John Denton's Knights Insider: Jones Pleased with Early Progress

Nov. 23, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The unknown always brings a heightened level of concern and as recently as 21 days ago first-year UCF men's basketball coach Donnie Jones' worries were basically off the charts.

The Knights had muddled through two sloppy preseason games and Jones was beginning to wonder if all of the hurried work he and the team had done since late March to implement a new system was sticking.

But after three impressive regular-season games and watching his Knights clear their first hurdle of the season, Jones has been forced to take a new look at the progress of his undefeated Knights. As UCF (3-0) heads into tonight's game against Stetson in DeLand, Jones has contemplated the notion that maybe the Knights were much further along than he thought.

``Well, that's a good question, and I'm still not sure about it,'' Jones said in reference to the Knights' quick progress.

``In our first two exhibitions it felt like our guys were a long way away. And we still have a long way to go and so much room for improvement, which is encouraging for a coach. But so far these guys have been selfless and hard-working with great attitudes and they work every day.''

UCF was able to catch its breath after opening the regular season with three games in a furious six-day stretch. The Knights did as they pleased in the first two games, throttling West Florida and Jackson State by a combined 95 points. UCF then notched an early signature win by beating arch-rival South Florida before the fourth-largest crowd to ever see a game at UCF Arena.

Slowly, but surely, there's a growing belief - from the players as well as the fanbase - that the Knights can accomplish big things in Jones' new system. He demands that players push the pace, crank up the pressure on the opponent and play efficiently.

And thus far the Knights have been able to mask whatever deficiencies by overwhelming foes with their hustle, depth and energy. At times, they have broken the will of other teams while fueling the confidence of a young team.

``The system that we are running is still new to us and we're still getting used to the way to practice, but we're all in great condition and it allows us to play 100 percent the whole game,'' junior guard Isaac Sosa said. ``Guys come in as starters or off the bench and give it 100 percent and everybody's playing hard and with a lot of confidence now.''

Jones found out something about the makeup of this Knights team in the second half of the USF victory when UCF twice fell behind. But rather than seeing panic from his players, Jones saw resolve and a willingness to change how they were playing. And those changes produced a big home victory.

``We were trying to do it all ourselves. It was easier those first two games, but then it wasn't so easy,'' Jones recalled.

``We were going to have to run some clock to get some good percentage shots. We were focusing again on defense and rebounding. We needed to score, but defense helps you get out and score. And the guys did a good job with that. We had to grind it out to win.''

While Jones still tempers expectations for the Knights because of their scoring troubles at times and a limited amount of athleticism, he is delighted at how far the team has come in the past three weeks. While much has been made of his system of up-tempo offense and smothering defense, Jones insists that it's more of a mindset than a schematic advantage.

``The biggest myth about pressing is that you have to get steals all of the time,'' Jones said. ``I tell our guys that (the steals) are just fool's gold and it's more about making the opponent to work. We were making (USF) take eight seconds off to get the ball from the back court to the front court and a lot of times there was 18 seconds (on the shot clock) before they got to a play. I thought that was huge for us because it wore them down. That's how we have to play.''

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