John Denton's Knights Insider: Clanton Continuing to Make Strides

Jan. 11, 2010

By John Denton

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Keith Clanton's blossoming talent and off-the-charts basketball IQ instantly separate him from most typical freshmen college basketball players. But there are also other qualities that distinguish the most acclaimed and most promising power forward in UCF basketball history.

Unlike most wide-eyed freshmen whose minds can't seem to catch up with their hyperactive feet when first making the transition from high school to college, there is a calming easiness and a been-there, done-that mentality with Clanton that is beautiful to watch.

Then, there is the matter of Clanton's unselfish, unassuming ways. He came to UCF as one of the more heralded recruits in school history, yet coaches and teammates have had to goad him into shooting more. He is the antithesis of today's typical five-star prima donna in that he usually thinks of others on the basketball court before he thinks of himself.

Clanton is almost apologetic about the quirks in his personality. Some 15 games into the season, he's started to realize that he is the best player on the floor most nights and that his Knights need him to grab games by the neck and squeeze the life out of them. Finally, after some pushing and prodding he's starting to take over and show UCF fans just how good of a player he will soon become - even if he's still very much a work in progress.

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

And the 6-foot-8, 230-pound power forward oozes ability out of practically every pore. Whether it's his calm, calculated moves in the low post, his tremendous timing on blocking shots or his quickly improving jump shot, Clanton has already shown why he was heavily recruited by dozens of colleges.

The 68th rated player in the country by Rivals.com, Clanton turned down offers from ACC and SEC schools to stay at home in Orlando. He forged quite a reputation as a winner in Central Florida, winning two state titles at Orlando Christian Prep and an AAU national title where he was voted MVP.

And his winning ways have started to rub off on his UCF teammates. The Knights are 9-6 heading into Wednesday's home showdown against Marshall. UCF already owns victories over Auburn, UMass and C-USA foe Rice, and a big part of that success is because of Clanton's play.

He's already produced two double-doubles in scoring and rebounding. The diversity of his abilities can be seen in the fact that he has seven games with at least two assists and eight games with at least two blocked shots. And his finest moment of the season came in last Saturday's thrilling defeat of Rice, a game in which Clanton poured in a career-best 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and swatted three shots.

That game, one where he made seven of nine shots, came after coach Kirk Speraw stressed to him the importance of him aggressively looking to score and seek out shots. Clanton did just that and even buried both of his 3-point tries when foes backed off and dared him to fire away.

``We need Keith, but he has a tendency to be too unselfish,'' Speraw said. ``We want Keith to take the good looks when they come. That will improve his driving lanes more. Just be aggressive, assertive and attack when the defense gives him opportunities.''

Attacking has been a progress for Clanton, who admitted that he was somewhat taken aback by the strength and quickness of the older, more mature post players he's faced. He's started to trust his abilities more against those players, and he's even started to come out of his shell with his emotions.

Against Rice last Saturday, Clanton highlighted one of his blocked shots and another tough three-point play with triumphant fist pumps. Again, the ultra laid back Clanton is working to be more of an inspiration to his teammates.

``Coach pointed out the other day that it seems like I dunk more in practice than the games, so he wants me to be more aggressive in the games,'' he said. ``I have to do that because sometimes I tend to not play with as much emotion as everybody else. I need to pick that up more.''

Speraw can live with Clanton's evolving persona and reluctance to dominate the ball, as long as he continues to progress with his skills. And so far there's no indication that he won't keep doing just that.

And just because Clanton's competitiveness doesn't always show through his mild-mannered demeanor, don't think there isn't a fire burning deep inside of him to succeed. He knows full well the expectations on his shoulders, and he's determined to lead UCF to greatness.

``I like that pressure because it just makes me play harder and play better,'' Clanton said recently of the expectations on him. ``I want to be there for my team and be a great player for this program.''

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