March 13, 2012
UCF Athletics Social Media Directory
By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Before he started breaking down the upcoming opponent, Drexel, or dissecting the part of the NIT bracket which UCF is in, head coach Donnie Jones stepped up to the dry-erase board and scribbled down roughly a dozen schools that wouldn't even be playing postseason basketball.
Jones' point rang out loud and clear to his team: Even though the Knights fell short of their goal of playing in the NCAA Tournament, they still have life in the NIT and plenty to play for.
``Any time you are able to play in the postseason, regardless of whatever tournament that it is, you are very fortunate,'' UCF senior point guard A.J. Rompza said. ``It's a plus to play in the postseason because there are 200-something teams who aren't playing right now. Our goal was the NCAA Tournament, but you can't look down upon the NIT because I know there are seniors around the country who wish that their careers weren't over. We're excited about this opportunity.''
UCF (22-10) is also excited about getting the opportunity to face host Drexel (27-6), the team most feel was the biggest snub by the NCAA Tournament. The Dragons won 19 games in a row at one point and 25 of 27 during one stretch, but weren't selected for the NCAA Tournament. Since the NCAA field was expanded in 1985, Drexel's 27 wins tie for the second most by a team not picked as a part of the NCAA field. UCF's game in Philadelphia will air online on ESPN3.
Drexel was 13-0 this season playing in an intimate setting in front of 2,500 fans. Jones is hoping the experiences the Knights gained during the season will pay off Wednesday night. He most compares Drexel to Conference USA power Southern Miss, a scrappy, but undersized team.
``I'm sure (Drexel) has some disappointment because they had such a terrific year. They had as much a right as anyone to get into the NCAA Tournament. I'm sure a lot of us feel that way. We feel like we had a great year, too,'' Jones said. ``Everybody has a purpose for playing, and there are a lot of great teams in the NIT. So we're very fortunate to have the chance to play.''
UCF had a season full of high points, foremost of all beating No. 4 UConn and Memphis during the regular season. The Knights have already topped last season's win total of 21 victories and they reached the league semifinals for the first time in program history. Jones desperately wanted into the NIT Tournament because he thinks this UCF squad still has lots of basketball left in it.
``They deserve it. We ended up with a 52 RPI and our seniors, A.J. Rompza and P.J. Gaynor, you want to keep their (basketball) life going as long as we can,'' Jones said. ``Now, we've got an opportunity to do that. We have a chance to play and a chance to possibly go to Madison Square Garden (for the NIT Final Four). To possibly get a chance to have that kind of exposure for our kids and our program would be priceless.''
Priceless is the way that Rompza, UCF's starter the past four seasons at point guard, would describe his final weeks with the Knights. Rompza had a brilliant game on Senior Night versus UAB with 11 points, 10 assists and two steals to help the Knights secure the No. 4 seed. He then poured in eight points and handed out six assists in UCF's defeat of UAB in tournament play.
Rompza is well aware that the final game of his college career could come at any time and he's tried to savor every moment of these final couple of weeks.
``I know my time is limited and I'm enjoying every day at this point,'' Rompza said. ``I'm taking in every moment because these are really my last times to be with the guys on the basketball court. I just want to enjoy every bit of it.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.