Undefeated Knights get ready for Amway Center matchup with Gators

In preparation leading up to Wednesday’s matchup with #16 Florida at Amway Center, the Knights’ players will tell you that head coach Donnie Jones doesn’t want to make it about him. This 5-0 team knows that their leader would like nothing more than a victory over his mentor Billy Donovan, but also respect the coach for trying to keep the external headlines out of their minds to alleviate pressure.

“I think it’s huge for us just because that is the next team on our schedule,” said junior point guard A.J. Rompza. “You can’t look at it like we have to do this for Coach Jones or we have to do it because people are saying that we have to win. You can’t do it like that because usually when that happens people try to do too much. You have to play your game.”

While Rompza and the rest take it to the court, Jones will be looking to out coach the man he spent 13 years with as an assistant at Marshall and Florida. While the two men have no shortage of respect for each other, Jones knows it will be a tough assignment.

“It’s like two brothers playing one on one in the backyard. Neither one of us want to lose. It’s been great to be a part of what he has done early on. I have great respect for him.”

As well as brothers know each other’s every tendency, so too will these, who play under the same system, recognize each other’s game plans on the floor.

“We watched them when they played Ohio State and I watched them when they played Florida State,” said Rompza. “It’s almost like watching yourself.”

As if one tie to the Gator program wasn’t enough for the Knights, there is also at least one player they are familiar with suiting up for Florida. Former Lake Howell high school star Chandler Parsons is a local guy who scrimmaged from time to time with the Knights this past summer.

Rompza says the conversation was kept to a minimum regarding the matchup when it was announced in June.

“We respect each other. In basketball there is always going to be trash talking, but it’s more of a good trash talk because I respect him and the guys in here respect him and the things he is capable of doing.”

What players on both sides can agree upon is the excitement at the opportunity of playing the first college basketball game inside of Amway Center. Both UCF and UF played in separate games on the first night of college hoops in the old Amway Arena back in 1989.

“It’s almost like a dream for any college basketball player or any person who is playing basketball to play in an NBA arena,” said Rompza. It definitely means something to play at the new Amway Center just because it’s ridiculous in how big it is and nice it is. When I did go to the [Magic] game you think about for a moment like wow I am going to be playing here sooner or later.”

At the end of the day and after all the pageantry surrounding the Florida Citrus Sports Shootout is dispersed, the objective of winning becomes very simple for the Knights. In this new era of UCF Basketball, Jones has his players believing they can get their first win over the school to the north in their 10th meeting all-time, it will just take some attention to detail.

“We need to play hard for 40 minutes,” said Rompza. “You can’t take any possessions off and you have execute what the coaches want you to do for 40 minutes. You know it’s going to be a fight. They’re going to go on runs and we’re going go on runs and it’s the team who doesn’t put their head down during those runs and continues to play hard.”

News & Notes:                                    
  • The injury bug has bit UCF early on this season with Tom Herzog (wrist) and A.J. Tyler’s (hip) status doubtful for Wednesday. Tyler is almost certainly out. Jones said on Saturday that both he and Herzog would likely not play, but on local radio Tuesday morning said that Herzog would dress. It would appear that the center will be a game time decision. 
  • When you add UCF’s 0-9 record in men’s basketball against UF to the all-time records between these opponents for football, baseball, women’s basketball, softball, women’s soccer, and volleyball you get an all-time record of 89-26-1 in favor of the Gators. The Knights’ most victories against the blue and orange have come in baseball (12) and volleyball (10). 
  • While the ties abound within these two basketball teams, UCF also has several ties to UF in other areas of their athletic department. Athletic Director Keith Tribble is set to be inducted this April into the UF Athletics Hall of Fame after serving in their athletic department from 1981-89 and playing offensive guard on the football team from  1974-1976.