Sunday, November 19, 2017
Sports

FSU's Xavier Rathan-Mayes has adapted well in move to point guard

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ORLANDO — His out-of-body experience lasted four minutes, 38 seconds. During that fleeting, finite stretch, FSU shooting guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes was a PlayStation dervish. Kid couldn't miss.

"One of the greatest shooting performances I have ever seen," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said.

The 'Noles fell 81-77 to the 'Canes on that February night two winters ago, but not before Rathan-Mayes had staged arguably the greatest scoring exhibition in FSU lore. Thirty of his 35 points came in the last 4:38. His surge began with a 3-pointer and ended with a four-pointer, when he was fouled while banking in a trey.

In between, he scored 26 in a row at one point. "I've never seen that before in my college coaching career," Larranaga said.

Then, before you can say John Stockton, the dynamo was asked to become a distributor. By the 2015-16 season, 'Noles coach Leonard Hamilton had brought two other elite scorers, Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley, aboard.

Suddenly, this garnet-and-gold legacy (son of FSU 1,000-point scorer Tharon Mayes) was being asked to facilitate offense instead of create it.

"We needed him to be a point guard," 'Noles coach Leonard Hamilton said.

Initially, there was some resistance, followed by rough patches. In the last two games of a five-game February skid, Rathan-Mayes totaled two assists and six turnovers. After the season, he even briefly entered the NBA draft before deciding to remain in school.

"It's been a process for me," he said.

The process has segued to a payoff. Rathan-Mayes ended the regular season second in the ACC — and 23rd nationally — in assist-turnover ratio (plus-2.76), and FSU ended a five-year NCAA Tournament drought.

"(The transition) is not as easy as one would think," said Hamilton, whose third-seeded team (25-8) meets Florida Gulf Coast (26-7) tonight at the Amway Center. "And I think he's fought through it and I think he's in a pretty good spot."

Easing the adjustment has been the surrounding cast.

FSU possesses one of the most vertically daunting lineups in this tournament with ultra-talented 6-foot-10 freshman Jonathan Isaac (11.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and 7-1 Nigerian Michael Ojo (4.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg). Bacon, a 6-7 former Parade All-American averaging 16.9 points, elicits NBA buzz on most nights.

But at its core is Rathan-Mayes, a Canadian-born junior whose 1,210 career points put him 50 behind his father.

"Rathan-Mayes has done a great job of facilitating those things," Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley said.

At its essence, efficient has supplanted prolific. Though still capable of filling it up on a given night (he had 23 against Wake Forest in December), Rathan-Mayes recognizes the talent around him and maximizes it.

He ended the regular season with 4.9 assists. In 11 of 20 conference games including the ACC tournament, he committed one or zero turnovers.

No more PlayStation moments, but a lot of play-smart ones.

"I enjoy it a lot. I've got three pros on both sides of me, so it makes my job a lot easier," Rathan-Mayes said.

"It's been a process for me, learning the point guard position, coming from high school and playing the (two-guard) all my life. But I think I've gotten the hang of it now, and I love being in the position that I am, being one of the leaders on the team."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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