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NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW -- FSU VS. VCU: Everybody loves Chris

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State heads to the NCAA's round of 16 in San Antonio and a date with Virginia Commonwealth hoping that star forward Chris Singleton is ready for more playing time.

The 6-9 Singleton -- the Seminoles leading scorer and rebounder -- played sparingly in Florida State's wins last weekend over Texas A&M and Notre Dame. He missed five weeks with a broken right foot, but it's healed sufficiently to get back onto the court -- if only for short periods.

"We couldn't use not having Chris as an excuse," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said.

Hamilton was reluctant to use Singleton at all last week in the opening round of tournament play in Chicago, but his star player had worked feverishly to rehabilitate the foot injury and had been given medical clearance.

"I could not deny him," said Hamilton, who is well known for being cautious with his injured players. "The hard work that he put in. He was so determined to be a part of the team in any way that he could possibly help."

Hamilton isn't sure about how he'll use Singleton against Virginia Commonwealth (26-11) on Friday night, but he knows his junior wing player is getting healthier by the day.

"You don't miss five weeks and come back and pick up where you left off," Hamilton said. "Hopefully before we finish the season he'll be back to where he was."

In his last full game before the injury, Singleton scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Seminoles to a 72-63 win at Georgia Tech on Feb. 10.

"Not one person is going to pick up Chris, but as a committee I think we all picked it up," junior guard Luke Loucks said.

Singleton's 13 points a game has been offset mostly by increased production from the team's two oldest players, center Bernard James and Derwin Kitchen, and its two youngest, freshmen Okaro White and Ian Miller.

"It says a lot about this team that without our best player we're still able to compete against the best teams," said Kitchen, who is the Seminoles second leading scorer at 10 points a game.

Singleton is hoping to see an increased role this weekend in San Antonio.

"Just sitting on the bench, it's been tough," said Singleton, whose second-to-none defensive game trumps his offensive performance. "(But) if someone else is doing better than me I can't tell them (coaches) to take them out of the game."

Singleton's injury was the latest of a string of ills that wracked the Seminoles throughout the season.

Junior guard Luke Loucks got off to a slow start after foot surgery in the summer, Miller was KOed for 10 games with a groin pull, Xavier Gibson missed nine games with knee and hand injuries and backup forward Terrance Shannon was out seven games with a knee injury. Seven-foot Jon Kreft didn't become eligible until the second semester.

"We had a lot of adjustments we've had to make to be where we are," Hamilton said. "We play whoever is available."

And for now, Hamilton has everyone available even if they're not all at full strength.

Florida State (23-10) is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 18 years. The 1992-93 team advanced to the Elite Eight before being bounced by Kentucky.

All-time Florida State scoring leader Bobby Sura, Sam Cassell, Doug Edwards, Rodney Dobard and two-sport star Charlie Ward were the starters. Sura, Cassell and Ward all enjoyed long productive careers although Edwards was the player drafted highest. All but Dobard were first round picks in the NBA draft.

The names have changed over time and the style too -- Hamilton's teams live off defense while former coach Pat Kennedy's club preferred to outscore opponents -- hanging 110 on North Carolina in one 1992 game and surpassing the century mark five times in the 1992-93 campaign.

Hamilton's team, however, doesn't need to score that many. They're undefeated this season when it scores over 70 points. And Singleton has been a big reason why.