Donnie Jones spent 11 seasons as an assistant at Florida under Billy Donovan. His first season at Central Florida is going very well as he gets ready to face his mentor.
The unbeaten Knights will try for their first win over the No. 18 Gators in 10 tries Wednesday night in the first college game at the Amway Arena in Orlando, Fla.
Donovan’s three Final Fours and two national championships at Florida (5-1) came with the help of Jones, who served under him from 1996-2007. Jones spent the last three seasons as the coach at Marshall before taking over in March at Central Florida, which is trying to start 6-0 for the first time in four seasons.
“I will have the opportunity to coach against one of my friends, and a mentor,” Jones said. “I have great respect for one of the best college basketball coaches in the country. To have them here in our town is a great opportunity for our program.”
Donovan is 5-1 against former assistants, losing to Arkansas’ John Pelphrey, 80-61 on Feb. 2, 2008.
Central Florida is led by the son of Michael Jordan - sophomore guard Marcus Jordan, averaging 16.8 points. This game represents a good chance for Marcus Jordan to bounce back from his worst effort of the season in the Knights’ first contest against a major-conference opponent, a 65-59 home win over South Florida on Nov. 18. He scored 10 points and missed 6 of 7 shots.
“We’re unchallenged,” Jones said. “We played a very good South Florida team and got a victory, but we haven’t played anybody like Florida yet. So it will be an incredible challenge for us.”
These teams last met when the Gators won 89-61 on Dec. 20, 2008, behind Alex Tyus’ 20 points and 14 rebounds.
“We played them our freshman year and they kind of kicked us around,” UCF junior guard Isaac Sosa said. “It was bad, but this is a good opportunity for us to really show what we have as a team.”
Donovan chose to not play Tyus and fellow senior Vernon Macklin for much of a 55-51 victory at Florida State on Sunday. Sophomore Erik Murphy had 10 points and six rebounds off the bench and freshman Patric Young added five boards as they got the bulk of the frontcourt minutes.
“That’s the one thing that was good about the win is we were fortunate enough to win the game and you got two of our seniors, our older guys in Alex and Vernon who played 14 and 13 minutes,” Donovan said. “It’s a great confidence builder for our young guys, especially for Erik and Patric to get.”
The Gators won despite shooting a season-low 38.1 percent, uncharacteristic for a team leading the SEC at 48.9 percent. Kenny Boynton was the only starter in double figures with 14 points for Florida, which shot 26.3 percent after halftime.
“I thought in the first half when we had pretty good player movement, ball movement, some real good things happen for offensively, and we shot 47 or 48 percent,” Donovan said. “Certainly in the second half, it was a combination of some really poor shot selection by us and some really good defense by them.”