UCF Men's basketball has had a fairly successful season thus far. Fairly successful and very trying.
The obstacles began being set up in the preseason when Aubrey Dawkins, perhaps the team's most dangerous scoring threat, was lost for a year with a torn shoulder labrum. Then Tacko Fall's season debut was delayed by a balky hip. B.J. Taylor broke his left foot in the opener versus Mercer. And just as it looks like Taylor is ready to return, Chance McSpadden is out indefinitely after suffering a high ankle sprain Dec. 31 at East Carolina.
Of course, injuries a part of the game and something the Knights have had a lot of experience in dealing with over the past couple of years. They just keep preaching one mantra: next man up.
"What else can you do?" Head coach Johnny Dawkins said.
Despite the rash of injuries, the Knights are 12-4 and will look to push their conference record to 4-1 tonight when they visit the UConn Huskies, who are 8-7 overall, 1-2 in the American. UCF ranks among the nation's top five in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, and have won eight of its last nine games.
Inevitably, there will be more bumps in the road ahead for the Knights. But they know that no matter how rough the trip gets, they can still attain every goal they highlighted before the season. And they've gotten a good lesson in never losing sight of your goals by the football team on their own campus
"That's the same guys who were here when they were 0-12. I think that's the biggest thing: you can change so quick," senior forward A.J. Davis said last week.
"You don't have to take years and years and years to leave your legacy. You can change it right now if you change your mindset and change how you think and change how you approach things. Winning programs, there's a certain way to go about it, and they do certain things and they think certain ways. I think what we took from it is their mindset, how they approached everything, how they got to going 0-12 to a perfect season where they couldn't be beat."
Head coach Johnny Dawkins agrees that the undefeated Knights have left a significant impact on his team.
"When you see other people have success like that, you want to strive to do the best you can too," Dawkins said. "I'm excited. That's inspired everybody. It's probably inspired every program on this campus."
We've packed Magic Kingdom, Downtown Orlando and now it's time to do the same to @CFEArena on Tuesday— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) January 10, 2018
The party continues at @UCF_MBB's huge matchup vs. No. 13 Cincy https://t.co/edQp40j1jk pic.twitter.com/CUmpdEc5r8
As for the topic du jour regarding whether the Knights of the gridiron are national champions, well, what do you think Davis and Dawkins said?
"In our eyes, they're the national champions," Davis remarked. "We're just proud of them and proud to go to the same university as them because that's an awesome accomplishment, especially, for me, seeing where they came from, going 0-12 to where they are now. That's just unbelievable."
Coach Dawkins finished with a drop-the-mic quote: "To me, 13-0 and you've had that type of success, who else can be your champion?"
The Knights and the Huskies will get underway tonight from Storrs, Conn. at 7 p.m. The game can be seen on CBS Sports Network.