O'Mariah Gordon was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Confernece Freshman Team.
It was a week before selection Sunday for the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament — March 13 — and instead of playing basketball, the Florida State women's athletes were playing kickball.
It was a day designed for emotions to be released.
The Seminoles, sitting at 17-13, were on the NCAA Tournament bubble and feeling anxiety about their chances. It had been a season of transition for them. After a pandemic-affected 2020-2021 season in which the team went 10-9, the team brought in a heralded freshman class expected to shake things up. The class was led by a name familiar to sports fans in our area Braden River High alum O'Mariah Gordon, a two-time Gatorade Florida Girls Basketball Player of the Year and one of the top incoming point guards in the nation.
Gordon, who is 5-foot-4, called the day of kickball her favorite moment of her freshman year. It was a chance for everyone to breathe, she said, and resulted in pure fun.
Of course, Gordon enjoyed the basketball parts of her experience, too. Gordon played in all 31 of the Seminoles' games. She began the season coming off the bench but by the end of the year had earned 20 starts. She averaged 7.4 points per game, the second-most on the team, and led the Seminoles with 3.0 assists per game. Gordon led the team by hitting 38.1% of her 3-pointers. She was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman Team March 1.
"She's (Gordon) just savvy," Florida State head Coach Sue Semrau said in a Jan. 23 press conference. "For a freshman to be able to create, that's what I love about her. She sets other people up. It's not just about her going out and scoring."
Semrau compared Gordon's ability to that of former Seminoles star Courtney Ward, a two-time All-ACC player and Florida State's all-time leader in assists (602). That's a good sign for Gordon's future — and her present isn't bad either, though the success Gordon found as a freshman did not come easily. Gordon said the beginning of the season was struggle in terms of figuring out her timing.
"I had to learn when to pass the ball and when to shoot the ball," Gordon said. "In high school, you don't always run a real system. Everyone gets their shots when they want them. Here, as a freshman, you're stepping into an established team. You have to fit into the team's chemistry. You have to learn your teammate's strengths and how to use them."
Not helping matters was Gordon's health. Gordon said she played the entire season with a nagging heel injury. Gordon said she had surgery over the summer and missed most of Florida State's preseason, returning two days before the team's lone exhibition game against West Florida on Nov. 3. The regular season began six days later against North Florida. The preseason surgery was not effective enough to take all of Gordon's pain away, but she powered through it, wanting to make a strong impression in her first season.
In retrospect, Gordon said, she's happy that she was thrown into the fires of Division I college basketball right away.
"It made me have to learn everything faster," Gordon said. "And it showed me that the coaching staff believed in me, which felt great."
Gordon said her comfort level grew as the season progressed — and so did the trust she earned from her coaches. That's why she earned more playing time, more starts and more leeway on the court. Gordon said hearing her coaches tell her, "You can run this team," gave her a massive confidence boost. It's no surprise that Gordon's best play came during the ACC Tournament, particularly in the team's 63-58 win over Boston College March 3. Gordon finished that game with nine points, but was entirely in control on the court, hitting four of her five shots and dishing six assists.
Gordon said she will have more MRIs on her heel this offseason to sort out the issue and she hopes to enter next season at full health.
She would love to still be playing through her injury right now, as the Seminoles did make the NCAA Tournament, as a No. 11 seed, and earned a matchup with Missouri State. The Seminoles lost that game 61-50. Gordon led Florida State with 12 points and five assists.
It was not the result she or her team wanted, but she said the experience of playing on the sport's biggest stage was unlike any other.
"We stepped in the building (the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at Louisiana State) and I looked around and I realized, 'Dang, so many people and so many schools wanted to be here,'" Gordon said. "I was determined not to take the opportunity for granted. We were lucky to have it."
Despite being happy with her first year in college ball, Gordon made it clear that she is not satisfied with her level of play. She plans to spend the offseason improving at coming off screens and she said she needs to see the floor better. She said she comes off "a million screens a game" in Florida State's offense, and for it to run as effectively as possible, she needs to always know what's happening.
She still is the same person, always trying to improve, we watched dominate for four years at Braden River. Though she makes jaw-dropping plays every game, in her mind, there's always something she could have done differently. It's why she's so good.
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