“To be a senior, I say, it means to be a leader — to be accountable, be somebody that guys can trust, be somebody that the guys can look up to, [and] be somebody that they can come to for all things on the court and off the court,” senior guard Daiquan Walker said.
Maturity, responsibility and accountability define the optical role of what the senior on a team should look like and the Knights have three guys who epitomize that role.
Walker and fellow seniors, center Staphon Blair and forward Shaheed Davis, will lay-it-up for one last home game at Wednesday’s Senior Night before publication at the CFE Arena versus Tulane. For Blair, his last time gracing the hardwood at home as the elder statesmen on the team, has come so fast, it’s surreal.
“It’s crazy that I was just here, I was a freshman and now it’s my last home game,” Blair said. “It’s kind of crazy, it’s kind of sad at the same time, but I just have to make use of it, make best of the opportunity that I have.”
Blair has seen many ups and downs over his four-year stint as the Knights’ big man. From making his first career start at UAB as a freshman to recording 11 points, eight rebounds and a career-best seven blocks versus USC Upstate, all the way to taking a reserved role behind fellow centers, freshman Tacko Fall and junior Justin McBride, Blair has been through it all.
“I’ve grown a lot, “Blair said. “I came in fresh, trying to fit in. Now I feel like I fit in with everything no matter the circumstance. I’m enjoying myself. I’m happy, glad I was able to be a part of a team that actually cared.”
But Blair isn’t the only one who has overcome obstacles while playing for UCF. Forward Shaheed Davis had to adjust to the Division I college level after two years of excelling in Junior College. Davis quickly assimilated himself into the Knights’ system, with his best game statistically coming against UNC Greensboro, pouring in 23 points and eight rebounds. Although Davis has only been a Knight for two years, he has built relationships that will go far beyond the basketball court.
“I made a lot of lifetime relationships here,” Davis said. “It was fun, [a] great experience I’ll look back on, [and] I’m happy about everything.”
Davis’ highlight of the year came in UCF’s most impressive victory at home versus UMass. Davis elevated high above the rim for a clutch tip-in with just two seconds remaining in a 67-63 nail-biting victory at home.
Much like his senior brothers, Daiquan Walker has seen the evolution in his game as a player and as one of the team’s leaders.
“Freshman year I came in [and] I didn’t really have a role,” Walker said. “I was just looking for people to follow, just trying to learn the way, learn how everything was ran out here. This year being a senior, I’ve been here four years, I can say I’ve took on that leadership role and I just became a leader.”
After sophomore point guard B.J. Taylor went down for the year with a foot injury, Walker assumed the role as the starting point guard. Walkers has had numerous shining moments this season, scoring more than 20 points in four games this season, including a career-high 33 points versus Tulane on the road.
This season, Walker has averaged 7.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists, all career highs. His willingness and ability to adjust to whatever is needed from the coaching staff has made him and the other seniors the standard for future team leaders.
When asked about the three seniors’ impact on the team, head coach Donnie Jones had complimentary words of appreciation for their constant dedication and leadership.
“Those guys have been great seniors,” Jones said. “Shaheed’s been here two years, and [Staphon] and Daiquan have come in, this is their fourth year and those guys have been hard workers. They’ve had great attitudes—they really did a good job of leading these young guys. They’ve accepted whatever role we’ve asked of them. They’ve showed true leadership in different ways.”
With just two games left in the regular season until conference play, these senior still believe the Knights have a shot at ending the season on a high note.
“At the end of the day, you can lose every game and still make a run in the conference tournament because that’s when it all counts,” Blair said. “We [are] just trying to keep everyone’s head in it. We’ve been in a tough slump right now, but we came close a lot of games, but hopefully we can get out of it.”
The latest conference bracket projections have the Knights slated to face Tulane, a team they’re looking to beat for the second time on Senior Night, in the first round. Another victory would send the Knights to face American Athletic Conference’s top-ranked Temple (18-10). UCF has played the Owls twice this season and lost each game by buzzer beaters.
Christopher Davis is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future.