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With NCAA sanctions behind it, UCF believes rebuilt roster is ready to compete in AAC


ORLANDO, Florida — In a way, UCF's basketball team will be coming out of the wilderness this season.

It was 2012 that a NCAA investigation found school officials within the basketball and football programs guilty of involvement with runners for sports agents and making cash payments to recruits. Both programs were hit with one-year postseason bans, five years of probation and scholarship reductions.

The 2015-16 season marks the first time since then that the Knights will have a full complement of scholarships.

Feeling whole again, coach Donnie Jones is hoping the seeds that were planted during back-to-back sub-.500 seasons will begin to bear fruit.

"This is the first full roster we've had in three years," Jones said. "So now we add depth, we add some guys now that we feel fit what we're trying to do. We had to bring in the next-level guy, because we have moved into a next-level conference. Now that we've been in this league we see what we need to have to be able to try to compete."

The Knights lost only one senior from last season and return a roster loaded with players that have experience in what should be a stronger American Athletic Conference.

The list is headlined by sophomore guards and top returning scorers B.J. Taylor and Adonys Henriquez, who were both AAC All-Rookie Team members a year ago. They are complimented by a front court that includes an improved defender in big man Stephon Blair, and leaner junior center Justin McBride, who's down to 325 pounds.

New to the mix will be a pair of transfers in 6-foot-9 sophomore swingman A.J. Davis out of Tennessee, and 6-6 junior swingman Tanksley Efianayi from Daytona State.

But the most-anticipated addition is 7-foot-6 freshman Tacko Fall, originally from Senegal.

"We're older. We've been tested by the fire, we've been smacked in the mouth," McBride said. "We know how it feels to go out there and play hard, but not play hard and right. Now being a little bit older — you get it."

Here are some things to watch from the Knights this season:

TACKO'S ELIGIBILITY: Fall has been practicing with the team, but is still awaiting final academic clearance from the NCAA. Jones said Fall reminds him of Miami Heat 7-footer Hassan Whiteside, and says he's adjusting quickly to the college game. "You can't teach 7-6, 300 pounds running the floor," Jones said. Fall will play opposite the NCAA's only other 7-6 player when the Knights open their home schedule against Mamadou Ndiaye and UC Irvine on Nov. 18.

KNOW YOUR ROLE: To help his team know what is expected of them this season, Jones passed out cards defining it for each player. "They're gonna buy into their role," Jones said. "That's the step we have to make in order to compete for the culture we want to build every day, and be able to play for the next level."

CLOSE LOSSSES: UCF lost six games for single digits last season. It is a point of emphasis this season, and one that the players have made note of. "That sucks. We play a whole 38 minutes and then those last two minutes they pull off by those little things, or those little mistakes you make as a freshman or sophomore," McBride said. "Now you have those same guys that are juniors and seniors now. They know what it takes to push past those little mental barriers."

INJURY UPDATE: Junior guard Matt Williams was granted a medical hardship waiver in April by the NCAA after he suffered a knee injury in the Knights opener last season. He's fully recovered from that injury, but did sustain a broken bone in his wrist. However, he isn't expected to miss any game action from that injury, Jones said.

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