How Florida State women's basketball will look much different under new coach Brooke Wyckoff

Carter Karels
Tallahassee Democrat

Sue Semrau wanted to see what the future of the Florida State women’s basketball program looked like.

So she went to the Donald L. Tucker Center and watched the Seminoles’ first exhibition of the preseason last Sunday.

Just seven months removed from retirement, Semrau saw a team that played much differently than the one she coached for the last 25 seasons. Which might be surprising when considering FSU’s new coach, Brooke Wyckoff, spent all of her college basketball experience learning under Semrau.

“She is putting them in a position to use their strengths,” said Semrau of Wyckoff, who was a star forward for her from 1997 to 2001 and served as one of her assistant coaches for 11 seasons (2011-2022).

“That is the sign of a good coach.”

Feature on FSU women's basketball's Ta'Niya Latson: Why 5-star recruit Ta'Niya Latson can make early impact

FSU women's basketball's first exhibition:New-look Seminoles showcase offense in exhibition win

FSU women's basketball's second exhibition: Freshman Ta'Niya Latson drops 36 in Seminoles' exhibition win

FSU tallied its most points in an exhibition or game in program history that night, defeating West Georgia 115-46. Four days later, the Seminoles topped that unofficial record with a 119-27 victory over Flagler College in another exhibition.

West Georgia and Flagler College, two Division II programs, are obviously not the best competition. But if there is anything to take from those blowouts, it’s that FSU intends to feature a modernized offense predicated on pace and space.

The first chance to watch these new-look Seminoles in a game setting will be when they host Bethune-Cookman for their season opener at 11 a.m. Monday (TV: ACC Network Extra).

“That's the goal of every basketball player: they want to play free,” Wyckoff told the Democrat. “They want to do what they want. This is a great mix of structure with freedom and simplicity.”

How much FSU turned over its roster after last season could present a challenge. The Seminoles only returned guards O’Mariah Gordon and Sara Bejedi, and forwards Makayla Timpson, Erin Howard, Valencia Myers and Mariana Valenzuela. 

Gordon missed both exhibitions with a foot injury and remains out indefinitely.

Seven of FSU’s players from last season transferred to other programs: Forward River Baldwin (NC State) and guards Morgan Jones (Louisville), Bianca Jackson (Georgia Tech), Sammie Puisis (USF), Kourtney Weber (Mississippi State), Amaya Brown (New Mexico) and Izabela Nicoletti (Fairfield).

The Seminoles added two transfers in guards Taylor O’Brien (Bucknell) and Jazmine Massengill (Kentucky). O’Brien led the Bisons with 16.7 points last season. Massengill ranked No. 8 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.76).

Guards Ta’Niya Latson and Brianna “Snoop” Turnage are FSU’s two freshmen additions. Latson, a former five-star recruit from American Heritage High in Plantation, is immediately expected to be one of the Seminoles’ best players.

“This basketball is going to be different,” Semrau said. “Brooke was one of the best defenders I ever coached. She led Florida State in blocked shots for forever. She was a great rebounder. That will always be what she is about. …

“But this year’s offense, because of the different skill sets that are on the floor, is a lot faster. It’s a lot more free flowing in the sense of, they are shooting the ball a little earlier in the shot clock and really relying on speed and movement.

“That will be a really exciting brand to watch.”

More on Sue Semrau:Florida State women's basketball coach Sue Semrau announces retirement

Explaining FSU’s pace-and-space system

Before landing her promotion, Wyckoff already had an idea of who she would want to hire as her top assistant coach.

Bill Ferrara Jr.

The two knew each other from their recruiting battles and the coaching clinics they attended while Ferrara served as an assistant coach for Florida (2015-17). Wyckoff remembers surprisingly receiving a text from him after Semrau announced her retirement. 

She felt like it was a sign.

“It's crazy. We didn't talk very often. Almost never, but we had each other's numbers,” Wyckoff said. “He texted me and said, ‘Hey, just saw the news. Hope you are doing great. Just thinking about you.’ …

“Everything that has transpired since then has just pointed to the fact that this was right. This was the perfect fit for everybody.”

As an assistant coach, Ferrara helped rejuvenate the offenses of multiple women’s basketball programs. He’s been at Central Michigan (2007-10), Hofstra (2010-13), George Washington (2013-15), Florida (2015-17), New Mexico (2017-21) and St. John’s (2021-22).

Now, he’s looking to improve the Seminoles with his pace-and-space philosophy. 

“There are not a lot of places that are going to play like us,” Ferrara said.

Whether it’s from a three-pointer or an and-one, Ferrara stresses scoring three points on every shot with this system. He also empowers his players to treat each possession like a fast break, using tempo to push the ball.

And instead of using a deliberate pace to set up an offensive set, FSU often attacks within 10 seconds of the shot clock.

“It makes us incredibly hard to guard,” Ferrara said. “Most transition defenses are built on having somebody back and then having somebody pick up the ball and pick up the point guard. 

“We don't have a point guard. Whoever has the ball is our point guard.”

It’s also an offense that seems to fit Latson well.

Latson tallied a game-high 36 points on 13-of-18 shooting, along with seven rebounds and six assists, across just 21 minutes against Flagler College. She recorded 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting against West Georgia.

Ferrara said Latson has the best instincts for a freshman that he’s ever seen, and he coached 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones at George Washington.

“It's very fun. I've always played like this. This is my game,” Latson said. “So I'm glad I chose Florida State, especially with the new system they had. I think it really fits my game and allows me to be me.”

What Latson and the Seminoles look like against improved competition will be worth watching in non-conference play. Ferrara expressed optimism about how everything will translate.

“When I took the job, the first text I got was from Sue,” Ferrara said. “Sue texted me and said, ‘Bill you are going to take this to somewhere we haven’t been yet.’ And I believed that. That is why I’m here.

“I’m not here to beat West Georgia and just go to the NCAA Tournament. The standards here are pretty high.

“And because we have a special leader and somebody who believes in this place the way that she does, I think there is no cap on what we could do.”

Closer look at Brooke Wyckoff:Florida State coach Brooke Wyckoff embracing new women's college basketball landscape

Wyckoff still stressing defense, rebounding

FSU will look totally different offensively.

But Wykcoff wants to keep every other aspect of her team the same. She does not wish to sacrifice defense and rebounding for a better offense. 

“You can't not have defense be an emphasis,” Wyckoff said. “We scored 115 the other day, and the pace and space looks really good when the ball is going in. But we can't count on the ball going through the basket every time. 

“We’ve got to be able to play defense. The elite teams in this league are really, really strong defensive teams. I mean, they are really good offensively. But their defense anchors them. 

“So the offense is fun, and I'm glad we have it. And I'm glad we can do that. But our success will be anchored on the defensive end and the rebounding. Or we won’t be very good.”

Takeaways from FSU's win over Miami:FSU Seminoles blow out Miami, become bowl eligible for first time since 2019

FSU women's basketball schedule 

Nov. 7: Bethune-Cookman, Tallahassee (11 a.m.)

Nov. 10: at Kent State, Kent, Ohio (7 p.m.)

Nov. 13: Georgia State, Tallahassee (2 p.m.)

Nov. 16: Florida, Tallahassee (6 p.m.)

Nov. 19: at Houston, Houston (5 p.m.)

Nov. 24: Oklahoma, Cancun, Mexico (11 a.m.)

Nov. 25: Purdue, Cancun, Mexico (1:30 p.m.)

Nov. 26: Harvard, Cancun, Mexico (11 a.m.)

Dec. 1: at Wisconsin, Madison, Wis. (7:30 p.m.)

Dec. 4: Stetson, Tallahassee (2 p.m.)

Dec. 11: Texas Southern, Tallahassee (2 p.m.)

Dec. 15: Presbyterian, Tallahassee (6 p.m.)

Dec. 18: at Connecticut, Uncasville, Conn. (1 p.m., ESPN)

Dec. 21: * Miami, Tallahassee (noon)

Dec. 29: at North Carolina Chapel Hill, N.C. (8 p.m.)

Jan. 1: at Georgia Tech, Atlanta (2 p.m.)

Jan. 5: Clemson, Tallahassee (6 p.m.)

Jan. 8: at Boston College Chestnut Hill, Ma. (noon)

Jan. 12: NC State, Tallahassee (6 p.m.)

Jan. 15: Louisville, Tallahassee (1 p.m.)

Jan. 19: at Virginia, Charlottesville Va. (7 p.m.)

Jan. 22: Pittsburgh, Tallahassee (2 p.m.)

Jan. 26: at Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind. (8 p.m.)

Jan. 29: Duke, Tallahassee (6 p.m.)

Feb. 2: Wake Forest, Tallahassee (2 p.m.)

Feb. 9: at Miami, Miami (6 p.m.)

Feb. 12: at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. (2 p.m.)

Feb. 16: Syracuse, Tallahassee (6 p.m.)

Feb. 19: Georgia Tech, Tallahassee (2 p.m.)

Feb. 23  at Wake Forest, Winston-Salem, N.C. (6 p.m.)

Feb. 26 Sunday: at Clemson, Clemson, S.C. (2 p.m.)  

March 1-5 Wed.-Sund: ACC Tournament, Greensboro, N.C.

Reach Carter Karels at ckarels@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @CarterKarels. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).

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