UCF’s successful 2011-12 campaign came to an end Wednesday evening in Philadelphia. The Knights concluded the season with 22 victories, and have now posted back-to-back 20-win campaigns under head coach Donnie Jones.
Last week, UCF made its first appearance in the National Invitation Tournament, but was unable to get past host Drexel. With the campaign now in the books, it is not too early to look ahead to next season. Here are five things to look forward to in 2012-13:
1. The Return
UCF will return 84 percent of its scoring from this year’s squad as seniors P.J. Gaynor and A.J. Rompza will be the only two seniors who depart the team. The Knights will bring back their top-four scorers in Keith Clanton (14.5 points per game), Marcus Jordan (13.7), Isaiah Sykes (12.3) and Tristan Spurlock (7.2). Rompza, who started 20 contests at point guard in 2011-12, is the lone starter who won’t be back next season. UCF fans should be excited about the return of Kasey Wilson, as the freshman played exceptionally well down the stretch for the Knights this past season. The power forward is skilled offensively and also earned minutes thanks to his aggressiveness on the defensive end.
2. Sykes Ready for Another Jump
Isaiah Sykes might have been the most improved player in the country this past season. In 2010-11, Sykes averaged 4.0 points and 3.2 boards as a freshman. In league contests, Sykes averaged only 1.9 points. After spending the summer in the gym working on his handle and shot, Sykes averaged 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds this past season. In Conference USA contests, he upped those averages to 13.7 points and 7.1 boards. The Detroit native guided the Knights to several wins, and always seemed to make an impact with his defensive play and rebounding ability. Expect Sykes to keep showing improvement. Sykes is hungry to get better and should be spending even more time in the gym this summer.
3. Transfer of Power
UCF will have the services of a pair of talented guards who both sat out this past season due to NCAA transfer rules. C.J. Reed, the 2010-11 MEAC Player of the Year after averaging 18.8 points at Bethune-Cookman, should take over the starting point guard duties from A.J. Rompza. The Daytona Beach native has a smooth game. The senior knows how to score, but also can get teammates involved. Calvin Newell, a shooting guard, averaged 13.0 points at Oklahoma this past fall, and will be eligible in December as a junior. Reed and Newell will join Marcus Jordan to form one of the most talented backcourts in UCF history.
4. Senior Moments
Senior leadership is always beneficial and the Knights will be led by Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan next year. Clanton developed into one of Conference USA’s top players in 2011-12 when he averaged 14.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. The power forward has made strides in each of his campaigns at UCF, and expect the Orlando native to keep improving entering his senior season. Jordan did not have the junior year that he would have liked, but he still averaged 13.7 points. He should benefit from the arrival of C.J. Reed and Calvin Newell as the Chicago native will no longer be the Knights’ lone perimeter scorer.
5. Welcome Freshmen
Head coach Donnie Jones will welcome a huge freshman class consisting of shooting guard Taylor Barnette, center Staphon Blair, power forward Dylan Karell and shooting guard Matt Williams. Although one can never be sure of the impact that a freshman class will make, Jones is certain that the rookies will provide plenty of depth next season. With an eight-man rotation at the end of the year, UCF was unable to press and run in 2011-12. With the arrival of the freshmen, and the two transfer guards, depth should not be an issue next season.