June 14, 2010
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By Doug Richards
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Since taking over as UCF's head coach in late March, Donnie Jones has had little time to relax. Jones, who came to Orlando after three successful campaigns as the head coach at Marshall, has been focused on getting to know his new players, informing recruits about the Knights and helping his coaching staff get acclimated to UCF.
Even as he has been working on attracting talented players to the program, Jones is aware that his recruiting efforts should not only be limited to potential student-athletes. The new head coach is also working hard to generate more interest in UCF basketball throughout the central Florida community.
Jones spent 11 years as an assistant coach at Florida before becoming the head coach at Conference USA member Marshall. He helped Florida claim two national titles and land a bevy of talented recruits, including current NBA stars Al Horford, David Lee, Mike Miller and Joakim Noah. Numerous factors contributed to the future pros attending Florida, but Jones believes that community support for the basketball program played a big role.
"Every kid wants to go somewhere where basketball is important. The quick response to that is your attendance," Jones said. "Who comes out and supports you? That is what we've got to create with a style of play, with winning and creating a culture where people want to invest in what we are doing as we build this program. When we bring in recruits, we need a good atmosphere. They need to be excited to play here."
Jones knows very well what the atmosphere could be like during UCF contests. When Marshall visited the Knights in January, he witnessed an incredible environment for college basketball. The UCF Arena was packed with students and fans. Some of the 9,460 fans in attendance surely came to see the Blue Man Group perform at halftime. Still, they contributed to make an electric setting for the game and helped players like Marcus Jordan and A.J. Rompza post strong performances against the Thundering Herd.
Well before tip-off, students were lined up all the way around the exterior of the arena to secure the best seats. Jones has not forgotten that sight, or the atmosphere of the arena that evening.
"When we pulled up to the arena, we saw the students lined up on the side of the building. I think that really caught the attention of our players. It was one of the toughest environments to play in during my time at Marshall. There was a great crowd that night.
"It shows what the atmosphere can be like every night," he added. "It was a great atmosphere and there is no reason why this can't be one of the toughest places to play for opponents in college basketball."
UCF averaged a school-record 5,411 spectators in 2009-10. Compared to the program's attendance in the past, that number is impressive, but Jones is hopeful that the crowds inside the arena regularly resemble what he saw when Marshall visited Orlando this past season. According to Jones, UCF has the best student section in C-USA. But he does not just want UCF co-eds in attendance. He hopes that the community makes an investment in the program, and comes out to support the Knights.
"I think that is important. I think it is huge. We need to do a good job identifying with the community. We need to make sure they feel good about and us and feel proud about the program. It is important to bring a friend (to the games) and make sure that they have a good experience when they do come."
Jones is doing his share to promote the program. He has spoken at several community events in the area, including chamber of commerce functions, and has mentioned the importance of fan support in most of the dozens of media interviews that he has participated in since arriving at UCF.
With season tickets starting at just $99, Jones expects to see packed crowds more often than not when his team takes the floor at the UCF Arena. He knows that the potential is there, and the impact it has on not only prospective student-athletes, but current players as well.
"I think that the fans create the atmosphere," he said. "That is what makes it special. Your players play to a higher level when you have that kind of support."
The UCF ticket sales office is currently accepting season-ticket deposits for the 2010-11 campaign at (407) UCF-1000 or online at UCFAthletics.com. By placing their deposit now, fans will receive a free 2010-11 NIKE Knightmare t-shirt with their ticket purchase. Season tickets start at just $99.