Last year, they sat and they watched.
It wasn’t easy, of course. If you’re on scholarship at a school like Florida State, you’re obviously not used to riding the bench. But both RaiQuan Gray and Anthony Polite were redshirted by the Seminoles a season ago.
Gray sat out because head coach Leonard Hamilton thought he needed to get in better condition and wasn’t ready to contribute as a true freshman. Polite had a knee injury that hampered him, but he too likely wasn’t ready to be a part of the Seminoles’ rotation in 2017-2018.
It’s rather rare in the ACC for a program to redshirt three freshmen in the same season (Wyatt Wilkes was the other), and it might be even more uncommon for two of those players to be major parts of the rotation the following year.
But that’s exactly what has happened with the Seminoles, as both Gray and Polite have become key contributors for the No. 10 team in the country.
“You never know when your time is going to come,” Gray said. “So you’ve got to stay engaged and stay locked in. Coach always tells us we win by committee. That it takes more than 1 through 5. It takes 6 through 11, and that’s the culture we have here.”
Gray, who has slimmed down noticeably from a season ago, is averaging 12.6 minutes per game. Not a huge number, obviously, but he has been on the court multiple times this season when the game was still in doubt.
He’s averaging 5.0 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, but he has shown flashes of his immense potential. Gray is 6-foot-8, listed at 260 pounds and can handle the ball so well that he’s brought it up the court on numerous occasions. Coaches and teammates say he’s one of the best passers on the team.
And while his minutes might decrease with the return of senior Phil Cofer from injury, Gray has shown he could be a major part of this program moving forward.
“It was (tough),” Gray said of redshirting. “It was kind of hard at the beginning of the season. You want to play and be out there with your teammates. But I think it was the best decision my coaches made, and it kind of got easier as the year went on.”
Melina Myers/USAToday Sports Images
Polite echoed that sentiment.
He was slowed by a knee injury last year, but like Gray, he thinks the redshirt season was a blessing in disguise.
“It definitely was a big challenge, yeah,” Polite said. “You go to college to play basketball, something you dream about your entire life, and then for different reasons you have sit on the bench. But it’s a learning process. You get to learn from the sideline.
“I think it gave me an edge in succeeding this year. Watching guys like Trent [Forrest] and P.J. [Savoy] and M.J. [Walker], seeing them play for a year, and just trying to learn everything from them I think really helped.”
Polite is currently averaging 14.2 minutes per game. He’s only shooting 29.2 percent from 3-point range so far this season, but he has knocked down some big ones through nine games — including a rally-starting 3-pointer in the comeback vs. LSU and another one against UConn that stopped a Huskies run.
Polite is also shooting 83.3 percent (10 of 12) from the free-throw line.
“Definitely the confidence in myself has grown,” he said. “I’m just trying to be aggressive all the time. … And giving it all I have each second I’m out there.”
That’s the deal when you play for Leonard Hamilton.
The Seminoles have nine different players averaging more than 12 minutes per game. And that’s without Cofer being part of the rotation yet (he is expected to see his first action of the season on Monday).
So playing time is going to be limited. Sometimes, a role player might see 20 minutes in a game. Another time, he might play four.
But no matter how long a player is out there, he had better play as hard as possible. And he’d better play defense.
“Defending is what keeps you on the floor,” Gray said. “I think I’m defending pretty well. I know I can rebound better. I can make better decisions, be a better playmaker overall. But if you defend while you’re on the floor, everything else will take care of itself as time goes on.”
Also as time goes on — both this season and in subsequent ones — both Gray and Polite figure to be big parts of the Seminoles’ rotation. Wilkes, too, perhaps. Though he’s only averaging 3.5 minutes per game so far this season.
“I like the progress we’re making, but we’re still not there yet,” Hamilton said. “I think that you see they’re starting to feel more comfortable. Gray is starting to be a little more comfortable, play a little more instinctive. That’s good. And Polite, you can tell he’s a little more comfortable in his role.
“And those guys still have high ceilings.”