A.J.Rompza: Exclusive Interview
‘Wouldn’t want it any other way’
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 1, 2012 10:03
It's hard to believe it, but Saturday could be the final time A.J. Rompza takes the floor at the UCF Arena.
It could be the last time the point guard from Chicago dives into the scorer's table to get a loose ball, pumping up his teammates and the crowd.
The Central Florida Future sat down to talk with Rompza about a variety of subjects, including his career as a Knight nearing a close, the state he's leaving the program in, what's next for him and also what's it like whenever UCF takes to the road.
Beloved on his home floor, the case is quite different for away games, where Rompza has embraced the role of the villain and being, as one play-by-play announcer referred to him as, the "most-hated player in Conference USA."
Central Florida Future: Has the gravity that you only have a few games left hit you yet?
Rompza: I think it's hit me in a way … It's been in the back of my mind but I don't think it will really hit [me] until that actual night and that actual time that your name is called. … Like I said, time is limited. I'm just trying to enjoy it and have fun with my teammates.
CFF: In your four years at UCF you've played with a lot of different people, from Jermaine Taylor to Keith Clanton to Isaiah Sykes, now, and seen a lot of change. What's that been like?
Rompza: It's been a great change. … Those were amazing players, obviously J.T. [Jermaine Taylor] is in the NBA and [Kenrick Zondervan] is playing overseas. Just the whole crowd thing; we could barely get 4,000 people before and now it's almost automatically 7,000 or so. … I definitely think that basketball is on the rise at UCF. … I feel like once you start building a tradition, people will want to follow UCF more, and that's what we're building right now. … I feel it's only going to get better.
CFF: You were recruited here and played under former coach Kirk Speraw and have gone through the transition to current-coach Donnie Jones. How has playing under two different coaching staffs affected your game, perhaps helped you even?
Rompza: Anytime you have different coaching, it's obviously difficult. This [current] system I feel was better for me, just more up and down … more open I guess you could say. I learned a lot from coach Speraw, obviously, he recruited me here. … Both coaches have really expressed the importance [of life after basketball] … They [both] wanted you to grow as a person first, and a basketball player second.
CFF: With regards to growing as a person, how has all the off-the-court stuff that has gone on the past year helped you grow as an individual?
Rompza: I think that in many cases, and I'm not trying to sound cocky or anything, but I don't think a lot of people at my age would have been able to deal with the stuff that I dealt with. … Just to come back and have an impact on those guys [my teammates]. Sitting on the bench, I could tell that there were some energy issues, that there were times in some games where we didn't have a lot of energy … I knew that right when I came back I could be that spark … something to boost those guys and get the fans involved.
CFF: You're more often than not the "floor-general" out there, kind of organizing the team huddles and pulling guys away when things get chippy. What has it been like playing that role for this team?
Rompza: I love it. I wouldn't want it any other way. … I think it's something guys look up to you for and it's something that you have to earn through people's respect and through people's trust. … I think the way I got Jermaine [Taylor's] respect, and those guys' respect, is through the hard work I put in. … When you get that respect you got to keep it, it's not just a one-day thing or one week thing. … For me it's constant; I don't think people see that.
CFF: At home we see the support you get from the UCF community, but on the road it's a different story. What's it like being the villain?
Rompza: I think I play better away; I'm used to playing with people [rooting] against me. That's how I play better. It's great to have people supporting me, but on the road you're more focused. I love it, I love being the No. 1 hated guy, all the fans heckling me, I wouldn't want it any other way. … It's been like that pretty much my entire life with people going against me.