Douglas ready to prove his worth
BOISE, Idaho – Compiling a list of marquee point guards in college basketball is as easy as one-two-three: 1) Ty Lawson of North Carolina, 2) Tyreke Evans of Memphis, 3) Eric Maynor of Virginia Commonwealth. It’s almost as easy to overlook another deserving player.
Toney Douglas of Florida State.
“I always wanted to be known as one of the best guards in the country,” Douglas said Thursday.
Time is running out.
Outside of the ACC, he’s scarcely known. Despite finishing runner-up to Lawson as conference player of the year. Despite earning honors as the conference’s defensive player of the year. Despite playing so well earlier this season, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Douglas was “probably the best player in our league.”
Douglas, a senior, finally has a chance to prove on the national stage why Krzyzewski spoke so glowingly of him and why he earned those ACC accolades. For that, he can thank himself. After all, Douglas is the one who has led Florida State to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998. The fifth-seed Seminoles will play the 12th-seeded Wisconsin Badgers in the first round Friday night.
If Douglas can wait that long.
“I’m ready, man,” he said, unable to suppress his giddiness Thursday.
In a more sobering tone, Douglas’ father, Harry, said, “Toney could have been doing this all along.”
A McDonald’s All-American nominee from Jonesboro, Ga., Toney Douglas signed with Auburn and expected to play for coach Cliff Ellis. But before Douglas got to campus, Auburn fired Ellis.
New coach Jeff Lebo installed Douglas as his starting shooting guard in 2004-05 and let the freshman fire at will. Douglas averaged almost 17 points per game. But he wanted to play point guard – a position he knew he’d have to master to make it to the NBA at 6-foot-2.
That move wasn’t going to happen under Lebo, who viewed Douglas as a shooting guard. So Douglas declared for the draft. He worked out for seven teams, got feedback from several NBA executives – including Jerry West – and ultimately heeded the advice of Allan Bristow, then-general manager for the New Orleans Hornets.
“Why open a fine bottle of wine right now?” Harry Douglas recalled Bristow saying. “Don’t open the cork. Give him some time, and the wine is going to be much finer.”
So Toney Douglas transferred to Florida State, where coach Leonard Hamilton promised to insert him at point guard after Douglas sat out a year required by NCAA transfer rules. The season was a long one, in part because Hamilton introduced Douglas to what was a relatively new concept to the prolific scorer: defense.
“I was like, ‘OK, when are we going to touch the basketball?’ ” Douglas said.
When he took the court for the 2006-07 season, Florida State had a point guard who could score and play defense. But Douglas played a secondary role on a team with other standouts – and the Seminoles’ NCAA tournament bubble kept bursting.
During Douglas’ first season with Florida State, the offense revolved around All-American post player Al Thornton. Thornton flourished, but the Seminoles missed out on the NCAA tournament.
The following season, Douglas played in an overcrowded backcourt. The Seminoles again failed to make the NCAA tournament, and after a first-round defeat to Akron in the NIT, Douglas climbed into the stands and found his father.
“Dad, this is pathetic,” he said.
Harry Douglas was in total agreement, convinced Florida State had failed to carve out a large enough role for his son and that a selfishness permeating the team was undercutting his son’s ability to lead. Maybe it was best for his son to leave the school and turn pro, he thought.
That spring, Toney Douglas earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration but unfinished business kept him at Florida State for his last year of eligibility. It was clear the Seminoles would have less to work with during 2008-09 than they’d had since Douglas arrived. But he relished the chance to lead the young squad.
In the summer, he spent 10 days in Chicago working out against the likes of Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Eric Gordon under the watchful eye of noted trainer Tim Grover. Then it was off to Houston, where he worked out with former NBA coach John Lucas and another handful of NBA players. And from there, he headed to Amare Stoudemire’s weeklong summer camp.
Upon his return to Tallahassee, Fla., he set his alarm clock for 6 a.m., gathered his teammates and led them to the gym. When the new players arrived on campus, he called a team meeting and set the tone for the upcoming season.
Toney Douglas led. They followed.
They followed him to a 10-6 regular-season record in the ACC. Then to an upset over North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals. And to Florida State’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1998.
He also led the team in scoring with 21.3 points per game, second in the ACC behind only Tyler Hansbrough, and averaged 1.9 steals per game, third-best in the league. But most importantly, his coach said, he forged cohesiveness on a team that was picked to finish as low as 10th in the 12-team ACC but finished fourth.
“The thing that he’s done more than anything else is that he’s given us leadership,” Hamilton said. “He’s taken a team with six first-year players and he’s found a way to communicate with them without being offensive, and they have followed his lead. He has a temperament about him that is non-threatening, but is persistent and he’s able to get guys to rally around him.”
The night before games, the coaches go over a scouting report. Then Douglas calls together his teammates to give his own scouting report. Hamilton cited it as Douglas understanding that “the players had to communicate with each other and then in their own terms.”
But the scouting report is out on Douglas, too – even though he has yet to become a household name. Wisconsin will be ready in hopes it can stop Douglas.
“Contain is a better word than stop,”’ Badgers senior Joe Krabbenhoft said.
Krabbenhoft’s coach apparently agrees with that assessment.
“Anytime you have a guard that can catch and shoot, put it on the floor, pull up and shoot, and get to the rim and shoot and be able to pass the ball … you obviously got a pretty good player,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
Pretty good player? That must smart for a guy who wants to be considered among the best. But Douglas said he’s focused less on the publicity he’s generated than on the impact he’s had.
“The North Carolinas and Dukes, they already built legacies of winning,” Douglas said.”Me, I felt like I could make a difference at Florida State. … We haven’t been to the tournament for 11 years. So I always said before I leave Florida State, I want to leave that legacy.”