UCF coach Donnie Jones appeared on the Wednesday edition of "The David Baumann Show" to preview tonight's Conference USA opener against UAB as well as talk about several topics surrounding the program.
The Knights (10-4) are looking to finish their eighth and final season in C-USA with their first regular season league championship. Memphis is still considered the favorite, but many experts feel UCF has the talent to be a contender in the top three.
"I think our team is good," Jones said. "We're young. I don't know everybody in this league yet. There's a lot of new coaches and a lot of new players. It's still early. You play two games a week and your goal is to be 2-0. It's always your goal to win it every year and we'll just see what happens. I always talk about it being a process with a young team. We've got all these guys back next year except for Keith Clanton. We're trying to grow as a program and move forward. We hope to be in a position to play for a championship. That's the only thing we can play for so it's something we'll shoot for by trying to win every game."
UAB (8-7) has a new coach this year in Jerod Haase. The Blazers have played a difficult schedule, but have won three of their last four. Jordan Swing leads the team with 14.7 points per game.
"UAB is a team that's much improved," Jones said. "They have a new coach (Haase) who was an assistant at North Carolina. He's done a great job. They're playing uptempo, which is a little opposite of what they did last year. They return a lot of guys from last year's team. We were fortunate last year to beat them for the first time in school history and we did it three times. They're a new team and a great challenge to start off our conference season."
Baumann asked Jones about Keith's Clanton's NBA potential. The preseason C-USA Player of the Year leads the team in points (16.9) and rebounds and has recorded double-doubles in half of the games.
"I think without question he's an NBA player," Jones said. "I think he's one of those guys you throw in the same ballpark as Udonis Haslem. When he came out of college people didn't appreciate what he did do until he was in their program. Udonis went undrafted and Miami brought him in for summer league. Now he's the all-time leading rebounder there and helped them win a couple world championships.
"I think Keith Clanton is in that same mold. He impacts winning. He knows how to play. He's a great teammate and a great worker. He can beat you in a lot of different ways. He's not just a one-dimensional player. It's been a pleasure to coach him and watch him grow every day."
Jones said he was unsure if Clanton would be drafted, but he's definitely on the radar.
"We've had a lot of NBA scouts at practice and a lot of people call about him," Jones said. "He's being seen a lot. The opportunity to come into camp will be important for him. I think they'll really appreciate his skill level when they get to work him out and his personality when they interview him."
UCF is set to join what should be an 18-team Big East in 2013-14, but the future membership will change a year later with the recent announced departures of Louisville (ACC), Notre Dame (ACC), Rutgers (Big Ten) and the seven Catholic basketball programs who intend to form their own league.
"There's nothing you can do about it," Jones said. "It's a great opportunity for our program. We will play at least one year in that Big East and play against those top schools which will give us a chance to be on a national stage to brand our program. From there, whatever happens, what league we're in, what name it is or who's left, I still think it's a great opportunity for UCF to move forward."