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November 4, 2009

Speraw aims to provide leadership

Officially, Drew Speraw is classified as a fifth-year senior, but in reality he's been part of the UCF Basketball program nearly all of his life. He was just entering grade school when his father, Kirk Speraw, accepted the Knights' head coaching position in 1993 and in a lot of ways he's grown up with UCF.

As the lone senior on this year's squad, Coach Speraw is going to lean heavily on his eldest son to provide leadership and in essence be a "player-coach" for the young team. It's a role that Speraw is happy to take on because he's made no secret that he'd eventually like to be a basketball coach, just like his dad.

UCFSports.com caught up with Speraw at the recent media day to reflect on his years within the program and also his thoughts on the upcoming season.

Click here to listen to this interview with Drew Speraw

You're the senior on this team and been a part of this program for a long time. What are your earliest memories of this place? Your dad got the job when you were in elementary school? What do you remember about those days?

"First grade. It was a new experience. We were in Gainesville for three years there so I remember there, then coming here. I remember the early years sitting on the bench. The first couple years going to the NCAA Tournament. Lexington was cool and seeing all that stuff. Then '96 winning again. I remember all those conference championships that we won and all the players that have come through here. It's been really cool to remember all those guys and say what's up when they come around."

Was it a good learning experience growing up in this basketball environment, your dad being the coach obviously, but hanging around some of these guys and watching a lot of basketball growing up? Did that help you become a better player?

"For sure, I think it did. I would come up here and ride my bike after school up here to practice just to see what they were doing. I'd shoot and get extra shots. I'd come up to watch individual workouts. I'd play pickup as early as I could with some of these guys. I learned things from guys like Ray Abellard and those type of players. So much has happened since then to be at the end of my time here. It's a different experience."

This program has grown so much, especially with the facilities the last few years. Did it kind of hit you at one point? Your teammates just know what UCF is like today, they don't remember those days playing in the other arena and obviously the level of competition is a lot better now. Did it ever hit you at some point, maybe in the opening year of the arena or even the Memphis game last year, did you ever have some sort of moment and just go, 'Wow?'

"I think both of those. When we first opened the arena I was like wow. Look where we've been and look how far we've come. Then seeing it full. The Memphis game in the old arena was a great moment for us. We filled it up, then when we moved to the new arena and had Memphis here and it was packed, that's where we want to be. That was a moment that stands out to me."

Talk about your role this season. You're the only senior on this team. Has Coach relied on you, and maybe A.J. Tyler, Taylor Young and those guys, in a leadership role a little bit?

"Yeah, for sure. Since we got here in the summer, I was always trying to talk to them and making sure they know where they're supposed to be. Then especially lately, we've been working on stuff that's really basketball related. We've been running some offense and some defensive schemes and working on those types of things. I've really been able to help some of these guys breaking down stuff even when we're not in the gym, back in the dorms, helping them whenever I can. I think A.J. and Taylor and the rest of those guys that have been here and can give them the perspective of what's going to happen and how hard it's going to be when we first get going. How rewarding it's going to be in the end when you get a victory here or on the road, any of those types of situations. I think any kind of leadership or experience I can give to them is what I've been trying to do."

Talk to me about A.J. Tyler. Last year was the first year he was eligible after the transfer year. I know he's had injury issues at times that limited his progress. What have you seen from A.J.? Do you think he's made some strides since last season?

"For sure. Since the end of last season to now, so much has happened in his development. He's going to be a much better player. He's really shooting the ball well. He's really spacing the floor and having another year under your belt running the offense and running the defense, there are always more things that makes you a stronger player in the end. I think he's going to have a good season for us."

Has anyone else caught your eye? Maybe some other guys that have made significant progress since a year ago. Any guys you think are going to step up this season?

"You're going to see a lot of guys that you've seen in the past that are going to have bigger roles and they're going to seem like different players. I think you're going to see that P.J. Gaynor has gotten a lot better. Kuba has gotten a lot better. Rompza has been here another year. He's gotten better. Sosa. All those guys that have been here, the experience of an extra year is really going to make them more of a complete player and be able to rely on them more in these situations. It's not going to be everything on one guy's back, like Jermaine."

Talk about the skill level of some of these freshmen coming in. Talking to your dad, obviously these guys are going to be playing. They won't be brought along slowly and a lot of them are going to play early on. First, tell me about Keith Clanton. He's from the area. I know you probably saw him play a little bit when he was at Orlando Christian Prep. Does he have a pretty good skill set for a freshman?

"Keith has a very good skill set, especially for a 6-8 guy, even a guard. He can play on the perimeter, inside. He's got a lot of things he's going to bring to the whole table. He's going to be a big part of what we're trying to do. We're just hoping that we can bring him along as quickly as we can so he's ready to go."

Talk to me about some of the guards you brought in. Marcus Jordan gets a lot of attention, R.J. Scott, Nik Garcia, people talk about him being a good shooter. What have you seen out of those guys?

"Yeah, I think you're going to see different things from each guy. Marcus, you're going to see great toughness, get to the basket. A lot like you saw with like a Dave Noel. He's going to bring a lot of toughness to the team. Then you're going to have Nik Garcia who's going to bring a lot of shooting, offensive minded, then R.J. Scott as well is going to bring a lot of offense and shooting to the table. They're all going to be able to step in and give us some different things. We've just got to bring them along as quickly as we can in our system."

Do you feel a buzz on campus for this basketball program? It seems like the last couple years with the arena, Jermaine Taylor's rise and now a lot of attention with this recruiting class, are you feeling a buzz already?

"I think we are a little bit more than usual. A lot of it has to do with what you're saying and Jermaine, but a lot of that has to do with Marcus Jordan as well. Which we're bringing it on as a team. We're excited to get going. We're building as big of a buzz that we can. We want as many people in those seats that we can get."

Talk about that. How big is it to have that home court advantage when the students have that section packed? The atmosphere is pretty good I imagine.

"It's really unbelievable. That Memphis game was probably one of the greatest games I've ever been to as a fan or as a player. I think that if we could have that kind of atmosphere every single night it's going to be a place that other teams are going to dread to come into and we're going to string together a long streak of wins."

You won't worry about UMass until a little closer to the game, but UCF played UMass in the NCAA Tournament in 1996 when John Calipari was the head coach and Marcus Camby was a future No. 1 pick playing for that team. Do you remember that game?

"I remember a lot about that game. That was the only game I wasn't allowed to go to, the NCAA Tournament. So I actually didn't get to go to Rhode Island. I remember coming home from school and seeing the halftime score and that we were so close. I was excited that we were close. I tried to watch the end of the game. Those guys of course were really good, Marcus Camby, NBA players. I remember all that stuff, but I'm excited to get another shot at them after all these years."

UCF hosts exhibition vs. St. Leo

Who, What, When: UCF Basketball is back! The regular season opener against UMass is still more than a week away, but you can get a sneak peek of the Knights tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 4. UCF hosts St. Leo in an exhibition contest with tip-off set for 7 p.m. from the UCF Arena.

Tickets: Admission for the exhibition game is free for everyone! Call the UCF Ticket Office at (407) 823-1000 or visit UCFAthletics.com for more information about season tickets or premium seating opportunities. Season tickets start at just $79 and single-game tickets are as low as $5.



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