2005-06 UCF Men's Basketball Outlook

Nov. 7, 2005

After taking a quick glance at the UCF Golden Knights roster, it is hard to imagine that a team that returns seven letterwinners from last season's 24-9 squad could have a new look. Likewise, it is hard to believe that a team that loses three starters who helped guide it to two consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament would be unchanged in their absence.

Head coach Kirk Speraw is the first to admit that the Golden Knights lost three veteran leaders when Marcus Avant, Kingsley Edwards and Gary Johnson graduated after last season. Speraw is also quick point out that his team still has enough talent to compete as the program embarks on its first season in Conference USA.

"In college athletics, you always have that turnover of losing veterans to graduation. We are certainly losing our leadership from Gary Johnson, Kingsley Edwards and Marcus Avant," said Speraw. "I think we have a solid foundation where we can build and move forward with this year's team."

What is important to the coach is who does return and which newcomers will step-up and contribute for the new look Golden Knights.

A New League

Even more than the changes on their own team, the Golden Knights will notice a totally revamped schedule as the squad begins its first season in C-USA. After dominating the Atlantic Sun Conference and winning the last two league titles, the UCF program will now compete in one of the top-10 conferences in the nation. In its 10-year history, C-USA has sent two of its teams to the Final Four and has produced numerous All-America selections. For the Golden Knights, the competition just got tougher.

"We are going to play a better caliber of opponent on a nightly basis," said Speraw. "It is an exciting step, but a huge challenge as well. Overall, the level of intensity and competitiveness will be a huge change for our guys. Hopefully, they can adjust rather quickly."

Playing in a league that features teams from Texas to West Virginia, the Golden Knights will have to adapt to a new travel schedule. Short bus trips to A-Sun foes like Jacksonville and Stetson will now be replaced by flights to Tulsa, Okla. and El Paso, Texas.

Moving to C-USA also translates into more national exposure for UCF. The league features television contracts with numerous outlets, most notably ESPN and CSTV.

During the conference schedule, UCF will face five teams that participated in the 2005 postseason. UAB and UTEP, who both played in the NCAA Tournament last year, will both make trips to UCF Arena.

For the second consecutive year, Memphis will host the C-USA Championship at the FedEx Forum, home to the NBA's Grizzlies.

Changes in the Backcourt

Edwards and Johnson received the majority of the backcourt minutes a year ago. The prime candidates to the replace the duo is a pair of sophomore transfers - Dave Noel and Mike O'Donnell. Both sat out the 2004-05 season after transferring from UNC-Wilmington and NC State, respectively.

O'Donnell is a true point guard who is adept at finding open teammates. The Clearwater, Fla., native is not shy about shooting from deep and has the leadership qualities that the coaching staff likes to see in their point guard.

Also competing for the starting point guard position will be Noel. A Florida product (Boynton Beach), he can play either backcourt spot. A solid defender, Noel is not flashy with the ball in his hands, but knows how to get to the basket and makes good, sound decisions.

"We have a very intelligent (point) guard core," said Speraw. "Collectively, they possess good instincts, good knowledge and skills. We will see who runs the team the best and who can get the ball to the right people."

After playing 21 minutes per game off of the bench last year, senior Justin Rose will also challenge for a starting guard position. He was the Golden Knights top reserve scorer, averaging 6.7 points per contest in 2004-05. Rose shot better than 50 percent from the field and also averaged 4.3 boards. Although he played on the perimeter a year ago, Speraw will not hesitate to use Rose at point guard this season.

Long-distance specialist Troy Lindbeck returns for his senior season. Lindbeck sank 24 treys a season ago and provides leadership from the backcourt when he enters the game.

Freshman Jermaine Taylor, a local product from nearby Tavares, and junior-college transfer Mike Battle, will look to ease their way into the perimeter rotation. Taylor is an explosive athlete who can shoot and handle the ball very well. A sharpshooting wing player, Battle helped lead Paris (Texas) Junior College to a national title in 2005.

A pair of non-scholarship freshmen, Curt Scully and Drew Speraw, will add depth in the backcourt.

Continuity Up Front

The team's second-leading scorer at 13.1 points per game a year ago, junior Josh Peppers is back at small forward. He earned second-team all-conference honors in 2004-05 after posting 25 double-digit scoring performances. Even with Peppers' offensive talent, Speraw does not see him as the Golden Knights lone "go-to-scorer."

"I think we are going to have a lot of go-to-people," said Speraw. "Certainly, Josh will be one of them. We are going to do it collectively like we have been."

In addition to Peppers, two other starters return up front. Senior forward Anthony Williams started 32 of 33 contests in 2004-05 and averaged 11 points and a team-best 5.6 rebounds per game. He shot 54.2 percent from the floor and blocked 53 shots.

"Anthony is a traditional back-to-the-basket player," said Speraw. "He has good post moves and shoots the ball well. He is an ingredient that we need to have."

Joining the pair up front will be senior center Will Bakanowsky. Bakanowsky averaged 6.4 points a game last season and has the ability to step outside and score from the perimeter.

Senior Marcus Johnson and sophomore Adam Gill are back to provide depth in the frontcourt. Johnson will mostly back-up Williams at power forward. Not afraid to bang inside, he played in 32 games last year and averaged 5.4 points and 3.7 boards. After redshirting in 2003-04, Gill is entering his third season with the program and will see time at power forward and center.

Lavell Payne, a junior who played at Tallahassee Community College last season, will join the rotation up front. Payne averaged 12.1 points a contest at TCC and at 6-foot-8, can play power forward or center. A versatile talent, he can also spend time at small forward if Speraw elects to use a bigger lineup.

"Lavell brings a lot to the table," said Speraw. "He is long and lanky and has good handles for his size. He can also block shots and rebound the ball."

Adding more depth to the frontcourt is freshman Kenrick Zondervan. The combo forward is a native of Holland who must learn both the American game and UCF's system before joining the lineup.