With UCF Basketball set to tip off the regular season on Friday against West Florida, several players are going to be paramount to the Knights success. New coach Donnie Jones has to balance integrating newcomers to the program along with getting returning players up to speed with his system.
The most important entity on the floor in his up-tempo attack may be the point guard position. Being able to make quick decisions, push the ball up the floor, and get back on defense is going to be some of the assets valued for a Jones’ point guard.
Due to the demands placed on the position, no one has pushed himself harder in the offseason then junior A.J. Rompza. One thing that Rompza has never had to work on is being among the leaders on the Knights squad.
As we preview the seasons of some of the possible key contributors to the 2010-2011 season, we sat down with Rompza and he added his thoughts on each of his teammates.
Just a year ago, Clanton was entering UCF as one of the most ballyhooed recruits in program history. He was a reserve in just the first eight games of last season, before garnering the starting nod in the final 24.
To improve from year one to year two, Clanton hit the weight room, adding 20 pounds of muscle while trimming off four percent body fat. The Orlando Christian Prep product wanted to be in the best shape of his life to play in a new system
While Clanton was the team’s third leading scorer throughout the season last year, he stepped up his game even more during conference play, averaging a second best 10.4 points per game. His strong play no doubt led to a Conference USA All-Freshman team selection.
With Jones now in place, the former high school 1A Player of the Year in Florida might be even better utilized in his sophomore campaign. Clanton scored 15 points in the exhibition against Flagler and his ability to handle the ball and face the basket is a perfect fit for the offense.
Rompza on Clanton: “I think Keith’s not just going to be a post player, but he can also take it in outside. We can get him the ball on the wing and I don’t think there are too many big men that will be able to guard him.”
While many will focus on the off the court headlines that always seem to surround players with a namesake as famous as Jordan’s, they might miss what could be a very special sophomore season for the guard from Chicago.
Jordan had his moments of flair sprinkled throughout his freshman campaign. He played well in big games, shooting a perfect 4-4 from the field at Notre Dame and led the team with 13 points against UConn. When Houston fans taunted him throughout the road contest, Jordan went off for 23 points at Hofheinz Pavilion.
The buzz around the program this year is that these performances could be a night in night out thing for the team’s leading scorer in CUSA play last season. Coach Jones has commented throughout the preseason that Jordan will need to be the go to scorer for UCF on most nights.
This new assertiveness needed from Jordan was on full display in the exhibition, as he drove to the basket and found his shot often to the tune of 19 points, 17 of them coming in the first half.
Rompza on Jordan: “Marcus is going to be huge for us this year. Last year, he stepped it up toward the end of the season, but I think he is going to be our go to guy. Marcus can score in a lot of ways. He can get to the free throw line. The way he uses his body he can get to the rim or he can shoot the outside jump shot.”
With Tyler being only one of three seniors on the roster, his first objective will be to provide leadership. But along with that guidance should come some on court example setting by the former Clemson transfer.
One of three Knights to average over ten points last season, Tyler could prove to be one of the most versatile players on the roster. After being the only Knight to start all 32 games in 2009-2010, he could see a different role this year.
As Clanton and transfer Tom Herzog become established in the post, the starts might be fewer and farther between, but expect the minutes to still be up. Continuing to build a presence on the defensive side is a main objective for Tyler, who notched a double-double in the exhibition win over Flagler.
Rompza on Tyler: “A.J. is kind of the all-around player. He’s going to give you defense, he’s going to score. He’s going to get a lot of tip-backs. Obviously, senior leadership is what he does best.”
It’s rare a program like UCF can get a player with Final Four experience and insert them right into the lineup. That’s exactly what the Knights have with the seven foot senior who transfers in from Michigan State.
The fifth year senior used a provision that allows an athlete to play his final year of eligibility at another school if that institution offers a graduate program not offered by the current school. While the center never averaged above 5.2 minutes in any given season at MSU, he still looms large in the plans for the Knights.
Herzog is the main example of the size Jones looked to infuse into the program upon his arrival. After 44 career games in green and white, UCF is hoping for one successful season from him in black and gold.
Rompza on Herzog: “Tom does it all. I’ve told so many people that he is the first one down the court blocking shots and altering shots. He is someone that brings a lot of energy. I think he is just getting used to everything right now. We want him to play a lot of minutes for us. I know coach has stressed it to him how big of a role he has for us and the things that we are looking for him to do.”
McCombs is another transfer for the Knights ready to play right away comes via the community college circuit. Last year, he totaled some of the most prodigious numbers in the country at Moraine Valley CC in Illinois, averaging 22.5 points and 13.3 rebounds.
As a Whitney Young High School alum like Rompza and Jordan, McCombs played his freshman year at Miami (Ohio). After this past season, McCombs had offers from Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, and Minnesota but chose the Knights.
Rebounding is said to be the biggest asset he can add to the team this year and he corralled three boards in nine minutes of action in last Thursday’s exhibition. He’ll factor into the already crowded Knights frontcourt that houses Clanton, Herzog, and Tyler.
Rompza on McCombs: “Dwight is someone that is going to really help us on defense. His offense is there when he gets in the post he is going right up with it, but I think he is going to make shots for the other team very difficult. He is going to alter a lot of shots, block a lot of shots. I think he’ll have a huge presence on the defensive end.”
As one of two freshmen on the roster, Sykes represents the future of the UCF program and perhaps the present. With Jarvis Davis looking like the third string point guard behind Rompza and senior Taylor Young coming out of preseason, Sykes has the best chance to be the Knights most successful freshman.
The wing out of Detroit’s Denby High School can play multiple positions. He averaged just less than 20 points a game last season while leading his team to the Class A Michigan State Final Four.
The 6-5 Sykes could be slow to develop out of the gates, but might make a similar impact that Jordan and Clanton were able to a season ago come conference play.
Rompza on Sykes: “He is very active. He has very long arms. Just like A.J. Tyler he can pretty much get a lot of tip-ins when the ball comes off the rim.”