Q&A with Knights men's basketball head coach Donnie Jones
Published: Sunday, April 24, 2011
Updated: Sunday, April 24, 2011 20:04
The Knights basketball team managed to taste success on a national level for the first time in program history. But they also experienced failure in the form of a deflating eight-game losing streak and a quick exit in the Conference USA Tournament.
The Knights have gone head-to-head with some of recruiting's top dogs, amassing the No. 16 recruiting class in the nation, according to ESPN.com.
Behind it all has been first-year head coach Donnie Jones. Jones caught up with the Future to talk about last season, recruiting and what's next for the Knights.
Central Florida Future: The recruiting class is shaping up to be the best the program has ever had. How has it been putting that class together, and how excited are you?
Donnie Jones: Very excited … They give us a lot of versatility, a lot of length, a lot of the athleticism that we needed. The good news is these are five very good freshmen, and we want to build our program with freshmen; not only for a good team, but for a good program. This gives us a chance to have a good base of guys, to not only help us next year but help us for the future.
CFF: Are these recruits more geared towards where the program is heading in terms of style of play?
Jones: Obviously we inherited guys that played in a different system and were recruited to play in a different system. We tried to mold them to fit as best we could to what we do but our focus was winning this year as much as we could, however we had to. We were able to do some things, pressing and running some, but not as much as we like.
But now, we're bringing in some young guys here, we're going to have a relatively new team with six to seven new guys added to the team. It's going to be new. We're going to have to be doing a lot of teaching, but they do fit how we want to play.
CFF: How does the overall success of UCF Athletics this year and the building of the "UCF Brand" help with recruiting?
Jones: I think it helps, that's what we've been selling, that it's not where we're at but where we can get to. What we do have, is you walk on campus and you see commitment. We've got great leadership in Keith Tribble and Dr. Hitt.
Obviously, you've seen we were ranked for three weeks here. We had a taste of early success, that you can come to UCF and be ranked and play against national teams and have a chance to compete.
CFF: Is the ongoing situation with Big East expansion at all in the back of your mind?
Jones: I mean, you've got no control. I think we're in a great conference in C-USA … The Big East obviously brings a different recognition probably nationally, more television exposure and stuff, but you know what, we can still compete for championships right here and we've still got a lot of work to do in C-USA.
CFF: Your name has been tossed around in the discussion of some coaching vacancies recently, including the Tennessee and Miami openings. Is it more of a compliment to you to be mentioned or a distraction?
Jones: I don't know, I don't really even look at it. Rumors are rumors. No one has called me about any jobs. Every time there's a job opening somebody puts your name on Twitter, that you're a candidate, [it] doesn't mean you're a candidate. But that's just the media right now.
We're happy here to be just getting started with what we're here to do here at UCF, building what we're doing here and I'm really excited about what we're doing.
CFF: As a coach what do you take away from more, winning 14 straight to start the season or rebounding after the eight game losing streak to notch some significant wins, including over UTEP and Southern Miss?
Jones: I think we won seven of 10 to end the year. But I think this is a team that wasn't a finished product... We got off to a great start. But prosperity and adversity, your team is going to go through it and we experienced it at the highest level. … Found out a lot about our team, a lot about individuals on this team. I thought we grew together and, at the end, we made a nice little rally.
CFF: Did any players, specifically, stand out over the course of the season in terms of growth as a player?
Jones: I think a lot of these guys got better. I don't really think there was one guy who separated himself. Obviously Marcus [Jordan] played well, had a great year. Keith [Clanton] played well and made strides, both of them going from their freshmen to their sophomore year. Both were all-conference players.
P.J. Gaynor made good strides, you know we played him at a couple different positions. Marcus played a couple different positions. I thought our freshman, Isaiah Sykes, made strides, especially at the end, started fighting through the freshman early blues.
And I think that all those guys now know the system, and I think you'll see a different team next year.
CFF: With all the transfers and incoming freshmen, is it almost going to be similar to before last season when you came in and everything was new?
Jones:Well it won't be as new because you're going to return at least six, seven guys who have been in your program and know what you're talking about. We were just trying to figure who would play hard or who knew how to run a drill or anything at this time last year. A year removed now, guys have been in it and they know what's expected, and hopefully those guys will help mentor the new guys.
We're all going to go overseas, take a foreign tour, which will give us a chance this summer to practice and be able to play.