Jermaine Taylor (Mark Weber/AP)
After a year in which the Knights finished with a 16-15 record, Coach Kirk Speraw shared his disappointment on the season, but was pleased with his team's effort after they refused to quit following a host of untimely injuries.
"They laid it all out there. It's a tough way to end the season," said Speraw. Now UCF will start to towards next season, and the Knights have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their 2008 campaign.
2007 brought about some positives for the Knights. They faced a rigorous schedule and the experience will likely strengthen the team for 2008. The Knights also faced a magnitude of injuries and while it hurt UCF's play this season, it gave some younger players a chance to find their way into the rotation.
Perhaps the most pleasant aspect of this season for the Knights was the fantastic play of guard Jermaine Taylor. The 6'4” guard from Tavares averaged nearly 21 points per game on the season and also grabbed 4.7 boards. An upcoming senior, Taylor will be an integral part of UCF's season next year.
"I think I learned a lot this year, I know what I need for my team to be successful," said Taylor. "We just have to come out and play hard. We have to give it out all. We didn't do that at a few games this year. So we're not going to let that happen next year."
Taylor will take experiences from this season and apply them next year, but he is one of the few players who already have their roles defined for next season. The Knights will be losing five seniors and will have a dire need for a true point guard, as Mike O'Donnell and Chip Cartwright are both graduating. UCF already has signed three players and has two more scholarships available. The prize of the class thus far is three-star recruit, Jakub Kusmieruk, a 7'4, 275-pound center from Maryland. Kusmieruk, who received strong interest from some Big East schools such as Georgetown, Marquette, South Florida and Syracuse, is raw but has a world of potential. UCF has also inked power forward P.J. Gaynor from Jacksonville, and point guard A.J. Rompza from Chicago.
The leading candidate to replace O'Donnell and Cartwright is Taylor Young, who played in Orlando in high school at the First Academy. The 6-foot-1 Young played a limited amount of minutes as a freshman this past season, but looks like he has the potential to be an efficient guard for the Knights, as he averaged 3.71 assists to turnover ratio. Another candidate to fill in is Rompza, who has the leadership ability and energy to contribute immediately, but he might have to wait a year because of his lack of size (5'8”, 155 lbs). Drew Speraw will be a junior, but played only in blowouts this season and probably won’t contribute much next season.
At shooting guard, the Knights will be set with Taylor coming back. The team will need some depth behind him, and a dark horse for the Knights could be Chris Baez, a freshman who was expected to be a three-point threat for UCF this season. He tore his ACL over the summer, but if he can recover, the Kissimmee product could log big minutes for the Knights. Freshman Cordell Pope is a G/F who averaged two points a game in restricted action this year and will also figure into the Knights' rotation next year. Pope is lengthy at 6'7” and drew interest from Cincinnati and Texas A&M, and he has the ability to be a dynamic offensive presence.
Pope will also contribute as a small forward, but will be playing backup to soon to be junior Tony Davis. Davis is a wide-armed, athletic player who contributes more on defense and on the glass than on "O", but he will be invaluable to UCF in '08. Andre Thornton will be a junior as well, and at 6'6”, 240-pounds, he will likely spend a lot of time in the post.
Thornton will likely see time at power forward too, as will Davis. The Knights might also have to rely on youth for depth. Jean Michel Yotio is a low-post player who was active in 29 games for the Knights this year as a freshman, and he has the potential to be a starter by next season. At 6'9”, 235-pounds, Yotio will add a physical presence that the Knights have lacked and he will combine it with a nice shooting touch. Gaynor might receive some playing time as well. As a true freshman, he needs to add weight with his 6'9”, 215-pound frame, but Gaynor has good range and will a tough matchup because of his ability to score from deep.
Center shouldn't be an issue for the Knights as Kenrick Zondervan will return. He averaged 4 and 4 this past season and will be one the better big men in the C-USA next year. Kusmieruk is raw, but his height should guarantee him of some early looks for playing time this season.
The Knights will likely look to add a guard and versatile big man with their remaining two scholarships, but that might come in the form of a junior college player. Derrius Nelson is a 5'11” point guard who would fill a position of need for the Knights and was heavily recruited by UCF as a senior and actually signed with the Knights.
While the season didn't pan out exactly the way the Knights had hoped for, UCF has the potential to be a major player in their fourth year of C-USA play. If the Knights can have a point guard step up and find a little more front court depth, they will be one of the most complete teams in the conference and will be set to make a run toward the NCAA tournament.