Game Changers

We’re only in December, but it’s already looking like a rough year for Florida State basketball. The Seminoles are 4-5, most recently getting drubbed by Notre Dame, 83-63, to open ACC play. To compound the shaky start, over the weekend FSU announced that junior Aaron Thomas—the team’s leading scorer and best defender—had been declared ineligible for the remainder of the season.

Leonard Hamilton is a proven head coach and it’s still early in the season. But turning this thing around without Thomas, in a loaded ACC that has three teams ranked in the top 10 (Duke, Louisville, Virginia) and three more in the top 25 (Miami, Notre Dame, North Carolina), will be a tremendous challenge. A NIT birth? Maybe, sure. The Seminoles will defend and scrap out wins—they always do under Hamilton, who’s posted winning seasons in 10 of his 12 years in Tallahassee. But as of right now, a third consecutive absence from the NCAA Tournament seems likely.

So, if Florida State will merely be average this year, why do I care to write about them?

The answer is simple. Next year, FSU welcomes two five-star recruits to its program: Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley. These two guys are special talents—both are top-five at their respective positions, with a good chance to get drafted into the NBA. But the duo hasn’t received the level of recognition and respect they deserve. Not even close.

I for one believe Bacon and Beasley combine to give Florida State the best incoming freshman backcourt in the country. Yes, in the country. More so than Justin Simon and Alonzo Trier at Arizona, Admon Gilder and DJ Hogg at Texas A&M, and even Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews at Kentucky.

I’m not implying FSU will rack up wins next season, because freshmen talent hardly ever jells into immediate success. But I do predict Bacon and Beasley will be immediate contributors, and any legitimate conversation about the best incoming recruiting class must include FSU.

Through the first six weeks of the high school season, you’d be hard pressed to find two players doing more for their teams than Bacon and Beasley are doing. As the bandwagon gets going, inevitably there will be countless more articles covering the tandem. But for now, let me lay some groundwork.

Dwayne Bacon
SF, 6-6, 210
Oak Hill Academy (VA)

Bacon has been unstoppable in his first season at Oak Hill, a big reason the Warriors are 17-0 against a national schedule. Per the school’s website, in 23.5 minutes per game, Bacon is averaging 22 points and 3 assists on a remarkable 56 percent field-goal shooting. That’s an average of 0.93 points per minute! Dwayne is scoring at will against the toughest competition in the country.

It’s no fluke. Bacon played like a man possessed throughout the AAU circuit this summer—he poured in a tournament-high 43 points at the Reebok Breakout Challenge, followed by 91 points in two days at the Big Strick Classic—and it’s carried into the fall. His scoring prowess should translate immediately to the college game because he makes deep, contested jumpers, not just “gimmes” at the rim.

The 6-6 wing operates with surgical precision offensively. Equipped with towering size and a quick-hitting shooting stroke, he’s able to stop on a dime for a pull-up jumper. He’ll be used creatively at FSU. Bacon can “curl” around a pin-down screen or “pop” behind a flair screen for easy (see: 56% FG) mid-range looks. Or he can put the ball on the floor, particularly backing down smaller players into the post, or pump faking on the catch and driving. Style-wise, Bacon is a mix of an in-his-prime Rip Hamilton with a hint of Tracy McGrady. I see a lot of this.

Every time he steps on the court, Bacon makes you wonder whether he’s the best wing in the country. If there’s one player who has proved worthy of a McDonald’s All-American roster spot this year, it’s him.

“That’s one of my dreams,” Bacon says.

When you’re at Oak Hill, though, you‘re there for a reason, with no choice but to aim higher. “Every day I walk the halls and see photos of Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Stephen Jackson, Rajon Rondo…It’s a constant reminder of what’s possible when you leave here. I just want to end up like those guys.”


Malik Beasley
SG, 6-5, 190
St. Francis High School (GA)

While Bacon is new on the campus at Oak Hill, Malik Beasley is long entrenched within the Alpharetta (GA) community. After leading St. Francis to a state championship as a junior, Beasley carries lofty expectations on his back

“We have to repeat” Beasley says, matter-of-factly. “I’m working every day as if we didn’t win anything last year. You have to respect the competition in Georgia, but I like our chances. As a leader of this team, I’m going to do everything I possibly can to help this team win another championship.”

The proverbial chip on Beasley’s shoulder—something that will never escape him—manifested over years of being under-ranked and overlooked. He was virtually unknown until the summer before his junior year, a summer in which he posted top-five scoring and top-20 rebounding numbers playing with the Georgia Stars of the Nike EYBL. A 6-5 shooting guard with freakish athleticism, menacing defense and an endless motor that wears down opponents, Beasley has cemented himself as the best player in Georgia and one of the more well-rounded players in the country.

Through eight games this year, Beasley is averaging 25.6 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.8 steals and 1 block. He impacts every facet of the game—he can explode above the rim in transition, or use his strength to create separation for jump shots in the half court. Beasley embraces rebounding from the wing, and he is always slashing to the hoop, which makes him a scoring threat even without the ball in his hands.

Defensively, he has the physical strength to stick small forwards, but also the quickness to stay in front of point and shooting guards. It’s rare that you see a guy so naturally gifted play with such unwavering competitiveness. Every possession matters to Beasley. He has a killer mentality, but is smart enough to know when and how to optimize his energy output. He’s developed himself into a controlled beast.

For a comparison, ESPN’s Paul Biancardi said it best when he compared Beasley to Ben Gordon. Both play with a low shoulder on the drive, able to pull-up from mid-range or blow by to the basket. Like Gordon did at UConn, Beasley embodies the “whatever it takes” mentality, embracing big moments and contributing however he can.

“I take pride in defending, scoring, and making the little things really important,” Beasley says. “I’m just going to keep my head down, keep working, and ultimately make a big impact at FSU.

“A lot of people know who am I now, but the whole world doesn’t know me. Until that happens, I’m going to have a killer mentality.”

FSU fans should soon know Bacon and Beasley real well. In due time, the future backcourt should help the program compete against the blue bloods of the ACC.

It’s a familiar tale in Seminole country: two superb talents, coming on board. Only this time it’s on the hardwood, not the football field. And that deserves to be recognized.

Photos courtesy of Kelly Kline/Under Armour and Jon Lopez Photography