Knights to Open 2008-09 Campaign at Home Sunday

Nov. 15, 2008

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The UCF men's basketball team will open the 2008-09 campaign Sunday, hosting North Carolina A&T at 1 p.m. Led by one of the nation's premier players in senior guard Jermaine Taylor (Tavares, Fla.), the Knights will be opening year two at the state-of-the-art UCF Arena.

A Conference USA Player of the Year candidate, Taylor enters the season as the nation's 10th-leading returning scorer after averaging 20.8 points in 2007-08. Head coach Kirk Speraw's squad includes a mix of returning veterans and talented newcomers this year.

UCF will be facing North Carolina A&T (1-0) for the first time on the hardwood. The contest with the Aggies will air on the UCF-ISP Sports Network and 740 AM in Orlando, with Marc Daniels on the call. Former UCF guard Mike O'Donnell will provide color commentary. Live video and statistics will be available on UCFAthletics.com.

The first 1,000 students to enter the UCF Arena on Sunday will receive a free Knightmare headband. Students are admitted free to all basketball games with a valid UCF ID.

Tickets for the game are available via Ticketmaster at Ticketmaster.com and (407) 839-3900. The UCF Arena box office will also be open on Sunday prior to the contest. Season tickets, which start at just $99, are still one sale. To order season tickets, and to learn more about the Fastbreak Club and other premium seating options, contact the UCF ticket sales office at (407) UCF-1000.

About North Carolina A&T
? North Carolina A&T opened the campaign with an 82-36 win over the visiting U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on Friday. Ed Jones led the hosts with 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the floor. The Aggies forced 28 turnovers in the victory.
? A year ago, North Carolina A&T won 15 contests. The team returns no starters from 2007-08. Ed Jones, who averaged 7.6 points per game last season, is the squad's leading returning scorer.

Series Information
? UCF and the Aggies will be meeting for the first time. All-time, the Knights are 24-18 against squads from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Last season, UCF posted a 78-64 win over MEAC member Norfolk State in the second game at the UCF Arena. When the Knights meet the Aggies, it will mark the fourth-straight season that UCF has hosted a MEAC foe. Local opponent Bethune-Cookman visited Orlando in both 2004-05 and 2005-06.
? Since the start of the 2002-03 campaign, the Knights are 17-2 against schools from North Carolina. During that span, UCF has victories over Campbell, East Carolina and Gardner-Webb.
? UCF's football squad also opened the 2008 campaign against a MEAC program. On Aug. 30, the Knights posted a 17-0 victory over South Carolina State. The UCF women's basketball team will also make its home debut against a MEAC member when it hosts Florida A&M on Nov. 21.

? North Carolina A&T forward Kam Sheppard is an Orlando native who attended Osceola High School. In 2005-06, Sheppard was selected to the Orlando Sentinel All-Osceola County Second Team as a junior. UCF's Chris Baez was a senior that year at nearby Gateway High School and garnered first team honors from the newspaper.

Up Next for the Knights
? UCF will begin a stretch of five contests away from Orlando with a game at Valparaiso on Tuesday evening. The squads will be meeting for the second time. The Crusaders posted a 90-89 win over the Knights in 1990 at the Tangerine Tournament in Winter Park. In 2007-08, Valpo went 22-14 and participated in the College Basketball Invitational, recording a first-round victory at Washington.

For Openers
? The Knights have won six-consecutive season openers. Their last loss to open a season came on Nov. 22, 2002, when they dropped a 68-56 contest at Navy. Last season, UCF won its season opener, defeating Nevada, 63-60, in the inaugural contest at the UCF Arena. Under Kirk Speraw, the Knights are 10-5 in season openers.

Flavor of the Month
? UCF has won 16-straight contests at home during the month of November. The Knights' last home loss during the month came on Nov. 19, 1999, against Miami. ? In recent years, UCF has enjoyed great success at the start of the season. The Knights are 24-4 in November dating back to the 2001-02 season.

Another Sunday
? The contest with North Carolina A&T will mark the second-straight year that UCF will open the season on a Sunday. Prior to a year ago, the Knights have never began a year on a Sunday in 14 seasons under Kirk Speraw.

Away from Home
? Sunday's game will be the only chance for UCF fans to see the Knights play at home until Dec. 5. After facing the Aggies, the squad will play three-straight road games and then head to Mexico for a pair of contests in the Cancun Challenge. The Knights' next home game is Dec. 6 against cross-state foe USF.
? The one home contest in November is the fewest during the month for the Knights since the 2004-05 campaign. Last season, the squad had two home contests in November. In 2006-07, UCF played five games in Orlando in November and six-straight at home to start the year.

Who's Back
? Despite returning one the nation's premier players in Jermaine Taylor, the Knights will have a new look this season. Kirk Speraw's squad returns just two starters and six total letterwinners from a year ago. Taylor and Kenrick Zondervan are the two starters back. The pair is joined by returning letterwinners Tony Davis, Drew Speraw, Jean Michel Yotio and Taylor Young. Forty-seven percent of the squad's scoring from 2007-08 returns this year.

Injured Reserve
? UCF will begin the campaign without its top rebounder and second-leading returning scorer as Tony Davis is out four to six weeks with an injury. On Nov. 6, head coach Kirk Speraw announced that the junior forward suffered a knee injury in practice. The 6-foot-7 Davis appeared in 29 contests last season, making nine starts. He averaged 6.4 points and a team-high 5.9 rebounds. The Sarasota native also paced the team with 36 blocked shots. Davis was expected to begin the year as the team's starting power forward.

Youth Movement
? With seven true freshmen and 11 total underclassmen, the Knights have one of the youngest squads in the country this season. With an average age of 19.60, UCF is the fifth-greenest team in the nation. Denver (18.92) has the youngest squad, followed by Presbyterian (19.27), Saint Peter's (19.29) and Saint Louis (19.42).
? Including redshirt freshman Chris Baez, the Knights have eight rookies. That means that eight of the 15 players on the roster have never played a minute of Division I college basketball.
? Ironically, UCF had one of the oldest squads in 2007-08. The Knights had five seniors, including 29-year old Stanley Billings, on the roster. Last season's squad included two true and one redshirt freshman.

The Departed
? The Knights will have to fill the void left following the graduation of two of the best guards in program history. Dave Noel and Mike O'Donnell spent three campaigns in Orlando and will be hard to replace.
? A Conference USA All-Defensive Team selection, Noel started all 31 contests at shooting guard and averaged 13.3 points and 4.2 boards. He led C-USA in 3-point field goal percentage (45.5). A three-year starter at point guard, O'Donnell averaged 11.9 points and hit 75 treys last season. Noel was recently selected in the eigth round by Reno in the National Basketball Association D-League Draft.

Number 16
? The 2008-09 campaign is serving as head coach Kirk Speraw's 16th season at UCF. One of the longest-tenured coaches in the country, Speraw began his time at UCF in 1993-94. That year, the school's enrollment was listed at 23,000. Today, the university is one of the largest in the nation with an enrollment of 50,000. Speraw is one of just 15 coaches in the country who have spent at least 15 years at their current school.

Looking for More Success
? Kirk Speraw has built UCF into a consistent winner not only in Conference USA, but on the national level. Dating back to the start of the 2002-03 season, UCF has won 122 games. That mark ranks 49th nationally during that span.

Homecourt Advantage
? The contest with North Carolina A&T will begin year number two for the Knights at the UCF Arena. UCF enjoyed a successful inaugural campaign at the state-of-the-art facility a year ago. The squad won 12 contests at the 10,000-seat venue. A school record for attendance was established as 78,253 fans attended 16 home contests for an average of 4,891 per game.
? UCF posted the fifth-largest average attendance increase in the nation. In 2006-07, an average of 2,706 spectators attended the program's games at the old UCF Arena.

Happy to be Home
? The Knights will be looking to duplicate their offensive output in Orlando from a year ago. UCF averaged 81.1 points at home last season, compared to 63.6 points on the road. The Knights connected on 48.5 percent of their field-goal attempts at the UCF Arena. During road games, the team shot 40.5 percent overall.

Tuneup Time
? Behind 31 points from Jermaine Taylor, the Knights posted a 76-56 win over visiting Flagler in UCF's lone exhibition contest. Kenrick Zondervan added 10 points and 10 boards. UCF dished out 21 assists and committed just seven turnovers.
? In 2007-08, the Knights played a pair of exhibition contests before opening the regular season.

Tough Slate
? UCF faced the toughest schedule in school history last year. Ten of UCF's opponents were selected to play in the postseason, with four participating in the NCAA Tournament. The Knights met three nationally-ranked teams during the year, including No. 1 Memphis.
? Head coach Kirk Speraw's squad will continue its trend of facing top-notch opponents in 2008-09. The schedule features 10 contests against teams that won at least 20 games last season, and six of those foes claimed 24 or more victories. Memphis played in the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and seven other teams on UCF's slate also competed in the postseason (NIT - Florida, New Mexico, Ole Miss and UAB); (CBI - Tulsa, Valparaiso, UTEP).

An Open Letter
? Kenrick Zondervan is looking to duplicate his success from last year's season opener when UCF meets North Carolina A&T. In 29 minutes against Nevada last year, Zondervan totaled 14 points and five rebounds, helping the Knights to a 63-60 win in the first game at the UCF Arena.

New-Look Knights
? Two non-true freshmen will also be making their UCF debuts today. A.J. Tyler sat out the 2007-08 campaign after transferring from Clemson. He appeared in 30 games as a freshman for the Tigers in 2006-07, averaging 1.2 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.0 minutes per contest. The 6-foot-9 forward was a Florida Class 5A All-State First Team pick as a senior at Palm Harbor University High School in 2005-06.
? Chris Baez missed his entire true freshman campaign in 2007-08 due to a knee injury. Before the injury, he was expected to be UCF's first perimeter player off of the bench. The shooting guard spent the 2006-07 season at Lee Academy in Maine, where he averaged 19.0 points.

Big Man on Campus
? At 7-foot-4, Jakub Kusmieruk is the tallest player in school history. Research shows that the freshman is the second-tallest player in the nation this season, trailing only 7-foot-5 Will Foster of Gonzaga. A native of Poland, Kusmieruk moved to the United States prior to his sophomore year high school and attended The John Carroll School in Maryland.

It's Our Anniversary
? The 2008-09 campaign is serving as the 40th season of men's basketball at UCF. The school's inaugural year of competition came in 1969-70 as a club team. The following season, head coach Torchy Clark's squad made the move to the NCAA Division II level. In 1984, the Knights began Division I competition.

Sunshine State of Mind
? UCF's roster is again dominated by Floridians. Seven Knights hail from the Sunshine State, and four Chris Baez (Kissimmee), Drew Speraw (Oviedo), Jermaine Taylor (Tavares) and Taylor Young (Orlando) are local products.

World Tour
? Despite the bevy of in-state players, the UCF roster does have an international look this season. Four foreign-born players are on the squad. Kenrick Zondervan (Holland) came to Orlando directly from his homeland. Unlike Zondervan, the other three Knights all attended high school in the United States. Jean Michel Yotio (Ivory Coast) prepped in the Orlando area at Montverde Academy. This past summer, two international fresmen - Jakub Kusmieruk (Poland) and Isaac Sosa (Puerto Rico) - both joined the program.

International Experience
? Before starting his UCF career, Isaac Sosa gained valuable experience playing for Puerto Rico at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Argentina this summer. Competing against some of the best young players in the world, he averaged 13.8 points and 3.2 rebounds at the tournament. Sosa, who attended Grandview Prep in Boca Raton, totaled 19 points and six boards against Canada in the bronze medal game.

Jermaine Taylor Notes

The Score
? One of the premier players in the country, Taylor begins the campaign as the 10th-leading returning scorer in the nation. As a junior in 2007-08, he averaged 20.8 points per game. He ranked 23rd in the country last season and fourth in Conference USA in scoring. The nation's leading returning scorers:

1. Stephen Curry, Davidson (25.9) 2. Lester Hudson, Tennessee-Martin (25.7) 3. Stefon Jackson, UTEP (23.6) 4. David Holston, Chicago State (23.1) 5. Tyler Hansborough, North Carolina (22.6) 6. Donovan Morris, Long Beach State (21.2) 7. Robert Vaden, UAB (21.1) 8. Tyrese Rice, Boston College (21.0) 9. Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell (20.9) 10. Jermaine Taylor, UCF (20.8)

Preseason Pick
? In October, Taylor was one of five players selected to the All-Conference USA Preseason Team. The league's 12 head coaches pick the squad and Taylor became the first UCF player since the school joined the conference in 2005-06 to earn preseason accolades. He was joined on the team by guards Stefon Jackson of UTEP and Robert Vaden of UAB, forward Robert Dozier of Memphis and center Jerome Jordan of Tulsa.

Back for More
? Last season, Taylor recorded one of the top campaigns in UCF history. He totaled 646 points, the most by a Knight since the program entered the Division I ranks in 1984. Taylor paced the Knights in scoring in 23 of the team's 31 games and registered 20-point performances on 20 occasions. In Conference USA play, he averaged 21.4 points. Following the conclusion of the regular season, he was named to the All-C-USA Second Team.

History in the Making
? Taylor enters the year 13th all-time at UCF with 1,167 points. Paul Reed, who played for the Knights from 1999-02, is 12th with 1,182 points. Against North Carolina A&T, Taylor should move up the rankings to 12th. Taylor is also approaching the top five in the school's career points list on the Division I level. Pat Crocklin (1985-99) is fifth with 1,295 points.

Nothing Average
? After averaging 20.8 points per game a year ago, Taylor will be looking to become the first Knight since 1978-80 to average over 20 points in back-to-back seasons. Bo Clark averaged 31.6 points in 1978-79, then averaged 26.8 points the following campaign.

Show and Improve
? Since arriving at UCF prior to the 2005-06 campaign as a freshman, Taylor has shown great improvement offensively from year to year. He averaged just 4.3 points on 39.5 percent shooting overall as a rookie. The following campaign, he shot 47.4 percent from the floor and averaged 12.7 points. Taylor then again upped his average over eight points. Last season, he averaged 20.8 points an outing.

Facing the Best
? Last year, Taylor had big-time games against big-time non-league opponents. He totaled 20 points against 18th-ranked Kansas State, scored 27 points at Nevada and recorded 30 points versus Connecticut.

State Success
? Not only did Taylor rank among the top-25 nationally in scoring last year, he was tops among all players in Florida as well. Thirteen school's in the Sunshine State sponsor Division I basketball and Taylor's average was first among all players from those programs. Miami's Jack McClinton (17.7) was second.

From Deep
? Taylor connected on 79 3-pointers a year ago and shot 36.7 percent from deep, which ranked 15th in Conference USA and 94th nationally. He begins his senior season seventh all-time at UCF with 159 treys. Ray Abellard (2001-03) is sixth with 168 triples.