Rompza Making the Point

The toughest position to play in basketball is point guard. To play point guard effectively on the Division I level is something that takes years for most very good high school players. UCF's A.J. Rompza is looking more and more like a veteran at the position with each contest.

"In a way I think it definitely (the game) is slowing down but the coaches really help me," Rompza said. "At first I think I was going one speed but I still may be going one speed but there may be transitions and there's times that I'll slow down and I know when to go and when not to go, and when to make a play and I know when to look for my teammates."

Rompza has been a great defender since he set foot on campus, and in last Saturday's blowout loss to the University of Florida, he drew the very difficult task of guarding Gators star guard Nick Calathes. Although Rompza was giving up at least nine inches of height to Calathes, he made life very difficult on the future NBA star, and many of Calathes' 16 points came when Rompza was on the bench. A.J. hit on four of his five shots from the field and finished with 11 points and three assists in the loss. Even though Rompza was one of the lone bright spots, he wasn't pleased with his or his team's performance.

"To me, a good game and losing, kind of erases the good game," Rompza explained.

One of the biggest question marks associated with Rompza was his ability to make teams pay from the outside, as they often concentrate on stopping Knights star guard Jermaine Taylor. Those questions were relevant as Rompza went through a shooting slump during the Knights road trip in which he connected on just 1 of 20 attempts from the field. Rompza worked hard and continues to work hard on his shot, and he's shooting 79% from the field since.

"I think a lot of people question my shooting, but that as a personal aspect, that's the best thing I can do," Rompza told Inside Knights. "I was missing some shots, I was rushing them. I've been in the gym every night and I go to the gym and shoot 500 jump shots. I was rushing them at first, but now I'm just taking my time and my teammates are finding me."

Rompza is one of eight freshmen on the Knights roster, and he is the most important one, as he is the man that runs the team. Rompza has set the tone for the team with his aggressive defense, hot shooting of late, and great ball distribution. Whereas most young players are eager to score, Rompza is aware that his main role is to be that of a distributor and defender.

"It's really important to make sure everyone's involved," Rompza said. "Especially as a point guard, I have to make sure everyone's happy. Me personally, I have to make sure everyone's happy from one to five, but as long as we win, people were calling me every day saying ‘you've got to score,' but I honestly didn't care as long as we win. As a point guard, I might want to score a couple times, but as long as we come away with a win, that's all I care about so everything else is kind of just extra."

Rompza has a great role model to learn from in Knights superstar guard Jermaine Taylor. Taylor is a special type of player who is capable of taking over any game, but often plays inside the system and doesn't try to do too much. The 6'4" senior averages 20.4 ppg., but is averaging less than 30 minutes per game.

"If Jermaine's happy and the other four guys aren't happy, we're going to lose," Rompza explained. "I think Jermaine being such a great player and what he has to do for the team, when his shot is on he's still looking for other teammates. So he's looking to see who's out on the wing and who's ready to shoot the ball. Him being that type of player helps the team that much more. A lot of guys that have the capability of Jermaine just go one-on-one all the time and they're not really worried about their teammates, but since he's a senior he's done a really good job with leadership and making sure everyone's happy on the court."

Rompza, along with fellow freshmen Issac Sosa, Chris Baez, P.J. Gaynor and even 7'4" center Jakub Kusmieruk have improved greatly from the beginning of the season, and there are surely greater things ahead.

"I think the freshmen from the first guy to the last guy, I think we're all improving, Rompza said. "I think it's so much different at first, there was so much stuff being thrown at us, we were like, ‘What do we do?' We were running around, we had no clue what to do. I think now we are getting things, and each of us know our roles now. Every practice it seems like we're getting better and every time out, each game when you guys say we're improving, I think it has to do with comfort. I think we're getting really comfortable with the system and everything."

Knights head coach Kirk Speraw is about as forthcoming with the media as any head coach in any sport, and this is what he had to say about Rompza following Monday's 85-60 victory over Valparaiso, which A.J. scored six points and dished out seven assists.

"He's making good progress right now," Speraw said. "I see that he's much more comfortable with his tempo and what he's doing out there, he's not so rushed, he's not going 1000 miles per hour, he's just going 150 to 200 now. He's making good decisions and he's not turning the ball over. He's getting in the gaps and creating for his teammates, and now he's also taking the opportunities and the shots that he has and he's stepping into those shots with good rhythm and becoming a threat in shooting the basketball which we know he can do too. That's something that he needed to do and I think he's making good progress as a point guard."

Despite standing just 5'9" and weighing 160 lbs., Rompza isn't afraid to mix it up on the court and he refuses to be pushed around by anyone. In Saturday's loss to Florida, Rompza had to be separated by the officials from various Florida players that were trying to physically intimidate him, and something similar happened in Monday night's victory. Rompza is the definition of hard-nosed and knows it's important to never back down from a challenge.

"There was a couple incidents with a couple different players but I think that's just basketball," Rompza explained. "I was telling the refs that. That's basketball, hard hits, if you can't take it then they're going to see that you're a weak player so every time you get hit and you get right back up they're going to stop doing it. Once you start to cower, they're going to keep doing it to you. I think that's where I have to just keep my composure and just stay strong. Just keep running the offense."

Rompza may not have prototypical size or a prototypical release on his shot, but he's a natural leader and is pound for pound the toughest guy on the court. He's the type of player that you would never want to be guarded by, and he's making an impact on his UCF team without having to score. The arrow is pointing straight up for Rompza and the Knights, and he may be the most impressive player from this freshmen class.


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