Sara Bejedi maturing, evolving on and off court at FSU

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Sara Bejedi grew up in Finland, passing up the popular winter outdoor sports and gravitating toward tennis and singing before jumping into basketball as her full-time interest at 13.

While Bejedi got a late start in basketball compared to other girls, she quickly found opportunities to play for her youth national teams. By 15, she was on Finland’s under-16 team and by 17 she was playing on the senior national team. The opportunity to play college basketball in the United States was appealing, and Bejedi narrowed her choices to Arizona State, Florida State and Baylor.

“I decided to go to Arizona State first but after the first year didn’t go quite as I wanted,” Bejedi said.

Bejedi transferred from ASU and quickly found a home in Tallahassee and with FSU. She made steady progress and began to make an impact in 2021-22, averaging 6.4 points and 2.1 assists while playing a career-high 16.9 minutes. But she was also better known as a defensive player who would cover quick guards and draw fouls or force turnovers.

She’s still doing that this season but Bejedi has taken her offensive game to a new level. Bejedi is averaging 21.2 points over her last five games, which includes an upset of No. 11 NC State a few weeks ago and a road win over Virginia last week.

Next up for Bejedi and the No. 24 Seminoles is a trip to No. 7 Notre Dame on Thursday (7 p.m. on Regional Sports Networks). The Seminoles are also up to No. 15 in the NCAA’s NET rankings — and are positioning themselves as a potential regional host in the NCAA Tournament.

Bejedi is as competitive as they come, embracing a role as a point guard and on-court leader while juggling ambitions off the court as she pursues a criminology degree and envisions law school in the future, too.

“They all go together, hand in hand,” Bejedi said. “I struggled at first. Being a criminology major, it takes a lot and being so passionate with basketball. I kind of let my accomplishments in basketball dictate how much effort I was putting in school. And that’s like saying on the court you can’t let a missed shot dictate your defense. And I just had to separate those. I grew when it comes to my mentality, and practicing positive reinforcement to myself because I am very hard on myself. So it’s been a journey, but I’ve been loving every piece of it.”

Bejedi has been a valuable piece of the Seminoles this season and she is part of a formidable 1-2 scoring threat with freshman Ta’Niya Latson (23.6 points per game). Both are aggressive in driving to the rim and creating shots, with Bejedi making 31 of 62 (50 percent) of her shots from the floor and 15 of 32 (46.9 percent) of her 3-point attempts in the last five games.

“I’m very proud of her,” FSU coach Brooke Wyckoff said. “She has a big job. She has to set the tone for us defensively, which she does over and over and over again. That doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. To see her be able to really impact our team on the offensive end, she always has, but she is a fighter.

“She has that grit about her that we need in ACC play on the offensive end. She’s willing to attack the basket over and over and over again whether she gets fouled or not. I’m very proud of her for focusing on what we need first and foremost and then allowing the rest of the game to come to her.”

With the Seminoles’ dramatic overhaul in the offseason, on the court with the departures of so many veterans as well as a new coach in Wyckoff, there was uncertainty about what to expect. They were picked ninth in the ACC’s preseason poll, but FSU (18-4, 7-2 ACC) is among the league’s top three teams going into the final nine games.

Bejedi saw the cohesion form in the summer as veterans meshed with transfers like Jazmine Massengill and Taylor O’Brien as well as Latson.

“It just gets better and better after each and every game,” Bejedi said. “And even fighting through adversity even against Virginia not playing our best basketball and then in the fourth quarter just getting together, handling business and getting a win out of a road game is huge. It’s scary to see how good we can be. … If we stay in our concepts for 40 minutes, there’s not many teams that can beat us, so sky’s the limit.”

Bejedi is also finding more success this season in part as a result of the Seminoles’ new pace-and-space offense that has been employed by Wyckoff and first-year assistant coach Bill Ferrara. The offense lines up very well with Bejedi’s skill set.

“It’s just a fast pace that I’ve been used to ever since I’ve played back home,” Bejedi said. “My high school national team is very similar. … Now, I’ve gotten to become the player that I feel like I was recruited to come. It’s definitely been a journey. I’ve known that I’ve always been an extremely talented athlete, but I think it’s just been mental for me. Just feeding myself more positive reinforcement and being confident and not doubting myself and being comfortable.”

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