John Denton's Knights Insider: Knights Make Jones' Debut Memorable


Nov. 12, 2010

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By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton, two sophomores who worked especially hard over the summer to change their bodies and change their games to fit into Donnie Jones' new up-tempo style of play, made sure their new coach had a memorable debut at UCF on Friday night.

Jordan, who spent most of the offseason practicing his jump shot, hit five 3-pointers and scored 28 points, while a much trimmer and stronger Clanton sank all nine of his shots and scored 24 points in UCF's 115-61 blowout of visiting West Florida.

The game served as the start of the Jones' era at UCF and it gave the 5,865 fans packed inside UCF Arena a glimpse at the fast-paced, pressure-defense style of play that made him one of the nation's hottest up-and-coming coaches when hired by the Knights last March. Dressed in a dark grey suit, a gold tie and a matching pocket square, Jones was active along the sideline throughout the game, barking out plays and imploring his team to continue to push the pace.

``I was smiling (throughout the game) because it's just fun playing that style of play,'' said Jordan, whose famous father, NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, looked on from a baseline suite high above the court. ``I could hold a smile back. Getting after everybody and pressing, getting shots up and creating for other teammates, it was a lot of fun.''

After UCF (1-0) scored its most points since 1992 and registered the fourth-best shooting night in school history (66.7 percent), Jones celebrated in the locker room by telling his players about the possibilities of this season when they play with the intensity and passion displayed Friday night.

``The most important thing is that we want to sell our style,'' Jones said. ``The style of play can be a fun style when they play defense and they have to understand that defense creates offense. We did a good job defending and that created the ability to score.''

And score the Knights did, racking up nearly as many points in the first half (56) and second half (59) as West Florida did in the game (61). The 54-point win was the largest margin of victory in a season-opener since 1972.

The Knights made 40 of 60 shots and 10 of 24 3-pointers. Reserve center Dwight McCombs added 11 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots. Junior point guard A.J. Rompza added nine assists and three steals for a UCF defense that forced 23 turnovers. UCF's bench contributed 51 points and 27 rebounds.

``We shared the basketball, we played with great intensity, did a great job of making the game easy for one another and we sped the tempo up to a really good level,'' Jones said. ``And I think those guys saw that with our bench and our depth that we can wear some teams down with the way that we play.''

Better conditioning was a major point of emphasis this offseason for Jordan and Clanton, both of whom toned their bodies as they prepared to play at the breakneck pace that Jones demands. Jordan dropped seven pounds over the summer and usually hoisted several hundred 3-pointers a day. And Clanton added 15 pounds of muscle while shaving 4 percent off his body fat ratio.

And it didn't take long Friday night for both players to see the difference on the court.

``We're looking to do this all year and speed teams up and get them uncomfortable because it's pretty tough to play when you're not comfortable,'' Jordan said. ``We want to wear people down for 40 minutes because our conditioning is really ridiculous. We feel like we're all in the best shape and nobody can play the whole 40 minutes like we can.''

The Knights led 56-27 at the half by torching West Florida for 65.5 percent (19 of 29) shooting, while also making six of 11 3-pointers. And defensively, the Knights were almost as good, forcing 15 first-half turnovers and blocking four shots.

``(The style) is a lot of fun because we get to take advantage of all of the mismatches and all of the open shots we can get,'' Clanton said. ``The more shots we can get up the more chance we have of making them. It was real fun for us.''

Jordan's offseason work showed early in the game when he opened with a deep 3-pointer and his first four field goals were threes. By the time Jordan converted a tough runner in the lane midway through the first half, he had 16 points and UCF led 41-16.

One of Jones' first orders of business upon taking over at UCF last spring was to add some muscle and side to UCF's frontline. And transfers Tom Herzog and McCombs made their impact felt early in the game, combining to block four shots and change several others in the first half.

All in all, it was a banner night for a UCF squad that hosts Jackson State on Monday at 7 p.m. It was a game that Jones won't forget anytime soon.

``There's always uncertainty of the unknown because a lot of it is new to our guys,'' Jones said. ``Our guys have been doing a lot of thinking and we've watched a lot of film and talked about how we want to play. They've worked hard trying to grasp what we want to do. It's an effort game and we played with great effort. When we play with that kind of energy, a lot of great things can happen.''

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