Feb. 19, 2011
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The way P.J. Gaynor plays basketball - bumping, grabbing, banging and generally being physical with anyone in his path - it doesn't really matter what position he plays. So when UCF coaches alerted the 6-foot-8 junior recently that he would be moved from power forward to small forward, he greeted the change with a shrug.
One of the primary reasons that UCF (16-8 overall and 3-8 in Conference USA play) has turned around its season of late has been the change of position of the gritty Gaynor. He's given the Knights some length on the perimeter to contest shots and some much-needed toughness and fight.
A player who has played with his back to the basket in his first two seasons at UCF, Gaynor was moved to small forward when David Diakite was forced to miss time due to an injury. And he's been surprisingly good on the wing, hitting as many 3-pointers this season (11) as he attempted in his first two years on campus (11) while continuing to play rugged, hard-nosed defense.
``When the coaches came to me and told me I was the (small forward) I was just excited for the opportunity. It's a position that I feel that I should be playing because I can do a lot of things there,'' Gaynor said. ``I've always been taught to play like all out. My stepdad (Paul Gaynor) and my high school coach (Terry McCarter) would always tell me to play as hard as I can while I'm on the floor. I try to play fearless.''
Gaynor and the Knights are in Birmingham, Ala., where they will face UAB Saturday night at 6 p.m. Gaynor has started the past five games at small forward, two of which have been victories for the Knights. Gaynor was especially good Wednesday night against Tulane, making all three of his shots and two 3-pointers in an eight-point, four-rebound effort in UCF's win. UCF coach Donnie Jones said Gaynor is a big reason why the Knights have gotten things turned around of late.
``We need his energy, toughness and ability to play through some things,'' Jones said. ``We've worked him a lot facing the basket. Our (power forwards) are on the perimeter facing the basket anyway, so we just put him in a spot where he could give us some size and rebounding from the perimeter. He also gives us some length guarding shooters off screens.''
From time to time, Gaynor's physical style of play bothers opposing players. A fiery sort, Gaynor isn't afraid to go nose-to-nose with players. And when he sees those players start complaining and retaliating to his rugged style of play he knows he's gaining an upper hand.
``I'll give guys a little bump or a grab and I can get them complaining that means they aren't as focused on his game he should be,'' said Gaynor, who is averaging 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 16.7 minutes a game. ``If that player is more worried about me fouling him than helping his team, that's a good thing for us.''
Gaynor said that despite a lull after racing to 14 wins to start the season, UCF still has plenty to play for this season. He said the team continued to believe in its abilities even during tough times and he believes a strong finish will wipe away the memories of a midseason skid.
``We never really had a down morale around here, but there was frustration over losing close games. Getting that (Tulsa) win (last week) felt really good and there was definitely a good atmosphere in the locker room,'' Gaynor said. ``We focused on (Jones' finish strong) message every day and we've gone out and tried to play as hard as we can. We finally got over the hump and now we have to keep building on it and close it out the right way.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.