2008-09 UCF Men's Basketball Preview

Oct. 13, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - There is no denying that the UCF men's basketball team will have a new look in 2008-09. Gone are five seniors from last season's squad, including Dave Noel and Mike O'Donnell - two of the best guards in program history.

One of the best defenders to play for the Knights, Noel averaged 13.3 points per game as a senior, shooting 45.5 percent from deep. O'Donnell, the team's starting point guard for three seasons, made big shot after big shot during his time with the Knights.

Although Kirk Speraw will certainly miss Noel and O'Donnell, UCF's veteran head coach is excited about his 2008-09 squad. The Knights return one of the nation's top offensive players in Jermaine Taylor and welcome a bevy of talented freshmen who are ready to contribute.

Speraw hopes that Taylor, one of two seniors on the squad, can help guide the younger Knights as the program aims to continue its success in Conference USA. Since joining C-USA in 2005, UCF has finished in the top five in the league standings in each of its campaigns in the conference. Last season, the Knights finished fourth in the 12-team league, earning a first-round bye at the conference championship.

Off the court, Speraw says that he has heard nothing but positive reviews about the team's homecourt, the new UCF Arena. The state-of-the-art 10,000-seat facility opened prior to last season. Several attendance records were established during the campaign as the Knights won 12 contests at home.

"The arena has really helped elevate and raise awareness about our program," Speraw said. "Our fans did a great job coming out last season supporting our team. The arena is a wonderful venue for the fans to watch a game and thanks to the support, we have a great homecourt advantage."

Point Guard
Replacing O'Donnell will not be an easy task. In three years with the Knights, the Largo, Fla., native started 89 contests. He finished his career among the school's all-time leaders in several statistical categories, including 3-point field goals (195-2nd), assists (319-5th) and steals (140-8th).

A.J. Rompza is one of three freshmen who could see time at point guard this season. As a senior at Whitney Young High School in Chicago last year, he earned all-state second-team honors after averaging 18.0 points and 7.0 assists. Rompza impressed Speraw over the summer with his leadership skills.

"He has all of the qualities that we expect out of our point guard - leadership, poise, smarts and toughness. A.J. plays with such passion and energy. He is a great passer who can score as well."

Will Weathers, who attended Lewisville High School in Texas, is another rookie point guard on UCF's roster. As a senior, he averaged 17.5 points and 7.2 assists. Weathers is known as a strong defender.

"Will plays hard and is so competitive on the court. He will get after it on the defensive end, which is so important within our program," Speraw said.

Another freshman, Isaac Sosa, is a scoring guard who might also spend time running the UCF offense this year.

Shooting Guard
There are several candidates to replace Noel as the team's starting shooting guard, including sophomore Taylor Young, who is in his third year in the program. Young can play either guard spot. Last season, he appeared in 24 contests, averaging just over an assist in 6.0 minutes per game.

Young impressed UCF's coaching staff with his hard work and willingness to learn, which he displayed in practice each day.

"Taylor works tremendously hard. He has worked very hard to not only make himself better, but to help his teammates improve," Speraw said. "He takes good care of the ball and plays with a lot of confidence."

A local product from Kissimmee, Chris Baez missed his entire true freshman campaign a year ago due to injury. An accurate shooter, Baez worked hard during the season and over the summer on his rehabilitation.

"We hope that Chris is healthy enough to get out there on the court and contribute. We expected Chris to be our top shooting guard off the bench last season, and obviously that did not occur. He is working very hard to get back out there with his teammates, and hopefully he can help our ball club," Speraw said.

Baez has not seen any game action since 2006-07, when he attended Lee Academy in Maine. As a senior at Gateway High School the previous year, he averaged 25.2 points and was a Florida Class 6A All-State Second Team selection.

Although just a true freshman, Sosa brings a great deal of experience to the team. A native of Puerto Rico, he spent this past summer competing for his homeland. In July, he averaged 13.8 points and 3.2 boards at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Argentina. Sosa also played against some of the best young players in the world at the Nike Global Challenge in August.

As a senior, he received Florida Class 1A All-State First Team honors at Grandview Prep in Boca Raton, where he averaged 19.5 points, 6.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds.

"Isaac has great basketball instincts," Speraw said. "He can really shoot the ball and plays with great confidence. The international experience that he gained this past summer should really help him as he adapts to the college game."

Drew Speraw is one of the few veterans in the backcourt. An intelligent player, he appeared in nine contests last season, averaging 1.7 points. The junior redshirted during the 2006-07 campaign and will be asked to provide leadership for the Knights.

Freshman Amara Thompson will provide depth for UCF at shooting guard. He spent last year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Thompson helped Tucker High School to the Georgia Class AAAA state title in 2006-07.

Small Forward
Taylor quickly became the Knights' go-to-guy last season. He ranked fourth in C-USA and 23rd nationally in scoring at 20.8 points per game. Taylor averaged 21.4 points in league play and was selected to the All-C-USA Second Team.

He paced the team in scoring in 24 of 31 games and totaled a UCF Division I single-season record 646 points. Taylor scored over 30 points on four occasions, highlighted by a 34-point performance at home against Marshall.

A candidate for the 2008-09 C-USA Player of the Year award, he enters the campaign 13th all-time at UCF with 1,167 points. Taylor has improved his shooting each year in Orlando and worked hard over the summer to improve his ball-handling and defense.

"Jermaine is one of the best offensive players in the country. He has shown great improvement on the mental aspects of the game since arriving here," Speraw said. "Jermaine has the potential to be a great defensive player as well and that is something that he has worked hard on improving. This season, we also expect him to provide leadership as a senior."

Freshman Dave Diakite can play both wing positions and could even see time at power forward. A great athlete, Diakite averaged 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a senior at National Christian Academy in Maryland.

"He is a superior athlete who faced great competition in the Washington, D.C., area," Speraw said. "Once he gets familiar with our program and adapts to the college game, he has the potential to make a contribution as a freshman."

Power Forward
With 6-foot-11 center Stanley Billings in the UCF lineup a year ago, Kenrick Zondervan started the majority of the squad's games at power forward. With Billings now graduated, Zondervan will step over to center. Junior Tony Davis, who made nine starts a year ago, should get the nod at power forward.

The 6-foot-7 Davis concluded last season as the team's leader on the boards (5.9 per game). He averaged 6.4 points per game and also paced the Knights with 36 blocks.

Speraw hopes that Davis can develop into a consistent post presence for the team.

"Tony is athletic and has long arms. We really need him to step up and elevate his game," he said. "He has the ability to help us out offensively if he can remain consistent from game to game and practice to practice."

After sitting out last season as a transfer, A.J. Tyler will see plenty of time on the floor at both forward positions. Tyler appeared in 30 games as a freshman at Clemson in 2006-07, averaging 1.2 points and 1.4 rebounds. The 6-foot-9 Tyler saw time in 11 Atlantic Coast Conference contests.

Tyler was a Florida Class 5A All-State First Team selection in 2005-06 after averaging 21.4 points and 12.0 rebounds for Palm Harbor University High School. He is a skilled offensive player who shoots and passes well for a big man.

"A.J. is very talented offensively. He can shoot from deep and distribute the ball as well," Speraw said. "He spent time learning our system last year and should be able to contribute this season."

Freshman P.J. Gaynor can also play both forward spots. The Jacksonville native averaged 15.9 points and 9.0 rebounds at Mandarin High School last year, earning all-state second-team recognition. Like Tyler, Gaynor can face up in addition to playing with his back to the basket.

One of two returning starters for the Knights, Zondervan has shown great improvement each year at UCF. The senior averaged 4.0 points and 4.3 boards last season. As a freshman in 2005-06, the Hoofddorp, Holland, native averaged just 0.3 points and 0.3 rebounds. Three years later, Zondervan will be looked upon for leadership this season.

"Kenrick has been with us for three years. He knows what it takes to be successful," Speraw said. "He gives it his all on the court and has kept on improving. We still expect him to show improvement both offensively and defensively."

Jean Michel Yotio appeared in 29 contests as a backup post player last season. The sophomore has been hobbled by injuries since arriving at UCF, but gives the Knights a physical presence down low.

He averaged 2.1 points in 8.8 minutes per game in 2007-08. Yotio had one of his best performances as a rookie at No. 1 Memphis, registering six points and four boards in just nine minutes of action.

There is a new big man on campus this year as 7-foot-4 center Jakub Kusmieruk joined the Knights over the summer. A native of Poland, he attended The John Carroll School in Maryland for three years. He began playing basketball just before coming to the United States and is the tallest player in UCF history.

"Kuba (Kusmieruk) has great potential. He needs time to adapt to the college game and get stronger," Speraw said. "He is still learning the game and will only get better."

UCF will open the regular season on Nov. 16, hosting North Carolina A&T at the new UCF Arena. The Knights will play 16 games at home, including eight C-USA contests. Highlights on the slate include a visit from cross-state foe USF on Dec. 6 and a meeting with league foe and national power Memphis on Jan. 10.

Season tickets are currently available. To order your season tickets today, or to learn more about premium seating options at the new UCF Arena, contact the UCF ticket sales office at (407) UCF-1000.

For the latest news on the Knights, log on to UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.