John Denton's Knights Insider

Nov. 4, 2009

By John Denton

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They certainly have a ways to go to reach the acclaim of Michigan's famed ``Fab Five'' of the early 1990s, but UCF's famous foursome of elite recruits gives the basketball team hope for a bright future.

In Keith Clanton, Marcus Jordan, R.J. Scott and Nik Garcia, UCF coach Kirk Speraw landed arguably the best recruiting class in school history. And because UCF was the fifth-youngest team in the country last season and the second-youngest this season, that foursome of freshmen will be leaned on heavily to produce this season.

Clanton, Jordan, Scott and Garcia will make their UCF debuts Wednesday night when the Knights host St. Leo at 7 p.m. at UCF Arena. Just how fast that group progresses will almost certainly be a deciding factor in how the Knights fare this season.

``We all feel like we can make an impact right away,'' said Garcia, a sweet-shooting guard from Chicago. ``We're excited to get on the court and show what we can do because we all do something different. I think we'll blend in nicely and have an impact.''

UCF needs quite an impact from its freshman to make up for the loss of reigning Conference USA Player of the Year Jermaine Taylor. Taylor, now a member of the Houston Rockets after being chosen in the second round of the NBA Draft, ranked third in the country in scoring last season at 26.2 points per game.

Speraw knows he has his work cut out for him trying to get his talented, but inexperienced freshman class up to speed with returning cornerstones A.J. Rompza, Isaac Sosa and A.J. Tyler. UCF has 10 underclassmen and no scholarship seniors on the roster. Six of the players are freshmen and two others are redshirts.

``We've got so much teaching to do that it's going to be a learning process every single day,'' Speraw said. ``We have to start from square one and build from there every time out on the floor.''

The gem of the recruiting class, of course, is Clanton, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward with elite post and ball-handling skills. Clanton, an Orlando native who was considered the nation's 68th best prospect by Rivals.com, turned down scholarship offers from SEC and BIG EAST schools to attend UCF.

With the Knights, Clanton will play mostly power forward, but he does have the ability to score from the perimeter. Talent is not an issue for Clanton, but admittedly he says he'll have to shed his low-key personality and become more intense to thrive at the college level.

``I know at this level I have to take my intensity up another level,'' he said. ``In high school I know that I tended to be a little lazy sometimes, but I can't do that here because I'm not just better than everybody else now. Now, I have to play hard every night to get the most out of my ability.''

Jordan chose UCF because of his friendship with Rompza and Garcia and the direction the program is headed under Speraw. His style of play will rely mon his grit and toughness.

``I'm a hard-nosed, hard-working defender,'' he said. ``I like to get after it. My man is not going to be the reason that we lose a game. Offensively, I just like to get the ball into the paint and make smart decisions. And with me, the game isn't over until the final buzzer sounds and I take pride in that. I'm a hard worker the entire game.''

Scott and Garcia are solid shooters, giving UCF more scoring options when teams collapse inside on Clanton or are forced to shut off Rompza's drives to the hoop.

Clanton, Scott and Jordan spent most of the summer together at UCF, getting to know each other. Garcia joined that trio at the start of the fall semester, and the group has quickly bonded. Already, they lean on each other to help get through the transition from high school to college. And, Garcia said, they'll be there for one another throughout the season.

``It's a real strong bond that we have,'' Garcia said. ``R.J., Keith and Marcus are really easy to talk to and we can lean on each other. I feel really close to those guys already. It will really help us down the road.''

Clanton said he likes the pressure that is already being heaped on the UCF freshman class to live up to its reputation as being the best group of recruits in school history. He, too, thinks UCF's freshmen can contribute right away, and he thinks the Knights will surprise some teams this season that underestimate UCF because of its youth.

``I like the pressure because it just makes me play harder and play better. I want to be there for my team and be a great player for this program,'' Clanton said. ``We have a really good group of freshmen. R.J. is one of the best shooters on the team and he's ready already to do big things for this team. Marcus is a strong body who can really drive. And Nik is a smooth shooter, too. I think we have a chance to be good together.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears several times per week on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.