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November 5, 2009

Notebook: Big things expected of Alabi

Florida State center Solomon Alabi seemingly had a decision to make.

Only as far as he was concerned, he didn't have much of a choice at all.

The 7-foot-1 center insisted he never gave much thought to entering the NBA draft after his redshirt freshman season. Alabi knew he needed to develop a more well-rounded game before he was ready to take the next step.

"He and I never had one discussion about the NBA last year," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "That was not on the table."

Alabi may not be talking much about the NBA, but pro scouts definitely are talking about him.

He heads into his sophomore year projected as the No. 14 selection in the 2010 NBA draft by draftexpress.com and the No. 12 pick by nbadraft.net. That's quite a bit of respect for a guy who averaged only 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in 22.3 minutes last season.

Then again, those numbers hardly do justice to Alabi's enormous potential.

Alabi already ranks among the nation's elite shot blockers. If he can develop into a more complete player, Alabi just might help Florida State overcome the loss of star guard Toney Douglas to earn a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

"We have confidence," Alabi said. "I think we'll be really good - better than last season."

Florida State won't be any better unless Alabi is much better.

The Seminoles reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 last year by leaning heavily on Douglas, the only player on his team to post a scoring average in double figures.

Douglas' move to the NBA leaves Alabi as the Seminoles' top returning scorer. Alabi has to emerge as a more consistent scorer and rebounder this season, and he understands that.

Alabi spent the summer adding lower-body strength to improve his leaping ability in hopes that it would help him become more of a factor on the boards. He also worked on his offense enough that he now feels comfortable shooting hook shots with either hand.

"Last year, I wasn't as confident using my left hand," Alabi said, "but I can do it now."

His teammates have noticed the difference.

"He worked on just the little things - reading when double-teams are coming, passing out of double-teams," sophomore forward Chris Singleton said. "His hook shot is unbelievable. Personally, I don't see anybody stopping him."

Alabi reflects the changing direction of the ACC this season.

North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough garnered much of the publicity last season while becoming the ACC's leading all-time scorer, but it otherwise was a guard-oriented league.

Douglas, North Carolina's Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, Duke's Gerald Henderson and Wake Forest's Jeff Teague were drafted in the first round. Miami's Jack McClinton ended a college career in which he matured into one of the league's all-time best 3-point shooters.

Now that the ACC must replace those star perimeter performers, the balance of power has shifted to the frontcourt. North Carolina's Ed Davis, Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors, Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu and Alabi all are considered potential lottery picks.

Alabi's height might make him the most intriguing prospect of all, particularly if he improves as much this year as he did last year.

Although he grew up in Nigeria, Alabi actually graduated from Montverde (Fla.) Academy before coming to Florida State. He played only 10 games his first year at Florida State before a tibial stress fracture in his right leg caused him to sit out the rest of the season and take a redshirt.

That injury may have been a blessing in disguise.

Alabi couldn't run or jump while he recovered from his injury, so he instead used that time off to work on fundamentals. He returned last year as a more skilled player. As a redshirt freshman, Alabi blocked 73 shots - the third-highest total in school history - and shot 54 percent from the floor. Alabi was even the rare big man who wasn't a liability from the foul line, as he made 68 percent of his free throws.

"That helped me a lot," Alabi said. "While I redshirted, I missed playing. It made me want to take advantage of every minute I get to play. I play harder now."

He also plays with a much different attitude than before.

"More than anything else, he's confident," Hamilton said. "He came into last year coming off an injury that he wasn't completely over. He had to get his running skills back. You could just tell from the look of his eyes - the anxiousness and anxiety. Now he's extra confident. He understands exactly what he's supposed to do and what his skill set is."

As he expands that skill set, Alabi continues to develop into a much brighter pro prospect, though he doesn't mind putting the NBA on hold for now.

At this point, he's more concerned about returning to the NCAA tournament.

"I don't worry about [the NBA] right now," Alabi said. "When the opportunity comes, that's good. But right now, I just want to focus on having a good season."

Orange crushed

Syracuse figured to have a tough time early in the season as it struggles to replace NBA lottery pick Jonny Flynn and departed starters Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris.

But who saw this coming?

A team that often contends for national championships won't even win the unofficial Syracuse city championship this season. Syracuse lost 82-79 to "rival" Le Moyne College in a Tuesday exhibition game pitting a Big East power with a Division II program.

Although just an exhibition game, quotes from players on both sides reflected that this contest still carried great meaning.

"This is the best," Le Moyne guard Chris Johnson told The (Syracuse) Post-Standard after making the winning 3-pointer with 8.3 seconds remaining. "The best feeling I ever had in my life, period. Absolutely."

"It is inexcusable," Syracuse guard Andy Rautins said.

While the stunning outcome made this game one of the most highly publicized exhibition results in recent memory, it would be foolish to assume Syracuse is headed for a rebuilding season based on one game that doesn't count.

In fact, the game did offer Orange fans at least some reason for optimism. For one thing, Wesley Johnson seems as good as advertised. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has called Johnson a potential lottery pick, and the Iowa State transfer responded by scoring 34 points Tuesday.

Point guards Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche still have a long way to go after shooting a combined 2-for-9 Tuesday, though they did combine for 10 assists and only three turnovers.

The most disappointing performance Tuesday came from 6-9 forward Arinze Onuaku, who shot 1-for-6 and scored just three points. Onuaku made two-thirds of his shots last season. He probably won't have a performance like this one throughout the regular season.

"I feel bad that the story tomorrow will be, 'What's wrong with Syracuse basketball?' " Le Moyne coach Steve Evans said. "I don't think there's anything wrong. They've got tremendous players. It's an exhibition game. They're young. They're going to be terrific."

TIP-INS

Why can't the Associated Press preseason All-America team resemble a team that you'd actually put on the floor? The AP preseason All-America selections include Kansas point guard Sherron Collins, Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody, Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson, Duke forward Kyle Singler and Kansas center Cole Aldrich. That group includes one point guard, one center and three power forwards, though Singler could move to the perimeter in a pinch. Why not replace one of the forwards with Michigan State's Kalin Lucas, Oklahoma's Willie Warren or a different guard?

Speaking of preseason all-star teams, anyone who fills out one of those ballots faces the following dilemma: Do you reward someone for past achievements or try to predict the future? That's what makes it so tough to select preseason all-league teams in basketball, a sport in which true freshmen traditionally have such a major impact. For example, Kentucky guard John Wall only earned second-team All-SEC honors in the preseason balloting by the league's media and coaches. By contrast, Rivals.com named Wall a second-team preseason All-American. Wall was even declared the preseason national player of the year by CBSSports.com. I understand the motivation behind rewarding upperclassmen for career achievements on these preseason all-league teams, but I'll be stunned if Wall isn't a first-team All-SEC selection at the end of the season.

The health problems continue for Michigan State guard Raymar Morgan, who sat out a 76-45 exhibition victory over Northwood on Saturday with a sprained left ankle. Morgan, arguably the most talented player on the Spartans' roster, was bothered by a variety of injuries for much of last season.

Duke guard Nolan Smith will serve a two-game suspension to start the season for his participation in an unsanctioned summer league, which will put the Blue Devils' lack of backcourt depth under even more scrutiny. Smith and senior Jon Scheyer are the only experienced guards on Duke's roster. Even with a thin backcourt, Duke shouldn't be in any danger of losing either of its first two games. Duke opens with UNC-Greensboro on Nov. 13 before facing Coastal Carolina on Nov. 16.

Colorado freshman guard Shannon Sharpe will have to delay the start of his college career. Sharpe injured his left knee during a preseason workout and will sit out the entire year.

Virginia guard Calvin Baker will miss a couple more weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose piece of cartilage in his right knee last week. Baker averaged 8.4 points and 2.8 assists in 24.9 minutes last season.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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