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CF Men's Basketball Preview
October 29, 2013By Richard Burton of COLLEGE OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
As the final seconds ticked down during the College of Central Florida's 74-69 win over Northwest Florida State in last year's NJCAA National Championship Game, all of the efforts to make the program a fixture on the national scene was rewarded.
In going 34-3, the Patriots became just the third Florida program to win the NJCAA National Title in the 75-year history of the tournament and the first since 1996.
CF, which has qualified for the state tournament eight straight times - the longest current streak in the state- looks to reload once again and continue its impressive run under coach Tim Ryan.
"I think we've had a target on our back for a while," Ryan said. "But I think it's more so now. Every night, we'll see everybody's best game and that's really tough.
"Especially when you're on the road. You're going to get everyone's top game. They're going to look at us as the national champs. It doesn't matter if we are 10-0 or 0-10, guys are still going to take pride in beating the national champs.
"So we know we are going to see everyone's best from the start."
The Patriots open up regular season play at home against Pasco-Hernando on Saturday night at 7:30. Prior to the game at around 7:15, there will be a ceremony honoring last year's national champions.
CF has been dominant at home under Ryan, which included an unbeaten season at Patriot Gym a year ago.
"That atmosphere means so much," Ryan said. "In college basketball, I think 72 percent of the time the home teams wins.
"Having that home support and home crowd behind us means a lot and it's been getting better and it's really picked over the last three years.
"It means so much to the guys to have that support and it creates a winning atmosphere in the gym."
At this time, the Patriots are attempting to put things together, as basically a brand new roster will take the court this season.
"It's always a work in progress at this point in time," Ryan said. "I think we are at the same stage was we were at this time last year.
"We're still trying to find ourselves as a team and guys are trying to understand their roles and understand our strong points.
"We know what our weak points are. We have to either fix those or hide them."
Leading the way for CF in terms of returning players are Rasham Suarez (6-3) and Rodell Wigginton (6-6), last year's second and third leading scorers for the team.
Suarez (14.7 points, 5.9 assists) has committed to Southern Mississippi and was voted first-team preseason All-American by the Sporting News, off the heels of his making the all-tournament at the NJCAA National Tournament last season.
"I just want to get my team better and win another national championship," Suarez said. "Our talent is great. We look good on paper and look good in practice and we've got to keep working hard."
Wigginton (14.0 points), an Ohio University commit, was a huge spark off the bench for the Patriots, who averaged 87 points per game and made over 50 percent of their shots.
"They're both solid players and are mid-major plus guys," Ryan said. "They're adding a lot of leadership."
In terms of newcomers, Ryan cited the play of Javonte Douglas (6-7) and Chris Bryant (6-8).
Douglas, a transfer from Hill (Tex.) College, earned NJCAA All-American honors last season and averaged 16.3 points per game.
"He's a real smooth player and is a three who gets to the basket." Ryan said. "He's the kind of kid who scores the ball."
Bryant, a Florida Atlantic transfer, will look to fill the void left due to graduation on the interior for the Patriots.
"He's a really long athlete with a high motor that is capable of some really big things for us," Ryan said.
Eric Moeller, a 6-11 Florida Gulf Coast signee, Matthew Uchedike (6-9) and Richard Granberry (6-7), give the Patriots a great deal of depth in the frontcourt.
Will Ferguson (6-2), meanwhile, is a player to watch in the backcourt and another player Ryan has been impressed with during the preseason.
Cody Russell, who Ryan says is the team's best shooter, will fill a role similar to the one Will Saunders did a year ago, while Tre Wilson (6-5) will bring energy off the bench in a way that Amdy Fall during CF's championship run.
Saunders (Charleston Southern), Fall (St. Francis), Jordan Davis (Tampa), Eugene McCrory (UCF), Jordan Parks (North Carolina Central) and Jeremiah Eason (Southern Mississippi) were among the leaders from a year ago who have since moved on to play at the next level.
McCrory, the MVP of the state and national tournaments, averaged 17.1 points and was second in the nation in field goal percentage at 69.2 percent, while Davis, who hit the game-winning shot in the state semifinals against Northwest Florida State, will need their production and leadership replaced.
If CF is to win another national championship, it will need contributions from everyone, as it got a year ago.
"We're not there yet, but that's good," Suarez said. "We want to keep growing as a team and I think we can do something special once again this year.
"We can be better if we work hard every day and don't take plays off. We got to learn each other's game. We got a target on our back and everyone wants to take our head off, but we're gong to work hard.
"The coaches have done a great job getting us ready."
College of Central Florida Men's Basketball
Last year's record: 34-3 overall, 8-1 in the Mid-Florida Conference (NJCAA, FCSAA and Mid-Florida Conference champions).
Top returning players: Rasham Suarez, 6-3, G, Rodell Wigginton, 6-6, F, Matthew Uchedike, 6-9, C.
Key losses: Eugene McCrory, Jordan Parks, Jordan Davis, Amdy Fall, Jeremiah Eason, Will Saunders
Top newcomers: Javonte Douglas, 6-7, G, Eric Moeller, 6-11, C, Richard Granberry, 6-7, F, Cody Russell, 6-2, G, Will Ferguson, 6-2, G, Chris Bryant, 6-8, F, Tre Wilson, 6-5, F.
Regular season opener: November 2 at home vs. Pasco-Hernando at 7:30 p.m.
Outlook: CF had a great run to the NJCAA National Championship last season. The Patriots started off by winning their third consecutive conference titlte, which qualified them for their eighth straight trip to the state tournament. From there, CF won its first state title since 1996 and followed that up by becoming just the third program from Florida to win the national title in the 75-year history of the NJCAA National Tournament. Suarez and Wigginton lead the way for a team that has a excellent frontcourt depth and talent throughout. Douglas, Bryant and Moeller are among the newcomers to watch for CF. The Patriots will need to replace the leadership of Davis and McCrory and continue playing excellent defense, which was paced by the efforts of Parks last season. CF hosts the state tournament for the next three years and would love to give its loyal home fan base something to celebrate in March.