With the loss of Jermaine Taylor, who last year scored 26.2 points per game and led the UCF men’s basketball team in scoring in 29 of 31 games, the Knights are looking to a group of newcomers and returning starters to carry the scoring load. UCF is coming off a 17-14 season, in which they went 7-9 in conference USA and 13-3 at home. Here is a look at the 2009-2010 version of the Knights:
Despite the loss of Taylor, the Knights welcome back three important players from the 2008 team in sophomores A.J. Rompza and Isaac Sosa, and junior Taylor Young.
Rompza is coming off a freshman season in which he scored just 4.3 points per game, but led the team in assists per game (5.2), steals (46), and was second on the team in minutes, playing just more than 26 per game. Rompza’s job last season was to control the offense and set up Taylor in scoring position. This season, he will be called upon to look for his shot as well as create opportunities for his teammates.
Sosa returns to the team after shooting a team-best 45 percent from three-point range last season. After playing for Puerto Rico in the offseason, Sosa will come into 2009 with more experience, and will be relied on for his sharp shooting around the perimeter.
Young, one of two juniors on the 2009-2010 team, was second on the team in assists last year with 3.4 per game, but will also be counted on to improve on his scoring average (just 3.3 points) of a year ago.
A trio of newcomers will be counted on to contribute as well for the Knights. R.J. Scott, Nik Garcia, and Marcus Jordan should all see significant playing time this season to help make up for the scoring loss of Taylor.
Scott has a nice jump shot and can cause teams fits with his athleticism around the rim. Garcia is a lights-out shooter, and will be relied on to knock down shots from behind the three-point line. Jordan’s athleticism should also be a good complement to the others on the team.
The strength of this team rests with the forwards, which include a wide array of talent in Dave Diakite, P.J. Gaynor, A.J. Tyler, and Keith Clanton.
Diakite sat out all last season with an injury and finally got the chance to show off his skills in the preseason. The 6'6" phenomenon shot 3-for-4 from the field for nine points in 19 minutes in the exhibition win against St. Leo last week. He looked mobile all night, and has shown signs of regaining the leaping ability he showed before his injury last season, dunking home a missed shot, and blocking a shot off the top of the backboard.
After shooting 50 percent from the field in limited action last season, P.J. Gaynor will have the ability to contribute off the bench. He drives to the rim well and can secure rebounds for the Knights.
Tyler was fourth on the team in scoring last season, at 7.1 points per game, and showed his versatility in being able to come off the bench or slide into the starting rotation. If he stays healthy, he will be relied on to start and bring production off the bench with his ability to score from the field and the free-throw line.
Clanton has unlimited potential, and will be relied on for a majority of the minutes on the court, whether it be at the forward or center position. He can score with his back to the basket and plays a slow-paced game. He scored 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the exhibition and also tied for a team-high eight rebounds.
The Knights will feel the loss of Jean-Michel Yotio in 2009, and will rely on the 7'4" Jakub “Kuba” Kusmieruk, who scored two points in 11 minutes against St. Leo. He is still learning to adjust to game speed, but has dropped some weight, and has worked on his game during the offseason.
Kusmieruk averaged only 2.2 points and about five minutes per game last season. Expect him to play about 10-15 minutes a game this season, and look more in sync with the offensive game plan then in the past.
Clanton will also see time at the center position, something that could allow the Knights to use a smaller, quicker lineup. He is also an excellent passer, which should work well with the inside-outside game of the UCF offense and will allow him to get the ball to Sosa and Garcia on the perimeter.
Head coach Kirk Speraw enters his 17th season with UCF, posting a 264-216 record. He is one of five coaches in the nation to have served at least 15 seasons at his program, a list that includes Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, and Gary Williams of Maryland.
He recruited what has the potential to be the most successful class in UCF basketball history this offseason, and will try to get his team to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2004-2005 season.