Clanton focused, using pro competition to improve
Published: Sunday, July 8, 2012
Updated: Sunday, July 8, 2012 15:07
It was a busy 2011-2012 season for the UCF Knights.
The program made its first appearance in the National Invitation Tournament, won its first game against a top-five team when it defeated then-No. 5 UConn and finally handed conference powerhouse and rival Memphis a loss.
It was all in a year’s work for the men’s basketball team. The second campaign of coach Donnie Jones’ tenure here in Orlando saw program milestones being set on a consistent basis and at the center (or at least next to him) of it all was rising senior power forward Keith Clanton.
Clanton, an Orlando native, led the Knights in scoring, blocking and three-point shooting percentage last season. Still, don’t expect the versatile big man to be satisfied. Clanton can feel the time winding down on his time at UCF, and it’s played an important role in his approach to this offseason.
“I feel like this summer was a big summer for me knowing it’s my last chance to do anything at UCF,” Clanton said. “I wanted to prepare myself and be mentally focused for everything. I wanted to come in here [the UCF practice facility] and just outwork everybody, to get stronger, faster, shoot more.”
During the offseason before his junior year, Clanton elected to join a team of American college basketball players on a trip to China where he continued to play competitive basketball and also acted as an ambassador for the sport and his country. This year, though invited again to repeat the experience, he made the decision to stay in Orlando and go up against some more experienced athletes.
“I felt like China was a great opportunity, but I also felt like I could better the team by staying here over summer. I’ve been going up against people like [Memphis Grizzlies forward] Marreese Speights and [Orlando Magic forward] Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis,” Clanton said. “I just work out with anyone, all the NBA guys I can.
“[I’m] working on getting more athletic, working my legs and getting more explosive.”
From Clanton, the improvements could make all the difference considering there may be a small adjustment period with this new-look Knights squad. Not only is the status of Marcus Jordan’s return up in the air, but UCF has transfers Calvin Newell and C.J. Reed. Also joining the team is ESPNU’s No. 33 ranked guard, Daiquan Walker, out of Constitution High School in Philadelphia.
Reed, who came over from Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, noted that Clanton was one of the players who reached out and immediately made him feel at home in Orlando.
“Keith Clanton has a unique personality, so the first day I met him … he can put a smile on anybody’s face,” Reed said.
An amicable personality already, the leader and face of UCF basketball welcomed his new teammates with open arms and has gotten some much-needed playing time in with Newell, Reed and Walker.
“I think they’re going to help us a lot. They’re really good,” Clanton said. “It’s a difference from [former guard A.J.] Rompza and our other guards, so I feel they’re going to bring in other aspects of the game with defense, and they can also score the ball. I’m always really friendly because I realize team chemistry is important.
“We aren’t battling for who’s the best player; we have a team goal to win.”
Since his sophomore year, Clanton has been discussed as a possible draftee in 2013. His senior year will have much to do with where he goes in the NBA or if he even gets drafted at all. But, with November looming and his senior season lying ahead, Clanton is concentrated on a more imminent task.
“Not really thinking about that [possibly playing in the NBA] right now. I’ll prepare for that when the season’s over,” Clanton said. “Right now, I’m focused on winning the conference championship and making the [NCAA] tournament.”