John Denton's Knights Insider: Recruiting Class Helping Jones Build Top Program

April 26, 2011

="" alt="Knight Head" border="0" class="imported"> Read John Denton's Knights Insider | ="" alt="Twitter Logo" border="0" class="imported">Follow us on Twitter | ="" alt="Facebook Logo" border="0" class="imported">Get social with the Knights on Facebook

By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Donnie Jones has a saying that he repeats around the UCF basketball offices on a daily basis: build a program and not a team. Taking that message to heart, Jones has tirelessly spent his time in Orlando putting in the time recruiting cornerstone pieces rather than going after some sort of quick fix.

The recent additions of talented recruits Michael Chandler and Kevin Ware to UCF's recruiting class that already includes Rod Days, Wayne Martin and Kasey Wilson, has helped Jones' first true class after arriving on campus almost 13 months ago climb to No. 16 in ESPN.com national recruiting rankings.

Again, Jones has aggressively sought some top talent in hopes of infusing a UCF basketball program that entered the national rankings for the first time and won 21 games this past season with some elite athletes. And Jones is hoping that those players will bring long-term success to the program and create an expectation of greatness.

``It's been 12 months and a few weeks since we arrived and we walked into unchartered waters of not knowing what to expect,'' Jones said. ``But now we're trying to build a program and not just a one-year team. That's why we went out and got freshmen. We're trying to build this program to where it's consistent. We want to build a culture where guys are getting better and improving every year in our system.''

Landing Ware, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who had originally committed to Tennessee but was released from his commitment after the firing of Bruce Peal, was huge for the Knights because Ware is considered the No. 56 prospect in the country and the No. 14 shooting guard by Rivals.com. He averaged 19.0 points as a senior at Rockdale County High School in Georgia.

"Kevin is very talented," Jones said. "He really fits in and will excel with our up-tempo style of play. He is very versatile."

Add him with Chandler, widely regarded as one of the best centers coming out of high school, and the Knights already have a jump start on the makings of an elite team.

And the Knights will also use a summer session to incorporate their newcomers with returning standouts such as Marcus Jordan, Keith Clanton, plus transfers like Tristan Spurlock. UCF will play games in Montreal at the end of the summer as part of a seven-day trip to Canada. Jones is hoping the 10 days of practice time combined with the seven days of games in Montreal will help the Knights build unity and chemistry long before fall camp opens in October.

``I think it's huge for our program. Last year we had an opportunity to go, but with it being my first year there were so many unknowns I thought we'd wait a year. Now, we can add in the new faces and the ones back, and it gives us a chance in the summertime to bond,'' Jones said. ``Especially to our new kids it's a huge advantage to go to Canada and go play. We'll have the strategy, we'll prepare game-like situations, we'll watch film and it will give them a quick study in the summer for what to expect in the fall. It also gives us a chance to play guys in different situations and spots and see how the freshmen respond to playing with certain guys. When we hit September and October, we should be really thriving. We're excited about it and it's a great investment in our program.''

So, too, is the addition of Chandler, a 6-foot-10, 225-pound center from Indianapolis. Chandler averaged 19.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game at Lawrence North High School and earned Indiana Basketball Coaches Association All-State First Team honors and a spot on the Associated Press All-State Third Team.

``Michael Chandler has played on a very high level in high school and a lot of national teams and he's been very successful. He's got a lot of the same tools of the big men that I have coached and I'd hate to compare him to Al Horford or Joakim Noah, but he has that kind of talent,'' said Jones, an assistant coach on the two Florida teams that won back-to-back national championships.

``He has the ability to score, has great hands and can shoot facing up from 15 feet. He has such a great basketball feel, he's been around basketball and he understands it.''

Ideally, Jones would like to play a free-flowing style based off pick-and-roll plays and movement and defensively he would prefer to play pressure defense all over the floor. Getting a fertile class of top prospects will allow Jones to play the kind of trapping, up-tempo basketball that he prefers.

``We'd like to score more here, but we had to try and win last season. We've shown some flashes of how we want to play, but to do that consistently night in and night out it's going to take getting a lot of guys in here fitting in,'' Jones said. ``With the guys coming back, players always seem to make their biggest jump from their first year to their second year in our program. Now, they understand the speed, work ethic and the pick-and-roll offense that we run. We're getting a feel now. Now, we're bringing in guys who are athletic and fit what we do. Usually it takes a couple of recruiting classes. I think we're headed in the right direction.''

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