John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Ready for Amway Center Stage

Dec. 1, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - For UCF's blossoming basketball team, Wednesday's game will be the ultimate test to gauge their progress as an up-and-coming program.

UCF is off to a dazzling 5-0 start, pounding foes by an average of 32.8 points per game while shooting a solid 55.4 percent from the floor. But up next is Wednesday night's highly anticipated showdown against No. 16/18 Florida at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando.

For the Knights, there was an emotional defeat of arch-rival South Florida at UCF Arena and four mostly lopsided victories against overmatched foes. But facing a nationally ranked Florida team that is coming off a defeat of Florida State should prove just how far along UCF truly is.

The game will pit UCF coach Donnie Jones' up-tempo, pressure defense style against Billy Donovan's up-tempo, pressure defense style. The two worked together for 11 years at UF, are still close friends and in many ways are mirror images of each other as coaches. And Wednesday's game will give the pupil (Jones) a chance to measure his rising program against that of the mentor (Donovan).

``It will be great for our guys to see that that's the level that we want to play at every night. That's the way we want to play and that's what we're trying to implement here,'' said Jones, who took over as UCF's head coach in late March. ``And if we have a chance down the stretch it would be a great opportunity for our team.''

UCF has roared out to an impressive start so far this season because of the individual growth of sophomores Marcus Jordan (16.8 ppg., 11 3-pointers, 56.4 percent shooting) and Keith Clanton (16.2 ppg. and 8.2 rpg.) and junior guard Isaac Sosa (10.4 ppg. and 12 3-pointers). All three have thrived in Jones' wide-open style of play that puts an emphasis on pace, pressure and conditioning.

``We're playing great. We've had a great start. I wasn't anticipating a certain record, but we're all really happy with the start and hopefully we can keep it going,'' said Jordan, whose thunderous dunk recently against Stetson made ESPN's Top 10 plays for the night. ``Our big thing is that we want to wear people down for 40 minutes. We practice and go hard for two-and-a-half hours, so when we get into a game 40 minutes is a cakewalk. Teams end up breaking down and get exhausted trying to fight through our press.''

Jones said it will be somewhat surreal facing the coach that he worked alongside of for 11 years in Gainesville. Jones was on Donovan's staff when the Gators won consecutive national titles in 2006 and '07 and was a part of nine 20-win seasons. Much of his fiery nature in practice and in the locker room and style of play on the court is a product of the things he learned from Donovan, Jones said.

UCF point guard and emotional leader A.J. Rompza, who has 23 assists and eight steals in the first five games, said Jones' passion to be great in everything that the Knights do has been an uplifting factor. He said Jones' emotional pregame pep talks - often accompanied with pulsating music -- have played a major role in the way the Knights have jumped on foes from the opening tip of games.

``They're unbelievable. If you are down or whatever, he'll give you that motivational speech and you are ready to go. That's why we come out so hard every single game,'' Rompza said. ``It's something that you have to hear and not something that you can really explain to anybody. You have to be in the moment and in that room when he's talking. He gets us to play hard every single possession. Just to have somebody like that who can pick you up when things aren't going right is huge. If you do make mistakes, he's not going to yell at you, but he will motivate you and do stuff to bring you up because he wants you to play better.''

Rompza said he's dreamed for weeks of what a defeat of Florida would do for the UCF basketball program. Rompza was a freshman the last time the Knights played UF and lost 89-61 in 2008. But things are different now, and Rompza said he can visualize a scenario where the Knights can stun the Gators and announce their legitimacy to the college basketball world.

``Just when I think about (a potential win) I get goose bumps,'' Rompza said. ``I read the book, ``The Secret'' recently and me being a motivational person, it changed the whole way that I think about things. Whatever you think about comes about. Before every game or before I go to bed, I think about being in that moment. Before the South Florida game I thought about the fans going crazy, us getting a big win and then it happened.

``It won't happen every single time, but I've tried to tell the guys to think about it and to put themselves in the moment at the Amway Center playing in front of all of those fans cheering,'' Rompza continued. ``This is a huge moment for our program and I think we'll play well.''

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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.