Johnny Dawkins Engineers Quick Turnaround at Central Florida


Coach Johnny Dawkins during Central Florida’s 68-58 victory over second-seeded Illinois on Wednesday.

Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — Johnny Dawkins arrived at the University of Central Florida last year with a promise to turn the men’s basketball program around.

No one expected him to be able to do it in a single season. With a roster reduced to just seven scholarship players by transfers and injuries, U.C.F. could realistically expect only a rebuilding year, with hopes of a glimpse of more.

But instead of planning for Year 2 under Dawkins, the Knights (24-11) are headed to Madison Square Garden for the N.I.T. semifinals. They will meet Texas Christian (22-15) on Tuesday.

“Our belief has been in these players from Day 1,” said Dawkins, a former N.B.A. player and a national player of the year at Duke. “I think, as we started to play and started to gain some momentum, I think they started realizing what we can accomplish, and they kept working. And we put ourselves in position to be very competitive this season, so…

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