UCF heads into a season of uncertainty leaning on its lone senior leader
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012 14:10
For any sport, media day is the informal kickoff to an upcoming season. Players are dressed in full uniform, coaches are bombarded with questions much like a postgame press conference and the tone is set before full practices begin. This year, however, is notably different for the UCF men’s basketball team.
Regardless of how well head coach Donnie Jones prepares his team this season, it cannot participate in the NCAA Tournament due to recruiting violations that led to a one-year postseason ban. Although the circumstances are not what Jones or his players would ever hope for, the sense of camaraderie and leadership seems to be at an all-time high.
“The leadership is key and it has started with Keith Clanton. Any time your best player is your leader, that’s a good thing. I think we’ve had some success over the last couple of years where we’ve searched for true leadership day-to-day. And I think Clanton, through adversity, it’ll either define you or hurt you, and I think some adversity has taken him to a different level,” Jones said.
The return of Clanton undoubtedly has a great deal to do with the positive notes echoing from Jones and his team. Heralded as the best big man in Conference USA and rumored to be recruited by the likes of Florida State and Kentucky — to name a couple — when the sanctions allowed seniors to transfer without penalty, Clanton won over fans and has rallied his team without saying a word.
“[Being the only senior is] a role that I knew was coming up. It’s a role that I’m ready for, and I know I have to step up and be more talkative. Sometimes I like to sit back and lead by example, but this year, I know if I don’t say it, it probably won’t be said,” Clanton said.
The NCAA Tournament is out of the picture for the Knights, but that doesn’t dismiss a chance to make history in the midst of controversy. Going into the season, UCF boasts a very talented and athletic roster. Its lineup is always in the running to win C-USA — a goal the Knights have yet to accomplish.
“No matter what the situation is, even the one we’re in now, we always talk about winning the conference championship. If you win a conference championship, then you have a chance to do other things. That hasn’t changed,” Jones said.
With teams such as Florida, Miami and South Florida on the schedule, Jones has made sure that his team will play to its full potential, getting the most out of this year of postseason ineligibility and proving that its talent far exceeds the expectations.
“This is the toughest schedule we’ve ever played here in the history of the school. We have Miami here, South Florida here. We go play Old Dominion and Florida on the road. We’re playing the toughest schedule that we’ve ever played, plus our conference. Memphis, Marshall, UTEP, Southern Miss, I mean you’ve got some very good teams that are coming in here. A lot of excitement this year,” Jones said.
The message from the entire team to those waiting to see how it handles lack of opportunity is a simple one: We have ourselves to play for and that is all we need.