Youth Movement

Jan. 18, 2007

by Doug Richards

If you see UCF forward Tony Davis, one of his coaches is probably nearby. Basketball 101 is always in session for the talented freshman from Sarasota. During a Golden Knight practice, it is not uncommon for each member of the UCF coaching staff to pull Davis aside for a quick lesson.

Head coach Kirk Speraw tells him to focus. Associate head coach Mike Jaskulski shows the youngster how to set a proper screen. A session on post play comes from assistant coach Dwight Evans. Assistant coach Craig Brown provides a quick shooting tutorial.

Why all the individual attention for Davis? One word: potential.

Even in limited minutes as a rookie this year, Davis has shown glimpses of greatness. At 6-foot-7 with an impressive wing-span, he has a knack for grabbing rebounds.

He exhibited his prowess on the boards immediately, grabbing 15 rebounds in the Golden Knights' preseason victory over St. Leo in early November. Through the squad's first 14 games, Davis was averaging a team-high 5.5 rebounds. He led the team on the glass in nine of its first 14 contests.

Davis knows how to rebound, but according to his coaches, he still has a long way to go in becoming a well-rounded player.

"Tony has tremendous upside," said Speraw. "He still has a lot to learn about the game. The jump from high school to Division I is especially difficult for a player like Tony. He dominated in high school, but he is now going against superior players every night."

As a senior at Riverview High School in 2005-06, Davis did it all playing on the perimeter. He was named the Florida Class 6A Player of the Year after averaging 20.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. Davis finished third in the voting for the Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Basketball award after leading the Rams to a 23-6 record.

Since the Golden Knights have players like Josh Peppers, Mike O'Donnell and Jermaine Taylor who can put the ball in basket, Davis can concentrate on doing the little things that help the team win.

"Rebounding is my main role. We have a lot of scorers," said Davis. "We need somebody to play defense and rebound. I feel like I can bring a lot of energy and do the dirty work."

In practice, Davis is spending most of his time learning how to play in the post. Listed at 195 pounds, he must also gain weight to compete against the big men in Conference USA. Davis has quickly learned that Division I basketball is nothing like the prep game.

"In college, you have to work for everything," said Davis. "Everyone is stronger and more athletic. In high school, I would just go get the ball. Now I am learning more techniques; how to box out."

Taylor knows what Davis is going through. The sophomore spent his rookie campaign a year ago learning. Not only did he have to master the UCF system, Taylor had to learn how to play the game. He was no longer the best athlete on the court.

The guard from nearby Tavares saw time as a reserve in all 29 of the Golden Knights' games in 2005-06, averaging 4.3 points. He showed flashes of potential - numerous high-flying dunks, a 16-point performance at home against league foe Houston and the ability to get to the basket with ease.

Taylor also proved that his game was far from complete. He shot 40 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range and just 44 percent at the free-throw line. Last season he was the player who received the extra attention from Speraw and the other coaches. During the offseason, Speraw helped Taylor fix his jump shot. Taylor was releasing the ball from the wrong spot.

Back home over the summer, he took 1,000 shots a day. The result has been impressive.

During the first half of the season, Taylor shot 57.6 from the field, ranking among the national leaders. His 52.7 3-point field-goal percentage was good for second in C-USA. As a result, he scored in double-digits in 12 of the team's first 14 games and was averaging a team-high 16.2 points through games of Jan. 9.

"This year I have a different role. Last year I was just learning," said Taylor. "My role was to go in and play defense and rebound. Now, we need me to score more."

Taylor has been scoring early and often. In the squad's season-opener against Rollins, he recorded a career-high 26 points. In January, he matched that total, pouring in 26 at South Dakota State. Taylor drained six 3-pointers in each contest.

A candidate for the C-USA Sixth Man of the Year award, Taylor has excelled offensively coming off of the bench each game.

"Jermaine has really embraced his role coming off of the bench," said Speraw. "He gives us a spark and provides some energy out there on the court."