John Denton's Knights Insider: Clanton Expects Hard Work to Pay Off

Oct. 24, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Sometimes, even after Keith Clanton had worked throughout the day with his UCF teammates lifting weights and hoisting jump shots, he would work by himself and run until his legs would almost give out.

Determined to be more of a factor on the floor and a leader in the locker room this upcoming basketball season, Clanton worked this offseason like no other UCF player. Simultaneously, he added 18 pounds of muscle to his formerly skinny 6-foot-9 frame, while also shaving four percent of body fat off.

Working with strength and conditioning coach B.J. Faulk, Clanton would do pushups and situps until his body ached all over and then he would lift weights and work on his game. And later, after everyone was gone, Clanton would run and run and run some more. He was determined that when the Knights start the season on Nov. 4 with an exhibition against Flagler College that he would be in peak condition and ready to run in new coach Donnie Jones' up-tempo system.

``I worked more on my conditioning than anything else this offseason because I wanted to be ready,'' Clanton said. ``I sometimes came and just ran by myself. I've worked on my body a lot. I was in the weight room and I'd come in on my own and run sprints. I just did a lot of stuff to get stronger and faster, and I think I am now.''

The Knights are well into workouts for the Nov. 12 season opener, and Jones can't stop raving about the development, maturity and work ethic of Clanton, a sophomore who was mostly quiet and reserved last season as a freshman. Jones said that Clanton's offseason work became contagious, and he can see the improvements in his game already.

``I've been very impressed with Keith. He's been a leader for us with the way that he works and not with the way that he talks,'' Jones said. ``He's led by example. He's put on about 20 pounds and his body fat is down four percent. Even gaining that weight, he's running the best he's ever run and moved the best he's ever moved. He's in the best shape of his life and doing that he's uplifted others. David Diakite has changed, P.J. Gaynor too; they have followed the way that Keith has worked.''

Forced to play right away on a UCF team that was among the youngest squads in the country last season, Clanton made a distinct mark on the program immediately. Billed as the most high-profile recruit in school history, Clanton didn't disappoint when he averaged 9.7 points and 6.8 boards, while also blocking 45 shots.

For his efforts, he was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman squad along with teammate Marcus Jordan. And he did it all while having to play mostly out of position. A fluid power forward who is better facing the basket than playing with his back to the rim, Clanton was pressed into playing center much of last season.

That won't be the case this season with the additions of former Michigan State 7-footer Tom Herzog and JUCO transfer Dwight McCombs. Jones' first order of business upon becoming UCF's head coach last March was to add size to the roster. He did that to give the Knights more muscle inside and toughness on the glass, and also to free up Clanton to play his natural position.

Understandably, Clanton is pleased that he and senior power forward A.J. Tyler have some help along the frontline now from Herzog and McCombs.

``That's going to help me a lot and they are real good players themselves,'' said Clanton, an Orlando native. ``The four big men that we have are all starters and we just feel like when we hit the floor teams are going to have to matchup with us and not the other way around.''

Jones' style is one where his team pushes the ball on the break and players are given the freedom to create on their own without the restrictions of set plays. Jones tries to get players into open spaces to allow them to use their skills and keep the pressure on the defense.

That style should play right into the hands of Clanton, who showed the ability last season to hit the face-up jump shot when defenders backed off and played him for the spin move. Clanton is also adept as a dribbler for a big man, and Jones will give him the ability to make plays with his variety of skills. Usually extremely mellow with his emotions and a man of few words, Clanton's demeanor perks up when the mention of having more creative freedom on the floor is broached.

``I think there's more of a NBA type of style now that coach is going to run with us and that has guys on the team so excited,'' Clanton said. ``I think that will help us out and give us more freedom and that's really the way guys want to play. Everybody likes to score and coach is about scoring the ball, so it should be a great system.''

Jones will freely admit that a lot of players talk about wanting to play up-tempo basketball, but they aren't willing to put in the work to get to the fitness level needed to run relentlessly. Clanton has done just that, transforming his body and positioning himself for a breakout season.

And the sophomore knows that UCF's ability to make a major jump this season could be tied to his ability to dramatically grow his game. And in the best shape of his life now and in a system that fits his game, Clanton feels he and the Knights are in for big things this season.

``Looking at the teams from the conference last year, I have a lot of confidence in the team that we have here,'' Clanton said confidently. ``I think we're going to be pretty good.''

John Denton writes several times per week for UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.