Steep Learning Curve for Knights

The UCF basketball team will have to try to keep the 2008-09 season from being another transition year following a 16-15 campaign just a year ago.

The Knights have a wealth of inexperience on the team surrounding one legitimate star player, and they hope that many of their seven freshmen can pick up the slack early on. Coach Kirk Speraw knows that it will definitely be a learning process early on—

"I just know that there's so many areas that we need to improve in. It's not going to happen in a day, it's not going to happen in a week, it's not going to happen in a month, it's not going to happen in two months. This is going to be a continuing learning process throughout the year not only from an individual standpoint but from a team standpoint."

The Knights coaching staff will have to do more teaching than coaching early on this season, as many of their young guys have never even seen something as basic as a scouting report.

"Every day we say something as coaches that we think is common basketball terminology and three or four guys have no clue what we're talking about," Speraw explained. "So we've got to give them a definition of what we're talking about. Each and every day it's something like that.

"It's all new to them and we've got to understand that and teach them the best we can."

Gone is last year's senior leader at point guard Mike O'Donnell and now the A.J. Rompza era begins. Rompza is a true freshman from Chicago that has tons of skill and potential.

"He's a guy who can create for people," Coach Speraw said of Rompza. "He's got to continue to get better defensively and contain the ball for us. A.J.'s is a guy that's used to going one speed and he's going to have to learn to go multiple speeds. He's a tough competitor and so is Will (Weathers) so those guys are going to get better as we go along."

Rompza received some acclaim from Knights team leader and superstar Jermaine Taylor following the Knights 76-56 exhibition victory over Flagler College in which he dished out eight assists—

"I think he played real good," Taylor explained. "He was just getting the jitters out being that it's his first college game. Towards the end he got a little confidence and knocked down some shots."

Winning in the C-USA won't be easy as the conference seems to be improved from top to bottom, and national runner-up Memphis will likely field another excellent squad. The one player who can step up and compete on a level with anyone in the country is senior guard Jermaine Taylor.

"Jermaine has gotten better in certain areas and still needs to improve in others, but he's certainly a guy who can put the ball in the basket and we're going to need him to do that but we can't make him feel like he's got to carry the team," Coach Speraw explained.

Although Taylor is obviously the Knights most talented player, the team doesn't want to force-feed him the ball at the expense of the rest of the offense.

"His role is to be Jermaine Taylor and do what Jermaine Taylor does and everybody else's role is to do what they need to do for us to be successful," Speraw said. "I don't think we can put too much on Jermaine's shoulders, he just has to be Jermaine Taylor and that's pretty good."

In the Knights exhibition victory, Taylor scored 31 points while taking just 20 shots, and really didn't seem to force the offense. Obviously he was playing against somewhat inferior competition from Division II, but he feels like he's now playing the best basketball of his life.

"I'm in the best shape I've ever been in," Taylor said. "I went to try to get the rebound every time and I'm about to sprint the floor every time."

Taylor has much loftier goals than last year's 16 victories for this upcoming season—

"This is my last year and I'm trying to go all out and get to the NCAA tournament so I'll do what I need to do for my team to be successful."

If the Knights are going to indeed achieve Taylor's goal and earn a berth in the "big dance," they will need some of their young guys to play like veterans.


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