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Turning Points

Turning Points

Looking back on a turnaround season that culminated with a landmark postseason run, UCF men’s basketball head coach Johnny Dawkins recalls five defining moments.

Summer 2017 | By Eric Michael ’96

Challenging Champions in Charleston

“One of the highlights from our season was playing for the championship at the Charleston Classic, beating Mississippi State and competing against the defending national champions, Villanova. It showed us what was possible. You can prepare with a positive mindset and everything, but I think you have to have results for the team to understand that you can do it. Although we did not win the championship versus Villanova, I think the way we competed against them gave our student-athletes a sense of belief that we could accomplish some really good things this year.”

Bouncing Back from Adversity

“We started with a successful preseason followed by a really good start to conference play. Then we hit a stumbling block, losing four games in a row — a number of them close games on the road. The bottom line is that losing four games in a row is tough for any team. Most teams I’ve coached and played on, if they had gone down that deep, they may have never recovered. [The turnaround] showed me something about our team — resilience.”

Team Leaders Stepping Up

“I really give my players a lot of credit for having the maturity to not give in to disappointing losses. We made one of the biggest adjustments in changing our starting lineup when Tank Efianayi got injured. We went with Nick Banyard, who gave us a huge boost down the stretch. He played his best basketball when it counted the most — after that fourth loss in a row. He shot a crazy percentage to right the ship for us. B.J. Taylor was a lutch force in our turnaround and made big shots for us throughout that last stretch of the season. Matt Williams gave us good leadership all year long through his actions. He was always the first on the court and the last to leave the gym, leading by example. He was so confident, and his shot was a weapon for us. And through the last five or six games of the season, I thought A.J. Davis was really big for us. During the run in the NIT [National Invitation Tournament], he really found his niche within what we do as a team.”

Progressing to the Post Season

“Going to the postseason and winning a game in the American Athletic Conference tournament, as well as competing with the final four teams at the NIT in New York was a big highlight. It
all started with that turnaround after the four-game losing streak when we asked, ‘Are we going to give in to what’s happened these last four games, or are we going to change our destiny?’ Our guys changed their destiny.”

Rallying Knights Fans

“When we started the season, it was a new beginning for us and the community. There definitely was a sense of optimism and wanting to see us be successful. I watched our community
really rally behind us, culminating with the last home game, which had a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 people in the [CFE Arena]. I don’t think we would have played as well down the
stretch if it hadn’t been for them. They provided so much energy and enthusiasm that our players just fed off it. We’re just so appreciative of our community.”