UCF men’s basketball coach Donnie Jones will be inducted into his high school’s hall of fame in West Virginia Saturday, Sept 27th. And with the Knights’ basketball media day just a few weeks away, we decided to catch up with Jones to get some early insights on the team post Isaiah Sykes.
What was your reaction when you found out you were getting inducted into your high school Hall of Fame [at Point Pleasant High School in West Virginia?
“It’s a great honor and anytime from your hometown, where you grow up and go to school there, that place is where it all began for you. There’s a lot of people there that have been a part of my success to where I am today. So to go back and be able to share that moment with my parents and all my family who are right there in Point Pleasant, it’s a great moment. I’ll be able to take my family back with me and my kids so it’ll be a good weekend to reminisce and share some past memories there of a special part of my life.
Are there any lessons you learned from your high school coach that you still use today?
Yeah, matter-of-fact it’s pretty special that my high school coach [Lennie Barnette] is going in the Hall of Fame with me. So it’s kind of ironic that somebody I grew up with and played under and learned a lot of things from is somebody that I’m going into the Hall of Fame with. But I think more than anything what he brought as a coach, is he was consistent as a person with how he cared about the players and how he really cast a vision for each and every kid on the team to be the best. I think he was just somebody that was a person of great calmness and confidence and I think those are some qualities that I probably took from him in playing for him.
How much do you emphasize recruiting locally?
A lot. We start within a 150 mile radius from our campus with players we feel can help impact our program. From there, we spread out and recruit from there. Anybody we feel within that 150 mile radius that we feel can play for us, who can help us, we love to get the local kid. We hope that playing for their hometown team like Blake Bortles, is a great example, shows what it’s like having family at games and also what does it mean putting on that UCF jersey being from here. You’re hoping that would show great pride because you grew up in this area and more than likely you’re gonna live the next 30 to 40 years of your life in this area. What impact would that have after playing here at UCF, that’s why we really like to recruit the local kids.
When you have so many young kids on this roster, how important does your summer become in terms of getting to know them and getting them ready for the next level?
Our whole thing is this is a process for us. This year is a big transition year, we got a lot of new faces, a lot of young people. The basketball court only has so much time of your life there, two hours a week, six hours conditioning so it’s really been about bonding, getting to know each other, it’s really been about bonding as a team, it’s really been about setting the standard of our program with them because there’s so much new teaching involved. We moved up to another level so our margin of error is very small and when you have a lot of young people, they make mistakes so we’re trying to really grow as a group and really buy into a team and bond as one instead of as individuals. So that’s been good for us.
Your first eight games of the season are at home, do you feel like that’s advantageous leading up to the Florida State game on the road [12/06/14]?
We got a young team and I think our biggest thing was we only got one senior, we lost our three leading scorers last year off our team. There will be a lot of new guys and our biggest thing was to try to get some experience at home before we put them in a tough atmosphere on the road. So hopefully we’ll get some experience and get a chance to grow up a little bit because we’re a whole new team pretty much.
How do you guys go about replacing Isaiah Sykes and losing so much in terms of the offense?
You won’t be able to replace Isaiah Sykes just like you can’t replace Keith Clanton, those were unique players for us. They played a lot of basketball games for us and impacted the beginning of our culture here. You just gotta different team each year your team is different. We’re probably more of a team…we’ll just have to do it by committee and be a team of no stars. We’re just gonna be a team that plays together, stays together and hopefully wins together with team concepts. That’s something we’ve really been focused on since last spring and this summer and this fall. It’s just about our team and not one individual. Isaiah was able to carry us in a lot of different ways last year and we just don’t have that kind of guy in our program right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good team and a good program.
UCF men’s basketball tips off its basketball season Nov. 4th at CFE Arena.