John Denton's Knights Insider: Knights Enjoying Summer Chemistry Lessons

June 30, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO (UCFAthletics.com) - Basketball teams are made, not in October in the weeks before the start of the regular season, but now in the middle of summer and far away from the screaming crowds and even the coaches.

That's certainly the case at UCF where the basketball players are working daily on individual drills, highly intense pick-up games among the players and weight-lifting sessions designed on improving strength, explosiveness and stamina.

The Knights are also undergoing chemistry lessons these days, blending the holdover players from last season's squad with the incoming freshmen and transfer players. It has made for some interesting battles as players simultaneously try and learn one another and battle one another in workouts.

New head coach Donnie Jones assumed a UCF team that returns all five starters and the top seven players back off last season's team that was one of the youngest squads in the nation. UCF finished 15-17 overall and 6-10 in Conference USA play. And now with an influx of ready-to-play talent from Jones' first recruiting class, brighter days look to be ahead for UCF, especially considering the way the team is working now some four months before the opening of preseason camp.

``I think any time, especially when you're establishing your program, the summer is an important value,'' Jones said. ``It's great to have them all here now, working out together. I think it's a great team building time for each of them. I think the ability to be in there and learn each other's games and being around each other is a huge asset to our program.''

UCF returns all-freshman picks Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan along with gritty point guard A.J. Rompza, shooter Isaac Sosa and veteran forward A.J. Tyler and fellow senior guard Taylor Young.

Jones added to that group by signing dynamic point guard Jarvis Davis, smooth scoring lefthander Isaiah Sykes and defensive-minded post players Tom Herzog and Dwight McCombs. The Knights also added transfers Jeff Jordan (from Illinois) and Josh Crittle (from Oregon), who won't be eligible until next season. But Jones is delighted that the Knights added some impact players who will create competition at all positions and some much-needed depth.

``Not many times do you walk into a program where everybody's back. That was an unusual situation with us, having pretty much everybody back in the program. Being able to add in some depth is really what our focus was,'' Jones said.

``It's like having a whole new team. Everybody's like a freshman to me, because they're all new,'' Jones continued. ``I think (this class) adds size, which we really we addressed, some depth at the wing spot and I think we really needed a point guard who could come in and compete with A.J. (Rompza) and kind of be the future. We did that. And obviously, we wanted to bring in a couple of guys we could sit out and play down the road.''

Some of the new faces, of course, are already quite familiar to members of the UCF squad. Jeff Jordan, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound guard, is the oldest son of legendary Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and the brother of Marcus Jordan. And McCombs is a former high school teammate of Rompza in Chicago and an AAU opponent of Marcus Jordan.

McCombs, a highly skilled 6-foot-8, 240-pounder in the post, said the familiarity of friends has helped ease his transition to UCF.

``Having friends here and guys from home already, it really made it great for me and helped me settle in,'' said McCombs, who averaged 22.5 points, 13.3 rebounds and 5.0 blocks a game in junior college. ``From high school to now I've just always enjoyed playing with Rompza. I just feel like I can give UCF another big body and a guy who can rebound and play tough on the block. I'm a defensive guy. Offensively and defensively, I think I can bring a lot to the program and help us get on the right track for next year.''

Davis graduated early from Hargrave Military Academy in order to enroll in UCF in the first summer session to get acclimated to his new teammates. He should push Rompza at point guard because of his ability to make plays off the dribble. He said the informal workouts so far at UCF have been intense, but should help the team build chemistry heading into drills later before the season.

``Right now we're just mixing together and learning how each other plays and all of the games are so competitive. Everybody is trying to earn a spot, work hard and get better every day,'' said Davis. ``Me and Rompza have been going at it pretty hard and it gets heated from time to time. But everything is good off the court and we're good friends.''

Sykes, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound wing player, might turn out to be the best of UCF's new recruits. He was highly coveted by several major schools and ultimately picked UCF over Tennessee, Auburn, Michigan State and Michigan. The Detroit native averaged 19.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game as a senior.

For now, Sykes is working on putting up 500 shots a day to better prepare himself for the rigors of a college basketball season and ready himself to contribute right away.

``The games we're playing against one another are pretty competitive. We have all these matchups and we're going at each other pretty hard,'' Sykes said. ``I'm just trying to improve my shooting so that I'm ready. I'm a good passer, but I'm working on my shot right now. I just feel like I can step in and contribute.''

Jeff Jordan won't be able to play right away, and he's already disappointed about the prospect of having to watch from the side for the first time in his basketball life. But he'll do so this season while watching his younger brother, Marcus. He said his mother and father are happy that both sons will be at UCF, something that came about when Marcus recommended UCF to Jeff when he was looking to transfer from Illinois.

``He told me about the school, the team and the kids here and that played a big role in why I wanted to come,'' Jeff Jordan said. ``All of my games at Illinois, my dad watched and would give me feedback. Now, it will be even easier with me and Marcus at the same school and we can critique each other's games also. My mom and dad are so excited about having us in the same place playing ball.''

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