UCF’s Johnny Dawkins disappointed after NCAA denies waivers for two transfers

Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/TNS

UCF coach Johnny Dawkins knew one of the challenges his Knights would face early on was building chemistry with 10 new players.

For the most part, his team looked like a veteran unit in its 85-62 win over FIU in its season opener on Monday.

“It was pretty good except for the last 15 minutes,” said Dawkins. “We broke down, but the first 25 minutes, I thought the communication was good. Our guards were getting us into things we wanted to get into and we were running it fairly well.”

Transfer guard Jaylin Sellers led 13 Knights in scoring with 23 points while junior guard Darius Johnson added 15 points.

UCF (1-0, 0-0 Big 12) shot 50% (31 of 62) from the floor and had 30 points from its bench.

The Knights held the Panthers to 36% shooting and converted 24 turnovers into 22 points.

UCF basketball excited to kick off season with 10 new players

“We did a great job on defense,” said Johnson. “That’s something we’ve been discussing and preaching to our guys.”

Added Sellers: “We’ve got some things we have to work on, but I would point out how we defended well.”

Several players were absent from Monday’s win.

Fifth-year senior forward C.J. Walker suffered a knee injury during a closed-door scrimmage that required surgery. While there is no timetable for his return, Dawkins doesn’t believe the injury is season-ending.

Fifth-year senior guard Antwann Jones and senior forward Marchelus Avery are dealing with eligibility issues.

The NCAA denied Jones’s waiver for immediate eligibility this week, meaning he will not be available until December. The former Oak Ridge High product is a multi-year transfer, having played at Memphis, Creighton and Louisiana.

“It’s a tough process to go through,” said Dawkins. “I’m disappointed for him. He sat out last year, for the most part, and now again for part of this year and that’s hard on a young person.

“It’s something that you love to do, you’ve been playing all your life and then you’ve been put in a position where you sitting out multiple years for extended periods; that’s hard.”

Jones has appeared in 73 games, averaging 3.9 ppg., 2.5 rpg. and 1.5 apg. He last played in 2021-22 with the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Avery signed with UCF after transferring from New Mexico State when the program was shut down in February due to hazing allegations. An investigation into the incidents led to the firing of coach Greg Heiar. However, a miscommunication led to Avery missing the deadline to enter the portal, leading to the NCAA denying his transfer waiver.

“He didn’t enter the portal the right way because he wasn’t allowed to be on campus,” Dawkins explained. “He wasn’t allowed to communicate with the staff because of everything that happened. He didn’t have counsel people around him saying, ‘This is how you enter the portal.’ So what he did was he just tweeted it out.”

Due to an ongoing investigation, Avery couldn’t communicate with New Mexico State coaches or advisors during his transfer process.

UCF plans to appeal the NCAA’s decision on Avery.

“I’m hopeful they will see that side of it and understand,” said Dawkins. “This, to me, is pretty straightforward. It has nothing to do with anything other than he was told a certain thing that he already did. If you would ask those in that administration, they would confirm that without any problem.”

The 6-foot-7 Avery averaged 6 points and 3.4 rebounds in 44 games.

The Knights return to action Friday with a road contest at No. 13 Miami (7 p.m., ACCX).

The Hurricanes (1-0, 0-0 ACC) are coming off a Final Four appearance and are picked to finish second in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They also feature all-conference selections in forward Norchad Omier and guard Nijel Pack.

“They’re a talented basketball team. They always are,” said Dawkins. “They play hard and play fast.”

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