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November 13, 2013

UCF faces early test with Florida State

After cruising to a 97-72 season-opening victory against Division II Tampa last Friday, the UCF men's basketball team readies for its first test of the season as Florida State makes its first ever visit to campus on Wednesday.

The 7 p.m. game will air nationally on ESPNews, which will be UCF's first regular season home game televised by an ESPN network.

Video interview with UCF coach Donnie Jones

For the Knights, the early part of the season is about adjusting to life post-Keith Clanton, who ended his four-year career as UCF's all-time record holder for rebounds and blocks.

Coach Donnie Jones says it will take a collective effort to fill Clanton's void, though it certainly helps when you return four of your other starters.

"We're trying to form an identity right now," Jones said. "Obviously you can't replace a great player like Keith Clanton. You're going to do it by majority. I think Staphon Blair has improved tremendously. Eugene McCrory gives us some minutes there and he can rebound and score. I think Tristan Spurlock and Kasey Wilson both have gotten better since last year. We're going to have to do it by majority other than one player like a Keith Clanton."

Jones felt they did "more good things than bad things" in the win against Tampa, which was the first live experience for this year's team as they didn't have the benefit of playing a preseason exhibition game.

"Obviously we would have liked to share the ball better, execute it better," Jones said. "Defensively, we've got to get better. For a first time with all of us playing together, guys are trying to learn what their roles are and where they fit in, how they play and why the play. We're still trying to figure that out. I thought the effort was good. I thought we had some really good positives."

One of those positives was senior point guard Calvin Newell, who scored a team-best 23 points on a very proficient 8-of-10. The Knights' returning leading scorer, Isaiah Sykes, wasn't far behind with 21 points to go along with eight rebounds. The other senior starter, Tristan Spurlock, chipped in 16 points.

Florida State, who has made eight consecutive trips to the postseason, could very well be the most challenging foe of the non-conference slate. They had a four-year NCAA Tournament run between 2009-12 before taking a small step back last season with an 18-16 overall record and first-round loss in the NIT.

Leonard Hamilton, whose teams are always solid defensively, returns five of his his top seven scorers from a year ago. The Seminoles are projected to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the new look 15-team ACC that welcomes Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.

"We're going to find out real quick where we're at in this early stage," Jones said. "You've got a great coach in Leonard Hamilton who has had great success. That's a team that's won the ACC before. They've got a lot of good talent who were nationally recruited. It will be a great test for our team to see where we are."

The player to watch for Florida State is forward Okaro White, who is their returning points (12.4) and rebounds (5.9) leader. The 6-foot-9 senior from Clearwater scored a team-high 18 points and tied a career best with 11 rebounds in their 91-67 win against Jacksonville on Friday night.

"Okaro is a really good player," Jones said. "He's a guy that can score. He's a big guard that's very dangerous, a lot like Sykes for us. We've really got to try to figure out a way to stop him."

Free t-shirt alert: The 2013-14 edition of the 'Knightmare' t-shirt will be distributed free of charge to the first 2,500 students who enter with their valid ID. A strong student contingent made up the crowd of 5,516 who attended Friday's season opener and Jones hopes to see an even bigger presence at the Florida State game.

"The students were awesome," Jones said. "It was great having the student body back. Hopefully we get a great student turnout. We've just got to get the community to come out. It'll be a great game for both programs, an ESPN game."

Big recruiting day: UCF has a pair of local commitments - Boone point guard B.J. Taylor and Orlando Christian Prep shooting guard Adonys Henriquez - expected to sign National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, which is the first day of college basketball's early signing period.

Boone was an early target of the staff landing his offer midway through his junior season and Henriquez is ranked by Rivals.com among the top 150 players nationally.

Jones can't comment on unsigned prospects, but said recruiting Orlando and the state of Florida is always their No. 1 focus.

"I think we've tried to be able to get what we can here at home," Jones said. "If not, then we'll look outside the state. We do recruit outside the state and our roster contains really good players from different places, but we've done a good job with instate kids and we're going to continue to do so."

Notes: After undergoing reconstructive ACL surgery last spring, freshman center Justin McBride is in the final stages of recuperation and could be cleared for participation in December... FSU holds a 9-0 advantage in the all-time series. The last meeting occurred in Tallahassee in 2011, a 73-50 victory by the No. 24 Seminoles. Sophomores at the time, Tristan Spurlock scored 12 points and Isaiah Sykes added seven... While this will be Florida State's first visit to UCF's campus, it won't be the first meeting in Orlando. In 1987 and 1988, the two teams squared off in the "Red Lobster Classic" which was held at the Orange County Civic Center.



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