John Denton's Knights Insider: Jones, Knights Looking Forward to Contest at Amway Center

Nov. 29, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF men's basketball coach Donnie Jones knows that at some point on Wednesday night that he'll glance down the sidelines and look dead ahead at Florida's Billy Donovan, the mentor he worked under for 13 years and has modeled much of his coaching style after.

But Jones stressed that his looks down the way at Donovan will be more strategic than nostalgic.

``I'll probably look down every once in a while trying to get some of his calls,'' Jones said with a chuckle. ``Other than that, I won't try to look at him too much.''

Jones, the coach who has guided UCF to a stellar 5-0 start to the season, will be facing his mentor and No. 16 Florida (5-1) on Wednesday night at Orlando's Amway Center in the Florida Citrus Sports Shootout.

It will be the first-ever college game played in the $480 million facility in downtown Orlando. But more importantly for the Knights, it will be a chance to gauge their progress against a nationally ranked foe in a big-time environment. Win the game and UCF could prove to the nation that its fast start to the season is real and they could be in line for a first-ever national ranking.

``When you're trying to build a program like we are here at UCF if you have an opportunity to beat a ranked team like Florida it would be an incredible stepping stone for us. We still have a long way to go, a lot to improve upon and we're very humble here,'' said Jones, who took over as head coach at UCF in late March and has worked wonders already. ``We're unchallenged. We played a very good South Florida team and got a victory, but we haven't played anybody like Florida yet. So it will be an incredible challenge for us.''

UCF is one of only two Conference USA teams (Memphis is the other) to start the season 5-0. Playing Jones' style that relies on up-tempo offense and full-court pressure defensively, the Knights have relentlessly battered foes. By virtue of getting plenty of layups off steals and superior conditioning, the Knights are shooting 55.4 percent from the floor while beating teams by an average of 32.8 points a game.

UCF imposed its will on rival South Florida in the biggest win of the season so far. Now, the task is to do it against the nationally ranked Gators. The Knights haven't played Florida since 2008, an 89-61 loss for UCF.

``I think we have a big opportunity to show what we have here, how special of a team we are and how hard we have worked since the summer,'' said junior shooting guard Isaac Sosa. ``We played them our freshman year and they kind of kicked us around. It was bad, but this is a good opportunity for us to really show what we have as a team.''

What the Knights have as a team might look quite familiar to the Gators because of the deep connection between the two coaches. Jones worked on Donovan's staff at Marshall University for two seasons and then went with him to the University of Florida for 11 years. Jones helped recruit many of the players to Florida who helped the Gators win national titles in 2006 and 2007. And in his 11 years in Gainesville, Florida won at least 20 games nine times.

Jones openly admits that much of his coaching style is patterned after what he picked up from Donovan. The two are still close friends, vacationing with their families together through the years and still communicating through text messages and phone calls. Jones said he owes much of his rise to becoming one of the nation's top young coaches to Donovan.

``One, is competitive nature and another is preparation,'' Jones said of the attributes he took from Donovan. ``He's an incredible guy at preparing and another thing is work ethic. He demands those things every day from his staff and his players. So we know his team will come in here ready to play.

``I've had great respect for that program, being a part of it and seeing how hard Billy works,'' Jones continued. ``To have the opportunity to play against your mentor and a program that you've been a part of it's an incredible feeling.''

Jones said there are many similarities to his current building process at UCF and the one that Donovan and his staff pulled off at Florida back in the mid-90s. Jones said there was much work put into recruiting elite players to Florida in order to cultivate some basketball success at a school primarily known for its football program. Jones said the Gators teams that won back-to-back national championships are proof that you can build a basketball winner in a football-crazed state.

``There are a lot of similarities to when we got first got started at Florida. We just went out and got the kids into the state and solidified the program,'' Jones remembered. ``You have so much great tradition at Florida with football and the athletic department and basketball has become what it is now. We're trying to do the same here at UCF in basketball. Football has taken that step to get to the Top 25. Basketball-wise, we're in our first year and we've only played five games, but we're trying to build and model off what they have done at Florida.''

When Jones invariably glances down the sideline on Wednesday night at Donovan it won't be the first time he's seen his mentor since the summer when the two worked together on the details of the Florida Citrus Sports Shootout. In fact, the two coaches paths crossed repeatedly during the summer on the recruiting trail - proof that UCF is making a major push to lure some of the best athletes in Florida to Orlando.

``We're definitely recruiting the right kids and now we've just got to get them,'' Jones said. ``I know if Billy is in the gym it's definitely the right guy we're recruiting.''

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