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Looking ahead, and

Dismissing his job security concerns, coach wants to lead team.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 16, 2001


TALLAHASSEE -- Coach Steve Robinson recently deadpanned that if it weren't a fire-code violation, he would like to take a match to the scrapbook of newspaper articles chronicling last season.

"I want to move forward," he said.

Not so fast.

The context for the present is inextricably intertwined with the past, specifically last season -- a year that went up in proverbial flames for an inexperienced FSU team. The Seminoles finished a dismal 9-21, setting a school record for losses. And they didn't just lose to NCAA Tournament teams like Duke. They lost to Furman and Cleveland State.

That's why most pundits have picked the Seminoles to finish eighth or ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That's why some preseason publications include Robinson on their watch lists of coaches on the hot seat.

"I don't worry about that," Robinson said. "I'm going to try to enjoy the moment and coach my team each and every day and do the best job I can to make sure these guys have as much success as they possibly can. That's my focus and I'm going to get them (the players) to understand that that's got to be their focus. It's not about me. It's not about my job security."

Yet the players can't avoid hearing the rumors.

"This season is important for all of us," sophomore forward Michael Joiner said. "First for ourselves to prove to everybody that last year we just didn't have the experience and this year we have experience and depth. But it's also important for coach."

Athletic director Dave Hart has remained steadfastly behind Robinson, his first major hire, even in the face of increasing losses and decreasing fans.

Under Robinson, the totals have worsened from 18 wins and an NCAA berth in his first season to 13 to 12 and then a nadir in 2000-01. During that time, season-ticket sales decreased by more than 1,000 to about 3,500. They are at 3,322 so far this season.

"Steve is our basketball coach," said Hart, adding that Robinson has improved some academic concerns that were besmirching the program.

Hart also recognized Robinson would need five years to rebuild the program, and he hasn't issued a mandate to win a certain number of games.

"I think with the group we've got, we've got a chance to be more successful," said Robinson, who is entering his fifth year and receives about $400,000 annually on a contract that runs through the 2002-03 season.

Senior point guard Delvon Arrington is one of the ACC's more accomplished playmakers and a good starting point. Joiner was a freshman All-ACC pick, senior forward Antwuan Dixon seems far improved as an outside shooter and leader, and junior forward/center Mike Mathews, who showed flashes of brilliance after sitting out the previous year as a partial qualifier, should be better.

Robinson, whose ability as a recruiter has been questioned, also has brought in better talent the past two years. In addition to Joiner, sophomore guard J.D. Bracy, who had to sit last season as a partial qualifier, should provide a versatile offensive threat.

Freshman forward Anthony Richardson, a dazzling talent, is the first McDonald's All-American Robinson has signed. Freshman forward Adam Waleskowski, a savvy, tenacious inside presence, should contribute immediately as should center Trevor Harvey, a junior college transfer who might be FSU's best shot-blocker since Randell Jackson. And come January, freshman guard Adrian McPherson, FSU's backup quarterback, will join the team. He was the state's Mr. Basketball.

"We didn't add chopped liver," Robinson said.

But adding ACC-caliber players or pulling off an upset, as the Seminoles did at Maryland last season, aren't enough. They must win consistently. A less-than-daunting nonconference schedule should help.

Of 11 nonconference foes, only Florida, USF, Cleveland State and Birmingham Southern had winning records last season. Savannah State, Western Carolina, American, Campbell and Virginia Tech won fewer games than FSU.

"The more success you have, the more energized players and everybody else will be toward our program," Robinson said. "You're talking about perception. . . . That's the challenge we have, to change the perception of what Florida State basketball is."

That would produce a scrapbook worth saving.

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