It may have been a gym instead of an arena, the pressure might have been less intense, and they might not have been wearing black and gold, but UCF freshmen Adonys Henriquez and B.J. Taylor have been here before — on the same team, that is.
Henriquez and Taylor are both freshmen at UCF this year, and both grew up in Orlando. Henriquez attended Orlando Christian Prep for high school, and Taylor attended Boone. But even before that, when they were in middle school, they played on the same team.
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"I've known him since I was young, like 6 years old; me and [Adonys] have [always] been friends," Taylor said. "My dad coached our AAU team when we were in middle school, so we've known each other [for] a long time."
UCF is coming off a 13-18 season last year, where it also finished just 4-14 in its inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. Several key players graduated from UCF, leaving just two seniors on the roster, and handing young players such as Henriquez and Taylor the reins to build something new.
Henriquez and Taylor are also now roommates, and for Henriquez's part, he thinks they have an advantage because they're familiar with each other.
"I think that we have the best chemistry, I think we know where each other wants the ball, and we definitely know how to play off of each other," Henriquez said. "I feel like us playing on the same team is going to help our chemistry get tighter."
Taylor agrees with his fellow freshman.
"We've got a chemistry that's unreal. I know stuff that he knows and he knows stuff that I know. We don't even have to talk to each other, we just know what needs to be done," Taylor said.
Both added that playing in their home city is also important to them.
"I'm ready to play in front of my family, in front of all [the] fans, I have a lot of fans that come to the games," said Henriquez, who won a state championship his senior year of high school.
At Boone, Taylor led the state of Florida and set an Orange County record with 34.5 points per game his senior year.
"Being right here in Orlando, I'm real excited to play in front of the hometown fans," Taylor said.
Graduating the players that it did — including its three leading scorers — and having a lot of incoming freshmen who are likely to get significant minutes, it makes sense to think that this could be a rebuilding year for UCF. But Henriquez thinks that the team has a real shot to compete in the AAC.
"I feel like we're not too far off; we're right there," Henriquez said. "This year, I feel like every guy is just playing for somebody else, and not playing for themselves, and when you play for somebody else you play harder."
Jazmyne Hankerson contributed to this report.