April 11, 2017 at The Venue

Availability: HC Johnny Dawkins, PG B.J. Taylor, SG Matt Williams

HC Johnny Dawkins

Dawkins said his team would end the season crying no matter the outcome.

Well I reflect I think it was a good season. I think our guys gave us everything they had. And that’s what we talked about. We wanted to end the season, you know, two ways: We wanted to end the season crying because we didn’t do as well as we wanted to do or crying because we ended with a win, and we’re just so overfilled with emotion that we ended it that way. And that’s how we finished. We finished on an emotional high and just really proud of everything our guys did.

When asked about his message to the players after the season was over, Dawkins said he told his team that they have a lot to be proud of.

My message in New York was that, you know, we have a lot to be proud of. And I told our guys that I know it’s difficult, it was tough losing the game, but there’s a lot to be proud of from the standpoint that I think we exceeded expectations. I thought our guys, every day, believed that we could win, and we went out there, and we tried to represent our university and our community at the highest level, and I thought our guys did that. And that’s all that we could ask for. So, I try to tell ’em it’s tough that day, that weekend, but don’t hang your heads. You guys had a successful season; always know that. And for our seniors, you left your legacy. You left a foundation here for us to build on, and we’ll always remember that.

In just the Knights’ second National Invitation Tournament appearance, UCF made it to the semifinals.

For us, it’s a beginning. For our team and our staff and the program that I’m in charge of now, it’s our beginning. So it’s an opportunity to put a banner of something that will be up like I told our guys. Whenever you come back here, you’ll look up there, and that’ll always be there. You’ll always have fond memories of your teammates and of the experience that you shared to accomplish that. And so I’m just proud of what they did, and hopefully it’s the beginning of more banners to come, and that’s our goal. And I think this community is very deserving of it. Our university is, of course, as well, and so we gonna go out there and try to put our best foot forward every time we step on the floor.

Sophomore center Tacko Fall announced on April 5 that he would declare for the 2017 NBA Draft. He has until May 24 to make a final decision.

We discussed his options and what he wanted to do, and he wanted to put his name in, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. He wants to kinda go through the process, learn a lot more about what he needs to do to play at that level, and if the right opportunity presents itself, of course he would take it. But he’s been very mature about this process. I mean, I’ve loved coaching him. He’s a talented young man, and he’s even a better person. So, he’ll go through the process and kinda see what happens. But nothing’s written in stone. He just wants to find out if it’s possible and what he needs to do to make it happen.

When asked if he thinks Fall’s ready for the NBA, Dawkins said Fall will be an NBA player one day.

I think that Tacko’s gonna end up being an NBA player. I think that’s in his future. I mean, I don’t know what the timetable will be. But I do know if he continues on the trajectory that he’s on right now that that’s something that will be there for him. And whether that’s now or in the future, I can’t tell, but I do know that he keeps working the way he’s worked this past season and he keeps growing his game like he has, then the sky’s the limit for him.

Dawkins said Williams will undoubtedly play professional basketball.

I think Matt had a terrific season, and I think Matt has a chance to play at the highest level. It’s just a function of, as you know, having the right opportunity, being in the right situation. But with his skillset—I mean, he has a weapon. And I watch a lot of basketball, you know, college and pro, and I haven’t found a guy that shoots the ball any better than he does. And, with that, given the right situation, you know, timing is everything. If he falls in the right place, I think he could play at the next level. But he’s definitely gonna play professional no matter what because he is that talented, and he has something that most players don’t possess, and that’s the ability to knock down shots from any distance on the floor.

Dawkins sees Fall’s and Williams’ paths to professional basketball as different.

Well, with Tacko, the advice is just go through the process and work really hard; put your best foot forward. That’s all you can do. And be ready for workouts. And then find out, get information and find out where you stand so you can make an informed decision. With Matt, Matt has a different race to run. Matt has to, you know, in his situation, he has to actually hire an agent. Hire an agent and start the process of that guy getting on the phone and getting him into workouts and getting him prepared for what he needs to do, so he has a little different road. And then, of course, I’m there for any kind of questions he may have, any kind of calls that I can make on his behalf. Of course, I’m gonna do because I think the world of him and what he was able to accomplish. And again, with all that being said, he shoots the ball at a clip that most players that I’ve coached and played against have never shot at. I mean, he’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever had the ability to work with. So with that and the way the game is played these days, if I was a GM, I would take a look at him. I’ll put it that way.

On April 7, the American Athletic Conference announced the addition of Wichita State University.

I’m excited to have ’em in our conference. You want a strong conference. You want a conference with multiple teams that consistently play in the postseason. And we’ve just added another team that’s capable of doing that. So, I think that’s great for us. I think all our players and all the teams around the league should be excited for an opportunity to compete against another very good opponent.

For Dawkins, adding the Shockers only bolsters what he believes is an already-competitive conference.

I didn’t find out at the conference meetings last year. I think it may be a little later when we find that out when they start mapping out the schedule. But looking forward to it. At least we know we’re gonna have ’em at least once and could have a team like that twice. For me, I like competing, so there twice; that’d be great. If we playing ’em once, like we do with the rest of the teams, that’d be fine too.

Dawkins sees the increasingly competitive AAC as a conference that will garner more attention for NCAA tournament bids.

I think it helps. I don’t see how you bringing Wichita State will ever hurt. I think they were this year with a preseason top-10 team. That’s great for our conference. Of course, UConn’ll be healthy, which is a team that’s typically in the tournament. Temple, another team that’s typically there. Memphis. So, you know, we only had two teams this year. I thought our conference was a bit underrated, to be quite frank. And hopefully we’ll get back to where we were or beyond the season before where we had four teams go, and SMU would’ve been in if they hadn’t had the things off the court happen to them. So, you know, we have a chance to put about 12 teams. We have a chance to put multiple teams in. I think it’s a good thing for our league.

Dawkins prefers playing more competitive non-conference schedules.

I think our league helps even more now with the addition of a team like Wichita State. That’s gonna help the conference RPI and teams’ RPI. We’re studying teams that we think that we have an opportunity to compete against. We wanna do that, continue to do that. We haven’t finished our schedule yet, of course. It’s still early. But we want to play competitive schedules. If you look at my history, I’ve always played real competitive schedules, and we’ll do the same thing here. We try to play the best teams possible. I think that helps us for conference play, and that’s where we’re trying to have our guys go out try to find us now.

Fall’s decision to enter the NBA draft will affect how Dawkins and his staff will form next season’s roster.

We’re still waiting to see where we are. We still have to figure out what Tacko’s situation is. Of course, if he’s not here, we’ll be looking to add a player, of course. If he’s around, we’ll still have to kinda determine what our needs would be at that point. But with him not here, we would definitely look for someone, but we’re not gonna make that decision until he makes his decision at the very end. And I think the deadline is, what, May 24?

There is a potential that Dawkins and his staff move Aubrey Dawkins, the first-year UCF head coach’s son, to walk-on status.

Exactly. We have that option for us as well. And that’s something that we could look at depending on what happens. And so we’ll see where we stand with that, but that’s kinda scenarios that we have right now. But the main one for us right now is seeing with our pieces and our chemistry with our team, you know, what’s the best fits for us right now, and we’d lose another big, and we would make sure that we had to replace it with another big.

With regard to the development of Taylor, Dawkins said Taylor needs to continue to trust his teammates more and not carry so much of the load.

He needs to continue to grow in areas where—I thought he got so much better from the beginning of the season to end of the season, not just scoring the ball but also delivering passes and making guys around him better. I think he needs to continue to grow in that area. I think he’s such a fierce competitor. And I understand where he gets that from where he just sometimes wants to put it all on his shoulders, and I’m teaching him to make sure he still just trusts his teammates, and then those guys will be there with him down the stretch. It’s something that I think he was growing into it at the end of the season he’ll continue to grow into. And those are the areas, I think, for him, offensively, that he’ll make his biggest impact. And then defensively, with more depth, you don’t have to pace yourself as much. I think you can get after it more defensively, and those are areas where I think will continue to grow because he’s such a competitor that we had to hold him back a lot of times on that end of the floor because of expending all that energy, and we don’t have the ability to give him rest. You know, now he’ll be able to go out there and get after at a level that I think he wants to compete at.

Next season, the Knights will have 13 scholarship players.

Even with all of that being said, using B.J. for an example, B.J.’s going to be playing. He’s one of our best players. He’s one of the best players in our conference. And that’s really simple for me. It’s a situation where you gonna play your best players. They gonna be on the floor. And he’s one of our best players. And so I always start from that, and then we work from there, building around a guy like him. And you know the guys that are returning. So that’s what we’re gonna look to do.

PG B.J. Taylor

For Taylor, his team exceeded expectations in the 2016-17 season.

Definitely reflected on the season, the year we had. I know you know during the season I was always saying that we didn’t look back on the season, I mean, look back on what we were doing during the season because we were so focused on the next game or what was next for us. I mean, looking back on the season, we definitely exceeded expectations that was set for us. Being a preseason eighth pick in the conference and finishing fourth regular season and then beating Memphis in the conference tournament, giving SMU a good game and then making it to the final four of the NIT, selling out CFE Arena prior to the game in Madison Square Garden. So, we did a lot of things this season that are gonna be great for us to build off of for the future for UCF. Just really exciting.

Taylor believes the NIT prepared returning players for deeper postseason runs and gave graduating players more exposure.

It was definitely valuable for the guys that are coming back. I mean, me and A.J. [Davis], it was extremely valuable because we were able to play into a postseason and play into a time where there was only eight teams left when it was our final game. You had the final four in the NCAA [tournament] and the final four in the NIT. So, you think about it, I mean, there’s 320 NCAA Division I teams, and we were one of the final eight teams to play. So, most teams were already done and getting rest, and we were still playing almost to April. So that was huge for us just to see how our bodies would react and, for us, to use moving forward, going to NCAA tournament, which is our goal for next year. You know, we’ll have that experience. We’ll have been through a tournament setting like that where it’s one-and-done. So, I think all those things are beneficial. And then for the guys who are taking the next step, it was great for them to get more exposure. When there’s only eight teams left playing, there’s a lot to—there’s not a lot of basketball to watch. So all those guys who are watching games, they’re watching us. There was only two games that night when we played in Madison Square Garden, so it was just great exposure for those guys, and I’m really happy for them.

Following wins against Illinois State University and the University of Colorado Boulder, each respective head coach said Taylor could play in their conferences.

I mean, that’s a great compliment from those coaches. That means a lot to me because I don’t play for hype or anything like that. I love to get the respect from the other teams’ coaches and the respect of the other players that you play against. That means more to me than anything else. So, I mean, getting the respect from those guys and the leagues they come from, being the Pac-12 and the Big 10 and playing a Big 12 team in the NIT, I mean, it’s just really an honor. It means a lot to me to get those guys’ respect.

For Taylor, improvement never stops.

I think there’s always areas to improve in, no doubt. I think once you start feeling like you’ve reached your ceiling, that’s when you start regressing. So, I mean, you listen to guys like Kevin Durant, Steph Curry—every offseason, they’re talking about how they getting better because if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Just having that mindset is a huge part of it and finding little things to tweak and little things to grow at are gonna be huge for me this offseason. And they might not be like something crazy, drastic, like changing my shot or something. But just something small. Little tweaks. Those are the tweaks you have to make at this stage that take you from this level to this level. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

Even though Taylor recognizes the fatigue of playing entire games, he isn’t concerned about how many minutes he plays.

I don’t think about my minutes to be honest with you. I think about winning when I’m out there on the floor. My goal every night is to compete at a high level and win the game. I’ve been saying that all year. I mean, every time I go out there, that’s my goal. So, I wanna be out there because I’m a competitor, but, at the same time, when you play 40 minutes like that, it’s really tiring. It’s exhausting. So you can’t play 40 minutes at a pace that you could play 34 minutes, 35 minutes at. It seems like a little bit of time, but those minutes—if you cut five minutes off, that’s a huge difference. And your energy and, you know, how much you’re expending out there on the floor. So, I’m not concerned with my minutes. I just go out there and play as hard as I can when Coach puts me out there on the floor, and I compete to win.

Taylor knows that for the scholarship players that are becoming active next year, it won’t be their first rodeos.

I’m extremely excited about next year with the guys we have coming back. Just with the guys that were sitting out, and A.J.’s gonna be better next year, and Chad. Chad’s improvement from his freshman to sophomore year I think was huge. I mean, the improvement he made was great. I mean, a lot of people talk about Tacko’s improvement, and that was awesome, but Chad made just as much improvement as him. When you look at where he was to his freshman year to sophomore year, I mean. So, the improvement he’s gonna make from sophomore to junior year next year is gonna be huge for us and all the guys that were sitting out, I mean, they had a year under their belt to kinda be around Coach and be around the system. So, it won’t be their first year on the floor. It won’t be like their freshman [year]. Most of the guys that are playing aren’t freshmen. I mean, Aubrey was two years at Michigan, Dayon [Griffin] was two years at Louisiana Tech, Terrell [Allen] was a year at Drexler. So, all those guys have played college basketball before. So it won’t be like their first rodeo.

With regard to defense, Taylor’s most proud of the defensive field-goal percentage stat. In the 2016-17 season, UCF finished No. 1 in defensive field-goal percentage, holding teams to an average of 36.5 percent from the field.

I mean, definitely the field-goal percentage stat. I think we finished No. 1 in defensive field-goal percentage. I mean, that’s huge just to have that just as kind of an accolade. You know, nobody’s gonna give you an award for that. Like, they don’t send you a defensive field-goal percentage award, but, I mean, it’s something that you look at, and it’s like, “Wow. Out of all things in the country, for us to do that, that’s impressive.” I mean, it just speaks to our consistency on a game-by-game basis of playing defense like that. To have an accolade like that, you can’t have many bad games. And we didn’t defensively. Even the games we lost, I mean, we weren’t as good as we wanted to be defensively, but we never had any just crap games defensively where we gave up 80, 90 points to anybody. So, I mean, it just speaks to the coaches preparing us and how well Coach had us ready to go, and it speaks to our energy and effort out there on the floor.

Being a part of the rebirth of the UCF program means a lot to Taylor, a hometown recruit.

I mean, it means more than I can say in words to me. When I committed here, this is what I wanted to be here for. Being an Orlando kid, being a hometown kid, this is what I wanted to be here for, and I wanted us to be a team that the community was gonna be proud of and a team that they wanted to come out and support and they would just really be proud of us. And that last game against Illinois at home kinda was a culmination of all that just with the sell-out crowd, 10,000 people. I mean, everybody from my community showed up. It just seemed like all of Orlando was at that game that night. I mean, we outdid the Magic numbers that night. I love the Magic. The Magic my favorite team. So, anybody with the Magic, I still love y’all, man. But, I mean, it’s just great to have the community be proud of us like that. And, I mean, everything I do, I do it to make UCF proud and make this university proud because it’s the Orlando university, and I do it for the people in Orlando, the people who are supporting me from when I was young to where I am now. So, I’m just honored to represent them, and I hope that we make them proud.

Taylor knows that everyone wants to make the NCAA tournament, but, for him, he also knows it doesn’t just happen.

Like you said, everybody’s gonna say it. Everybody’s gonna say, “I wanna make the NCAA tournament.” Just like every NFL team says they wanna win the Super Bowl. But it comes to the teams, you know, who gonna put in the work and the teams that are gonna stay focused and aren’t gonna let kinda the outside noise get to them. Like you said, we had a great year, but that year didn’t just happen by magic. I mean, didn’t just poof up. Chad didn’t make the improvements he made from freshman to sophomore year by accident. I mean, we all put the work in. So, we gotta continue that work ethic, and I think that is a direct effect to our on-court success.

Saying it right now doesn’t mean anything, to be honest with you. I could sit here and say it. it doesn’t just happen. Like, “Oh, he said it first. He’s going.” So, we’re gonna put the work in. We’re gonna put the time in. That’s our goal. So, we’re definitely gonna do everything we can to make it happen.

For Taylor, there’s no one particular player that’s becoming active he’s most excited to play with next season.

I could speak to all of them. It’s not one in particular. I mean, Dayon’s from Louisiana Tech, and he’s a really talented shooter. So just me being a point guard, I know that’s gonna be great for me in the backcourt next year, you know, have a guy that can shoot like that, kinda like Matt did. I mean, nobody shoots like Matt. Honestly, nobody shoots like Matt. But just having a guy like Dayon who’ll be able to stretch the floor like that and shoot next year is gonna be great. Ceasar [DeJesus], guy’s really strong getting to the rim. He’s a really great finisher. So, just having another guy in the backcourt that can help attack the rim and put pressure on the defense with me is gonna be great for us. Terrell, great all-around point guard. I mean, really gets the guys involved, is a really good floor general, has a good pace to his game. I mean, I could go on and on about all of ’em. Rokas [Ulvydas], the center’s gonna be good for us inside. Aubrey Dawkins is gonna be great. I mean, he’s so athletic. When he’s on the break, all you gotta do is put it in the air for him, and he’s gonna dunk it. So, I mean, all the guys that have been practicing, they’ve been great for us all year just because we couldn’t have the success this year without them and the way they pushed us. They really came together as another team throughout the season. I know y’all didn’t get to see a lot of practices, but they really came together, and it was like UCF playing versus the UCF guys that’s not playing. And, honestly, it was like a game every day. So, it was just really, really exciting, and I’m excited to have those guys out here next year.

SG Matt Williams

At the moment, Williams is looking for an agent.

Right now, I’m just in the process of looking for an agent and hiring an agent. And then I’m just gonna go from there.

For Williams, the worst part about losing his final game as a Knight is that he won’t be able to play with his teammates again.

During the season, I realized that we was having an outstanding [season]. Just the wins, the way we were ranked in the nation for our defense and obviously just me setting the goals for the three-pointers and things like that—it all just kinda hit kinda quick. Going to Madison Square Garden, and, once the game was over, it kinda just—that night in the hotel then in the bus ride back, everything kinda sunk in. I was upset we lost, but I was just upset that I wasn’t gonna be able to play with these guys again. I was just happy that I got to end my career the way I did.

Williams’ favorite moment in his career was the Round 3 game against the Illinois Fighting Illini.

I will say the last game against Illinois. Just the crowd, just the excitement that we all went through. Just being able to go to Madison Square Garden. I would say that was the main thing.

For Williams, his upbringing has prepared him to play wherever his journey takes him.

I’m ready for it, man. Whatever. I come from a tough upbringing, well-rounded parents. Wherever this journey takes me, I’m ready for it.

The advice Williams has gotten from past UCF players is to simply go where he’s wanted.

I talked to a lot of players. They told me just make sure you go about it correctly, take your time, don’t really rush into things. Just find someone that wants you. Try to find someone that you want and just go from there.

Williams sees a very bright future for the Knights.

A very, very bright future. These guys, they go hard. They’re competitors. They go hard in the weight room. Whether we playing pick-up, whether we arguing in the locker room, it’s just always—everybody’s always competing. So, I’m excited to watch next year. I feel like it’d be good, you know, just to watch everyone grow. And just to watch everyone come together. I’m looking forward to that.

For Williams, who set the Knights’ single-game record for three-pointers and UCF career three-pointers in the 2016-17 season, it’s difficult deciding who will be his replacement from deep.

Well, you know, I don’t know. All these guys on our team can shoot pretty well. They always in the gym. I will say that’s kinda hard to tell because everyone’s always in the gym. Everyone’s always working out, so we just have to watch it play out.