John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Rookies Growing Together

March 9, 2010

By John Denton

TULSA, Okla. (UCFAthletics.com) - There are times, usually when they are sitting around their dorm room back on campus at UCF, that fellow freshmen Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan will discuss the many highs and lows of their first season with the Knights.

Clanton, UCF's most highly decorated recruit ever, will talk of the college game being much more physical than he expected it to be. Jordan, UCF's most celebrated recruit because of his famous father, is proud now of how he rebounded from preseason knee soreness and a slow start to become UCF's most trusted playmaker.

They have celebrated together, earned accolades like conference all-freshman team honors together, commiserated together and leaned on each other while making the transition from high school to college basketball. And when they hit the Conference USA tournament this week in Tulsa, Okla., they will be there as battle-tested freshmen who have pretty much already seen and done it all. Little in the way of pressure will likely affect the two cornerstones of the program.

``Marcus and I always talk about things back in the room,'' said Clanton, the 6-foot-8 power forward from Orlando. ``We talk about how the season is going and what we can do for each other. It's been a real good thing for both of us to have. We know we're going to be together for four years and we have a good bond.''

The bond between the two freshmen will be tested Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m. EST when the Knights face SMU in first-round play at the tournament. It will be the two freshmen's first run through college basketball's postseason and admittedly they have little idea what they are about to face in terms of raised expectations and intensity.

But then again, the two freshmen have had to learn a lot on the fly this season. Jordan and Clanton quickly moved into the starting lineup and moved into leadership roles on the team even though they are still new to the college game.

To Clanton, the college game was tougher than he expected because of the physical nature of the game in the paint. Florida's Class 1A Player of the Year in high school, Clanton suddenly found that many of the other post players were bigger, stronger and older than him. And because he's mellow almost to a fault, he had to learn to ramp up his intensity just to survive at the college level.

Still, he averaged 9.7 points a game while shooting a solid 47.6 percent from the floor. And he led the Knights in rebounding (6.9) and blocked shots (1.46). And he says the college game came hard to him.

``It was harder than I really expected it to be,'' Clanton said candidly. ``Me playing basketball so long and being experienced, I thought it would come easier. But it's gotten harder as we went along and I've had to really work at it.

``The size of the guys has been an adjustment for me,'' he continued. ``When I played 1A basketball I was usually the tallest player. Now guys are stronger and bigger and older than me and that's made it more difficult. Everybody has a couple more years in the weight room on me and hopefully I'll get stronger in the offseason.''

Jordan most certainly got stronger as the season progressed. Tendinitis in his knee knocked him out of much of UCF's preseason work and led to him getting off to a slow start. But game by game, he became more adjusted to the college game. And by the end of the season, UCF was often putting the ball into Jordan's hands at the end of games because of his ability to make heady plays.

``It's gone by so fast, but I feel like I've grown a lot,'' said Jordan, who averaged 8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game in 30 games (16 starts). ``I'm already looking forward to coming in next season with more knowledge and elevating my play even more.

``(His freshman year) is actually easier than I thought it was going to be. I thought it would be really tough, but you get yourself adjusted really fast. It's been a lot of fun.''

Together, they helped each other have fun in an otherwise rocky, up and down season for the Knights. Jordan said having a friend and confidant like Clanton helped him make the transition from Chicago to Orlando and high school to college.

``We have a lot of the same classes together, we hang out together a lot, we're roommates and we already have a nice chemistry,'' Jordan said. ``A big thing with the team is picking each other up and giving each other positive criticism, and we can do that with one another.''

How UCF fares in the C-USA tournament will depend largely on how Clanton and Jordan deal with the nerves of their first college postseason. Play well and the Knights will likely advance. Don't play well and the summer could start early. But regardless they will have each other to lean on.

``All I know is if you lose you are done,'' Clanton said. ``We'll play hard and try to keep that from happening.''

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