UCF's Donnie Jones optimistic
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There are still a lot of unanswered questions following the announcement of NCAA sanctions this week stemming from major recruiting violations by the University of Central Florida's football and basketball programs.
After the NCAA found school officials 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 penalties were the stiffest on the basketball side, with coach Donnie Jones also being given a three-year "show-cause" order in addition to having limits placed on recruiting time next year and vacating all 21 of his victories in 2010-11.
Though he says he's digesting it all, Jones said Wednesday that he and his staff were already taking steps to move forward.
"I met with the team yesterday," Jones said. "I met with all those guys individually and obviously they're disappointed, like anybody when you hear the initial reaction from that. But it was a very encouraging sign when I was walking out of the door last night late and our whole team is in there playing together.
"It's one thing about this group. It's been a great summer and they've worked hard and I couldn't be more excited about the guys we have here in this program."
UCF president John Hitt said Tuesday the school "generally accepts" the NCAA's findings but plans to appeal the postseason ban in football. He didn't indicate it would do the same for basketball, but Jones said all parts of the sanctions will be looked at by officials in the 15 days the school has before it must file its appeal notice.
Jones, who served a three-game suspension last season as part of UCF's self-imposed penalties, said he also was thankful that though Hitt said he considered firing him, that it was decided his conduct didn't merit it.
He said he's now focused on the Knights' upcoming jump to the Big East Conference in 2013.
"I know we've had some setbacks here. But setbacks are set up for comebacks. It's just on how you approach things. I'm still very excited about our team, about the recruits we have coming in, and about the commitment here at this university. So it's a great time to be a part of what's still happening here.
"Obviously, the Big East (is) down the road. But we're still focused on today."
The other big unknown is whether Jones will lose any of his five seniors in the coming days. The NCAA has a bylaw that allows players whose eligibility is elapsing and won't have another opportunity to compete in postseason play because of school sanctions to transfer and play immediately.
Jones acknowledged that he knows that several seniors have aspirations top play professional basketball either in the NBA or abroad in the future. The biggest possible losses include All-Conference USA big man Keith Clanton, and guard Marcus Jordan, the son of former NBA star Michael Jordan. Senior big man Josh Crittle could also defect, but he is set to graduate this week.
"It's always a hard decision with seniors," Jones said. "They got hit with this yesterday and ... the main focus for everyone is I told them 'It's about you. I want the best for you and the right decision for you.' I want to give them a couple of days to really take things in.
"They still have an opportunity here in a program they've played in and for a coach that knows it no better than me. And our program's been built around those guys."
Jordan opted not to stay on campus this summer, an arrangement he previous had discussed with the UCF coaching staff.
He has off the court interests he would like to pursue in the future and even before the NCAA sanctions came down it was unclear whether he would return to UCF this fall for his senior season.
Jones said he reached out to Jordan Tuesday, but had not yet had an opportunity to discuss his future since Tuesday's NCAA ruling.
"But at this time right now, we're still expecting him back," he said.
Still, Jones is hoping the lure of a chasing Conference USA title this year before the school jumps to the Big East in 2013, as well as the prospect of an Orlando-area product like Clanton staying close to home will be enough to keep them at UCF.
"They can't play in the (NCAA) tournament, we know that. But it couldn't be a better time and a better cause with the timing being where it is right now for them to stand here and be loyal to their school and be remembered differently than any other players that have ever played here."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press