The UCF men’s basketball team was able to live a luxury that most college players may only dream of as it flew to the Caribbean and landed in Nassau, Bahamas for a three-game preseason stint Aug. 8 through Aug. 12.
Aside from the 10 days of extra practice allowed by the NCAA, head coach Donnie Jones and his squad said that the international competition gave the team a great test.
“I think it was great for us to play against somebody else, learn each other, learn chemistry and where guys like to get shots and who’s going to do what,” redshirt sophomore A.J. Davis said. “I think it was great for us just to learn more about us; I don’t think you can really tell that by playing against each other. We have to get against some other competition and really learn what we’re about.”
The Knights went 3-0, outscoring the opposition 260-220. But junior center Justin McBride said they had a huge reality check as to what areas need to be improved.
“It showed us what we have to do [and] what we have to work on because they can’t cheat the plays,” McBride said. “The competition aspect of it was what we needed.”
UCF only lost one true senior starter from last season in Kasey Wilson, and sophomore 30-game starter Brandon Goodwin transferred from the university midway through summer. Four freshmen, one junior-college transfer and two redshirt players round out the Knights’ relatively young 2015-16 roster.
Aside from sophomores B.J. Taylor and Adonys Henriquez, who led UCF in scoring as freshmen, Jones expects Davis — who went to the 2014 NCAA Sweet 16 with Tennessee — and redshirt junior Matt Williams to play key roles on the team.
“[Davis has] got a great basketball IQ. He’s versatile, he can play numerous spots over the floor, he’s an energy guy and he’s kind of a coach on the floor,” Jones said. “He can impact winning a lot without scoring. That makes you a unique player.”
After finishing last season 12-18 (5-13 American Athletic Conference), the Knights need to spread their offense a bit and go-to players who can score and compete in big minutes for the team are going to need to step up.
“I felt like we definitely saw the bottom last year. We played as hard as we could, we gave the best effort, but we were just undermanned. This year we’ve got more than enough people,” Henriquez said. “You can’t be at the top ‘til you see the bottom.”
The team’s returners said last year’s sub-par finish, which included 11 losses in the final 14 games, wasn’t all bad.
“Losing teaches you a lot of lessons,” Taylor said. “We learned a lot of lessons last year and I think it’s our responsibility to not let that happen again.”
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.