Knights Prepped for NCAA Tourney First Round

COLUMBIA, S.C. ( – This was supposed to be last year. The UCF men’s basketball team entered the 2017-18 season expecting to make noise deep into March.


First, it was Aubrey Dawkins. Out for the season with a shoulder injury. Then, it was BJ Taylor. The heart and soul of the team injured his foot in the season-opener and missed 16 games. Then, just as Taylor was coming back, it was Tacko Fall. The 7-foot-6 center missed the final 16 games of the season with a shoulder injury. The 2017-18 team was decimated by injuries en route to a 19-13 mark.


But this year’s team has been healthy and now they are here in the NCAA Tournament with a 23-8 record.


While they may be a year late to the party, the experience of last season makes this trip all the much sweeter for that trio of Knights.


“To finally be out there and play together and stay healthy, it's been a blessing, and it's been a real joy playing with both these guys next to me,” Taylor said.


One of the joys Taylor, Fall and the rest of their teammates will experience Friday night at Colonial Life Arena is a feeling of accomplishment. The men’s basketball program is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 years. The Knights earned the highest NCAA Tournament seed in school history.


Taylor and Fall have been together for four years, working toward this goal.


“I would say it means everything,” Fall said. “After all the hard work that we put in, everything that we've been through, all the injuries … finally being able to pull it off, especially in our senior year … we just put our heads down and say we have to make it and we made it happen. But now we just can't get too happy.”


Taylor echoed Fall’s sentiments.


”In the locker room, in our talks, we haven't been satisfied,” Taylor said. “We came here, not just to show up, but we want to win games. Starts with VCU tomorrow. That's our main focus right now. We're blessed to be here and honored to be here. Our goal isn't just to get here. We want to … make a statement.”


According to Dawkins, the only Knight with NCAA Tournament experience, keeping it simple is the way to give themselves a chance on the biggest platform possible.


“It’s still basketball,” Dawkins said. “We don't want to make the game any bigger than it is. Just stay composed out there and take it possession by possession because every game is going to be grind it out.”


Dawkins played in two March Madness contests back in 2016 as a member of the Michigan Wolverines, before transferring to UCF to play for his father Johnny.


As for the elder Dawkins, he and members of his coaching staff have all played and/or coached in the NCAA Tournament. The Knights’ head coach said he and his coaching staff can hopefully help make up for the lack of tournament experience on the team.


“Coach Norris played in the tournament. Coach Taylor played in the tournament. We have guys who have been there before,” Dawkins said. “We didn't want them to keep that knowledge a secret, to share that throughout the season, to make up for the lack of having a number of guys in the locker room that have that experience.”


From his experience as a player, going all the way to the title game and winning Naismith Player of the Year honors in 1986, the elder Dawkins is doing his best to prepare his team but also make sure his young men understand and appreciate the accomplishment of being here.

“What we try to tell our players is just stay in the moment and enjoy this experience,” Coach Dawkins said. “This is something that you should cherish. These are hard to come by. When you have this opportunity, make the most out of it.”


The Knights will look to make the most of it vs. VCU Friday night at around 9:40 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS.