OCALA--The College of Central Florida men's basketball team is gearing up for another year as they open up the 2016-17 season tonight against Victory Rock Prep at Patriot Gym.
CF comes into the season ranked No. 6 in the state. They look to make a record thirteenth state tournament appearance and will rely heavily on their offense.
"We've got a lot of talent on the offensive side," said head coach Tim Ryan, who enters his 14th season as the Patriot's head coach. "I think our fans are going to be excited about our offensive punch. We have one of the best shooting teams we've had since I have been here… it's our defense that we need to clean up."
The Patriot offense will be led by returners Malik Dunbar, who averaged 10.6 points per game a year ago, and 6'5" shooting guard Paul Turner. Ryan also noted newcomers Anthony Johnson, Ivan Gandia and Francois Lewis, a transfer from Florida A&M, to be key contributors for this year's squad.
Gandia, a freshman point guard from Caguas, Puerto Rico, comes in replacing NJCAA All-American and FCSAA State Player of the Year KJ Maura. Maura led the state and nation in total assists (304) and assists per game (9.8) last season.
Gandia has big shoes to fill, but Ryan doesn't see it that way.
"We've had a lot of big shoes to fill over the years, though we don't look at it as filling shoes…we look at it as building a team," said Ryan. "KJ will be missed, but we've got guys [like Dunbar, Turner, Johnson, Gandia and Lewis] who are going to try to bring this team together."
The Patriots embark on one of the toughest schedules in the nation, as they will face the likes of state and national powerhouses Eastern Florida State College, St. Petersburg College, Monroe College, Harkum College, and conference rival Daytona State College, who the Patriots shared a piece of the conference title with a year ago.
"Year in and year out we carry one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but that's how we like it," said Ryan.
CF tips off against Victory Rock Prep tonight at 7:30 p.m. for the first of many home games. Admission is free to the public for the season home opener. CLICK HERE for a complete 2016-17 men's basketball schedule.