastonia Highland High and 1968 Gaston College graduate began his career as an assistant coach at Austin Peay in 1971.

After three years as an assistant coach at Austin Peay, Hamilton served as an assistant coach and associate head coach at Kentucky for 12 seasons before becoming a head coach. He spent four seasons at Oklahoma State, nine seasons at Miami, Fla., one year as Washington Wizards NBA head coach and the last 19 years as Florida State’s head coach.

“The public has been disrespectful of Leonard’s achievements,” former college basketball coach George Raveling told The Undefeated. “It could be for lack of awareness or whatever, but it’s a real conundrum. How the hell can this guy do all this and it not be well known? And, here we are in 2021, and if it was a TV show, it’d be called Hidden Secrets. I don’t understand, it’s right there in the history books.”

Barnes joins previous first-rounders Sam Bowie, Kevin Grevey, Rick Robey, Jack Givens, Melvin Turpin and Kenny Walker at Kentucky, Byron Houston at Oklahoma State, John Salmons and Tim James at Miami, Fla., and Al Thornton, Toney Douglas, Chris Singleton, Beasley, Isaac, Kabengele, Williams and Vassel at Florida State.

“It means that we are creating an atmosphere for them to reach their potential,” Hamilton said of his Seminoles players making it to the NBA. “I’m happy for them. I’m equally happy for them to graduate. The main thing is to get them to reach their potential. I am excited about kids reaching their potential and their dreams.”

Spears wrote that a longtime NBA told The Undefeated that Hamilton’s players “are attractive to the NBA because they are athletic, play defense, have a team mentality and they know how to win.”