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FSU's Hamilton faces familiar foe

Leonard Hamilton seeks a victory against his friend, Perry Clark, and his former team, Miami.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2002

Florida State's Leonard Hamilton sounds like any other coach when he insists that one regular-season game is as important as any other.

So today's showdown against Miami at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center is no more or less important than the ones against, say Mercer or even Florida, right?

"I'm not going to say it's special," Hamilton said. "The thing I like about it is that they're a good team and we have another opportunity to move our program forward. I'm not going to get caught up in the rest of that stuff."

But "the rest of that stuff" is precisely what makes this one different. Hamilton not only coached and/or recruited many of the current Hurricanes players, he beat the drums in support of Miami hiring his friend, Perry Clark.

"I respect the University of Miami. They've got a great coach. They're a good team and it's an opportunity for us," Hamilton said. "If I have a chance to visit with those players and with the coaching staff I will, but once the game starts I'm sure they'll want to win as bad as we do. You don't get caught up in what has happened in the past. This is now."

That past, however, is more than your ordinary prologue.

Clark might not be at Miami without Hamilton's endorsement and advice.

"My only conversations with Leonard were about the job itself, about Paul Dee, about the environment here," Clark said. "Leonard was very, very high on Paul, and that was a major factor in me wanting to come here. I've always believed that a job is only as good as your president and your athletic director."

But he heard how fervently Hamilton, who left the 'Canes after a 1999-2000 trip to the Sweet 16 to coach the Washington Wizards, had campaigned for him and he appreciated it. Of course, he would have done the same for Hamilton. They've been close friends for more than 20 years.

"As long as we've known each other, we've never coached against each other, so from that standpoint, it will be different," Clark said. "But in all honesty, once they throw the ball up, it's not Perry Clark against Leonard Hamilton. It's Miami against Florida State. We're going to work as hard as we can for 40 minutes to try to win a basketball game. That will have nothing to do with our friendship. ... That's where the emotion has to be."

Miami senior forward James Jones agrees that he and his teammates must focus on the Seminoles (3-1), who fought hard in a 58-57 loss to No. 8 Florida on Friday, and not on the sideline. Yet he concedes it does add a "little flavor" to the game.

"If we beat them, if anything, it will be bittersweet," James said.

He and the Hurricanes (3-1) would deal with the aftertaste. Not only were they upset by Florida Atlantic 74-73 in overtime on Tuesday, they consider this an overdue revival of an intrastate rivalry. The teams last met in 1989-90 -- the season before Hamilton arrived in Coral Gables.

Just your ordinary next-game-on-the-schedule, huh?

Yeah, right.

-- Times correspondent Jason Schneider contributed to this report.

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