A.J. Rompza: UCF’s ambassador to Chicago
Published: Sunday, April 10, 2011
Updated: Sunday, April 10, 2011 17:04
A.J. Rompza is known for his hustle on the court, but it may be off the court where he has done the most work for the UCF basketball program.
Rompza, who often shifts from fan-favorite, team-leading point guard to relentless recruiter, was the first of many Chicagoans to join the UCF basketball team.
"A.J. is a conduit for the program," said former UCF associate head coach Mike Jaskulski, who is now at UAB. "He is a great ambassador for the university and the basketball program."
It was Jaskulski who recruited Rompza from Whitney M. Young High School — a Magnet school with a nationally recognized basketball program that competes in the Chicago public-league circuit.
Three years ago while at UCF, Jaskulski was looking to add a point guard.
"I called people in Chicago that I trusted. The name that kept popping up was A.J. Rompza," Jaskulski said, who has been recruiting the Chicago area since the mid '80s.
After his senior year, Rompza took an unofficial visit to Orlando.
"I just fell in love with the campus," Rompza said. "And being so far away from home, I wanted to go somewhere where the guys were like family for me."
Rompza sought to expand that family by bringing in someone he had played with in high school. After his freshman year, he convinced teammate and friend Marcus Jordan to visit the university.
Jordan, who was being recruited by many schools such as Marquette and Stanford, committed to UCF after making his visit in early April.
"He told me it was a fun system to play in at the time and that the fans come out and show support every game," Jordan said.
Rompza landed his first big recruit.
"After my freshman year [people in Chicago], started to hear about [UCF]. They knew I did well and then the country heard about it when Marcus came here," Rompza said. "A lot of people are wearing UCF stuff in Chicago right now."
With two former Chicago stars at UCF, the stage was set for Rompza to expand his family even more.
After his sophomore season, former head coach Kirk Speraw was dismissed and Donnie Jones was hired from Marshall. Jones began recruiting and Rompza did, as well.
First was power forward Dwight McCombs, a teammate of Rompza and Jordan at Whitney Young. McCombs was previously at Moraine Valley Community College, in Illinois.
Also added were transfers Josh Crittle from the University of Oregon, who played against A.J. in Chicago, and Marcus's brother Jeff Jordan, from the University of Illinois.
"It's so much pressure off you because you're with a bunch of people that you know and played with before," Rompza said.
Jordan, who is coming off of a breakout year, believes that playing with players he knew from high school helped the team have success this season.
"Being on the court together, that chemistry is already there," Jordan said. "I think we feed off each other really well."
Rompza still talks to people about UCF when he visits his home town.
"I do as much as I can when I go back to my high school," Rompza said. "I let those guys know, but they know how special it is. My high school did really well this year. They got some big guys but they are much younger, so I'm going to have to talk to them after I leave."
Among Rompza's selling points are the weather, the campus, the new UCF Arena and the practice facilities.
"That's huge because it's really only the top schools that have places you can work out 24 hours," Rompza said of UCF's practice facilities. "I think people that really want to improve their game and really love basketball are interested in stuff like that."
Jaskulski believes that the success of Rompza, Jordan and the others help make UCF an appealing destination for players from Chicago.
"There have been a couple of guys who have had success at UCF and for those kids [in Chicago] that want to get out of the cold and snow, UCF is definitely on their radar," Jaskulski said.
Jordan said that people in Chicago are learning more about UCF, and that last season's 14-0 start helped expose people to the program.
"They are definitely watching and we are going to try not to disappoint them," Jordan said.
Jordan described his friend as "the ringleader." Rompza, however, said what he is doing is something less mob-like and more modest.
"People always tell me you want to leave stuff better than the way you found it," Rompza said. "If I know that I can make the program better, I'm going to do whatever it takes."