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July 29, 2009One of the most memorable moments of Florida State guard Michael Snaer's remarkable high school career came the night of a sectional quarterfinal showdown.
Snaer made the winning basket with less than two seconds remaining in a one-point victory, but that wasn't the big surprise. After all, Snaer had been making those kinds of plays all season.
The shocking moment came afterward when Snaer made a rare appearance at a postgame team party. He almost never showed up at those kinds of functions.
It wasn't as though Snaer was aloof or had some kind of prima donna attitude. Snaer possessed such a single-minded focus toward improving his game that it simply didn't leave him much time for a social life.
"He made a lot of sacrifices that normal high school kids sometimes find hard to comprehend," said Travis Showalter, who coached Snaer at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley, Calif. "He didn't go to parties a lot, didn't hang out a lot. He was focused on what he wanted to do."
It's tough to argue with the results.
The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 28.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game his senior year at Rancho Verde and was named California's Gatorade player of the year. Snaer arrives at Florida State as the No. 7 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class.
Everything Snaer has accomplished, he earned the hard way.
Showalter noted that Snaer often worked out a total of five to six hours a day in three separate sessions. He'd begin his workout schedule before school, would join his team for afternoon practices and would be back in the gym each evening.
"I don't really do anything else but work on my game," Snaer said. "I don't really go out with friends. I'm like a nerd. All I do is go to the gym, do my homework, sleep, eat and I'm back in the gym again."
Perhaps he's making up for lost time.
Snaer isn't one of those prodigies who was dribbling a basketball almost as soon as he was out of diapers. He actually grew up primarily playing soccer, a sport he didn't give up until after he finished seventh grade. By that point, he realized his future was in basketball.
"That's one of the reasons my footwork is so good now," Snaer said of his soccer background.
Once he got serious about basketball, he made sure he was the hardest-working guy in the gym each day.
Coaches typically spend much of their time trying to cajole their players into working harder. Snaer gave Showalter an entirely different challenge. He often wondered if his prize pupil was working too hard.
"If he'd been that into academics [to that degree], people would have called him a nerd," Showalter said. "I worried about it. To some degree, his behavior was almost obsessive. But he was just very focused on what he wanted to do and what his goals were."
Snaer's tenacity came from a good place. As the second-oldest kid in a family with eight children, Snaer wanted to set an example for his younger siblings.
"I can't mess up," Snaer said. "I had to buckle down in school and make something for myself."
That kind of attitude should come in handy this season. Snaer arguably has the toughest assignment of any freshman in the country.
Florida State went 25-10 and reached the NCAA tournament last season by relying heavily on ACC scoring leader Toney Douglas, the only player on his team to average in double figures.
Minnesota was the only other tournament team that had just one player score in double figures. Iowa State, Oregon and Rutgers were the only other programs from the six major conferences to hold that distinction. Of those five schools, Florida State is the lone team that now must replace its leading scorer.
Douglas has moved on to the NBA's New York Knicks. Snaer happens to play the same position. No matter how much the Seminoles try to help ease Snaer into his new surroundings, Florida State fans are going to assume he's the guy to provide much of the scoring Douglas offered last season.
"There's a lot of pressure coming in as a freshman, but I'm willing to put that on my back," Snaer said. "I can deal with pressure. I've been having to deal with it for a while now."
Snaer already has proved he doesn't back down from a challenge. He proved that much in the days leading up to the McDonald's All American Game. The one-on-one matchups between Snaer and Texas recruit Avery Bradley - the nation's No. 4 prospect - highlighted most of those practice sessions.
Jerry Meyer, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said Snaer and Bradley were at a different intensity level than all the other players in those practice sessions. If Snaer carries a similar approach to Tallahassee, he should make an instant impact with the Seminoles.
"They have some tough shoes to fill with Toney Douglas leaving," Meyer said. "They probably couldn't ask for a better guy to come in and fill them."
Basketball only represents part of the challenge facing Snaer as he adjusts to college life. He also must adapt to an entirely new environment.
As a five-star prospect, Snaer could have played just about anywhere in the country. He turned down offers from the likes of UCLA and Kansas to make the coast-to-coast journey to a Florida State program that hadn't reached the NCAA tournament since 1998 at the time he signed his letter of intent.
Snaer felt good about the relationship he developed with Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton's staff, but he also liked the idea of going across the country.
"I love going to new places and meeting new people," Snaer said. "It's a completely new place. It's good to be on my own. It will help me grow up and mature a lot as a young man and as a player."
The maturing process began at home. Growing up in a large family allowed him to develop the people skills that helped make him a better teammate. Snaer might not have gone out to parties much in high school, but he hasn't exactly spent his teen years in solitude. He was surrounded by all sorts of siblings as soon as he returned home from practice.
Now he's ready to leave the comforts of home behind as he shows the college basketball world just what he's learned.
"It's been different, growing up in a big family," Snaer said. "You learn how to share, learn how to consider others' feelings, how to cope with people, how to interact with people."
Growing up as one of the older siblings in his family also helped him develop his leadership skills. He eventually wants to continue in that role at Florida State, even though he naturally will start out his college career as one of the Seminoles' youngest players.
"I want to be a leader right away," Snaer said. "That's one of my goals, first and foremost. I want to lead that team as much as possible. My mentality is I like to be a leader out there."
Perhaps he might even help lead Florida State to a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. A second straight NCAA bid would certainly give the Seminoles plenty of reason to celebrate, though Snaer's track record suggests he might not show up for the party.
He just might be too busy adding to a reputation as one of the nation's hardest-working freshmen.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.