John Denton's Knights Insider

Nov. 13, 2009

By John Denton

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UCF men's basketball coach Kirk Speraw is somewhat troubled by the fact that he doesn't have much of a scouting report on season-opening opponent UMass.

Equally troubling for Speraw is that he doesn't have much a handle on how his young basketball team will react to the pressures of playing an elite foe in the first game of the season.

``The thing we're going to have a hard time adjusting to is, while not having experience at this level, is the intensity, the physical nature and how you have to take care of details,'' Speraw said. ``That's going to really shock some of our guys. But we have to get them out there and see how they handle those things.''

The first chance to see how UCF's revamped basketball team reacts comes Friday at 7 p.m. against an athletic UMass squad. Speraw brought in what is considered to be UCF's best recruiting class ever, a group that includes top recruit Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan.

But the group is new to basketball at this level and Speraw is as curious as anyone to see how they react to the big-game atmosphere.

Excitement in UCF basketball has never been higher heading into a season. A crowd in excess of 7,000 is expected for tonight's opener, and the program's season-ticket base has exceeded 2,000.

UCF basketball produced Conference USA Player of the Year Jermaine Taylor last season, and there's certainly plenty of promise surrounding UCF's incoming freshman class mixed with plenty of returning veterans.

``The interest is high out there and it should be because these guys are going to be fun to watch,'' Speraw said. ``It'll be fun to watch them grow and mature together. They'll be an exciting group.''

UMass is led by second-year coach Derek Kellog, one of the assistants who helped build Memphis into a national power under then head coach John Calipari. The Minutemen were 12-17 a year ago after starting 1-6. Ricky Harris is UMass's star and the senior is expected to greatly improve upon his 18.2-point scoring average this season.

``They are an exceptionally athletic team. They'll be as athletic as the Memphis teams,'' Speraw said. ``They've got length and can run. But they have a lot of new players on the front line. It's disconcerting to not have information going into your first game about what you are going to face with their offense and defense. We'll just have to adjust as we go along, which makes it more complicated because of the youth that we have and immaturity that we have.''

A.J. Rompza and Isaac Sosa return in the backcourt for UCF to provide steadiness. A.J. Tyler is back from a preseason injury, while P.J. Gaynor and Taylor Young are expected to also be in the starting lineup.

In the opener at least, UCF's youth will likely see action as reserves. Clanton, a 6-foot-8 power forward who can score points in bunches, was impressive in the exhibition win against St. Leo. Jordan showed his defensive grit with three steals, while redshirt freshman Dave Diakite hopes to make a major leap in his game and take advantage of his off-the-charts athleticism.

``We're making progress and we're going to be a work in progress for a long time,'' Speraw said. ``It's a slow process, but I thought in the last week or so there are some guys who are starting to kick it in as we get into game week.

``As a whole they are taking steps in the right direction,'' Speraw continued. ``Everybody is picking things up, but maybe it's not at the pace that we'd always like for it to be. We're having to stop and teach every step of the way, but we knew it would be that way.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears several times per week on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.