John Denton's Knights Insider: Competitive Spurlock Focused on Getting Better

Feb. 4, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - In the moments before the UCF's men's basketball team takes the floor for practice it's not uncommon to find sophomore forward Tristan Spurlock sitting solemnly in front of his locker, listening to music and honing his focus.

It's a scenario usually reserved for players on game nights. But because Spurlock, a transfer from Virginia, is having to sit out this season, his practices are his game nights. The 6-foot-8 Spurlock's focus in practice has been evident in the way he has regularly piled up points in bunches and given a peek at his bright future at UCF.

``I take practice serious. Before practice I'm in that zone, I listen to the music that I need to get me going and I treat it like a game,'' Spurlock said. ``I take it like a Game 7 in the NBA Finals. I guess sometimes I get too emotional because guys are tired from just playing in games and I'm wired and ready to go.

``I'm so competitive and I want to do what I can to help out our guys,'' Spurlock continued. ``I talk trash to make us tougher, I cheat the play to make sure we're executing. That's just my way of helping out how I can this season.''

UCF might have hit a snag after a stellar 14-0 start to the season and rising to No. 18 in the national rankings, but the future of the program is still teaming with promise because of players like Spurlock. In this case, the Calvary is on the way with Division I transfers Josh Crittle (formerly of Oregon), Jeff Jordan (formerly at Illinois) and Spurlock biding their time before becoming eligible again next season. That trio has been a part of UCF's scout team all season, helping to prepare the Knights for the next opponent.

``One day in practice we were just playing around and I told Coach (Donnie) Jones, `We're the best scout team in the country by far!''' Spurlock said with a laugh. ``We had just beaten the (1st string) team in a drill and I like to talk so I was yelling, `Best Scout Team in America.' We're so close just being here together, playing one-on-one and working out. It will make us better next year.''

While his focus is solely on preparing this year's team for the stretch run of the season, Jones admitted to peeking at times to the development of the three transfer students who undoubtedly will play a major role in the future. Jones said his team facing that stacked scout squad on a daily basis has helped add to the competitiveness of practice.

``They have given us a good look. Each day they come out and play hard because this is their games,'' Jones said. ``They are psyched each day to compete. We're still coaching those guys individually and coaching them and trying to get the better. It's an advantage for them, learning the system without playing in games. They can step right in next fall hopefully and be ready to go.''

Spurlock, a 220-pounder, has already opened plenty of eyes with his awesome athleticism and ability to take over stretches with his perimeter shooting. In high school, Spurlock averaged 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks a game. He was rated the 80th-best player in the country by ESPNU and the 15th-best small forward.

That led him to Virginia where he appeared in 13 games as a true freshman. But he saw an opportunity to make a greater impact at UCF.

Even though he isn't playing, he's already become a mentor for freshmen Isaiah Sykes and Jarvis Davis. And Crittle knows that when Spurlock comes knocking on his dorm door late at night that it's usually basketball-related.

``Tristan is so hungry to be great. A lot of nights he'll come and get me and get me to the gym late at night to get up more shots,'' said Crittle, a 6-foot-8 center. ``He'll ask me if I'm sleepy and if I say no, he says, `Let's go to the gym.' We'll be there an hour or two just getting up shots and working on our games. He's always looking to get better. He's going to be so exciting to watch next year.''

Next year can't get here soon enough for Spurlock, who describes himself as ``antsy'' and someone who has a tough time sitting on the bench during games. But Spurlock said he's dealt with the eagerness of next season by keeping his focus on the present and getting better every day in practice. He said he has become Isaac Sosa's shadow in practice in order to become a better shooter and that he's worked hard to become an improved all-around player.

``Coach told me to be patient and not focus so much on next year. For me, it's about now and being a part of this team this year,'' he said. ``My focus is on (the next opponent), not next year. I do my workouts, practice and go to study hall, and then I'm usually back in the gym at night because I'm a night person. I'll be up at 2 o'clock in the morning knocking on Josh's door to come over here with me and get shots up. It's about getting better and being ready when I get my chance.''

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