Players sit out during exhibition win
Published: Saturday, November 5, 2011
Updated: Sunday, November 6, 2011 17:11
For a team that was, in a lot of ways, returning to action with a new look, Saturday's exhibition looked to be a chance to size up the new-look Knights.
UCF's 81-66 win over West Virginia Tech at the UCF Arena did offer a look at the Knights' freshmen, two transfers and some significantly improved returners.
But, with only eight Knights dressed to play and some sloppy play against the NAIA-opponent, fans were left with an unclear idea of how the season will go.
UCF played dominantly at times, but the limited roster caused so many players to play out of position, which made the Knights look disorganized on both sides of the floor.
"Had a couple guys out tonight [and] had a couple guys in different spots," head coach Donnie Jones said. "It's like a football team: [if] you take three quarterbacks off your team and play your fourth string guy, it's kind of hard sometimes."
Still, UCF did win. But one of the most noteworthy items from Saturday wasn't necessarily who played or how they played; it was who didn't play.
UCF Athletics Association released a statement before the game stating that senior guards A.J. Rompza and Jeff Jordan were out pending the results of an NCAA investigation into their eligibility. While the two players, who were expected to share the role of point guard for this year's squad, are still allowed to practice with the team, there is no expected timeframe for their return.
"How long that's going to be, I'm not sure," Jones said. "That's to be determined. … could be as early as next game [that] they could be back, or could be longer."
Athletics and Jones would not say what the eligibility matter concerned specifically, except to say that it was two separate matters.
Meanwhile, Jones had done some suspending of his own.
Junior guard Marcus Jordan, senior forward P.J. Gaynor and junior forward Josh Crittle all sat out for violating team rules. Again, Jones didn't specify the infractions but said they were separate matters and that the timeframe for the return of those players would be up to him.
"You got young kids, you're always teaching lessons and you're always trying to help kids grow," Jones said.
On the court, though, a game was played and it was all Keith Clanton early on.
The junior forward made huge strides with his physique and conditioning in the offseason, not to mention building upon his diverse repertoire that he brings on offense.
"Used to be the old Keith Clanton would get winded, you know, and he would take plays off at the defensive end," Jones said. "Now he's playing both ends at a high level."
Clanton finished with 28 points and 15 rebounds.
UCF will need an aggressive and efficient effort all year from Clanton, who is also on the eve of a crucial year in his career.
Clanton's size, smooth post moves and perimeter game have always generated "pro-potential" buzz for the Orlando-native, and rest-assured plenty of eyes will be watching the 6-foot-9-inch forward this season.
"Keith's got to play with that kind of swagger. … like he's the best player on the court every night out," Jones said. "I thought he did [that] tonight."
Isaiah Sykes filled in at the point-guard position in the absence of Rompza and the Jordan brothers. While he struggled shooting at times, Sykes is in better athletic shape and more scrappy than ever. The sophomore guard nearly hustled his way to a triple-double, picking up 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
"He did a good job; he didn't turn the ball over tonight [and] that's an improvement for him," Jones said. "Really proud of him. I know he was banged up, and he fought through it."
As for new faces, all of UCF's new additions played on Saturday with two newcomers specifically standing out.
Transfer Tristan Spurlock played big minutes and scored 16 points. Spurlock, who should be important to the Knights' offensive production this season, played well but seemed overeager to launch three pointers and struggled from the perimeter, going one-for-eight from downtown.
Jones said he wasn't unhappy with Spurlock's shot selection, though, and that the redshirt sophomore will have to take shots for the team to be successful.
Freshman Rod Days made his debut in front of UCF fans and looked confident.
"Most freshmen, when they get out there for the first time, they're still thinking a lot," Jones said. "You can see he stepped in, I think he hit three threes tonight that were good shots. … He's going to give us good minutes."