Clanton, freshmen are the answer for UCF in 2009-2010

by Andrew Kennedy

Clanton2The UCF Men’s Basketball team is losing 36.5 percent of its scoring from last season, and that’s if you only count Jermaine Taylor.

The Knights’ all-time leading scorer was drafted by the Houston Rockets in this year’s NBA Draft after giving UCF fans four years worth of 3-pointers and alley-oop dunks.

The Knights have also parted ways with Kenrick Zondervan and Tony Davis.

UCF was one of the youngest teams in the nation last season and things won’t be changing much in that department this year as the squad contains just one senior in coach’s son Drew Speraw.

Making up for the losses is a freshman class that may be the best head coach Kirk Speraw has ever had in his 17 years with the Knights.

Headlining the list of new faces is Keith Clanton, Nik Garcia, R.J. Scott and Michael Jordan’s son, Marcus. Dave Diakite will also be a freshman this season after redshirting last year.

While Jordan has received the bulk of the hype with his family ties and controversy over what shoes he will wear, it is Clanton that should be getting talked about the most.

Clanton, who played his high school ball at nearby Orlando Christian Prep, was rated the 68th best senior last year by and won back-to-back 1A state championships to finish out his high school career.

But most notably, Clanton was part of an AAU team that was one of the best in the country and consisted of players such as Brandon Knight, Kenny Boynton, Eloy Vargas and Ray Taylor.

While Clanton’s experience playing against tough competition may have been limited in his high school games, he more than made up for it with the experience he gained in the AAU ranks.

Clanton will bring to UCF something that has been missing for the past few seasons, at least since Lavell Payne played back in the 2006-2007 season. The Knights will finally have a post presence who is willing to bang and score points from inside the paint.

In UCF’s first exhibition game vs. St. Leo’s last Wednesday, Clanton scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and also grabbed eight rebounds as UCF won 84-65. All of Clanton’s shots in the game came from inside or around the paint.

Clanton’s game does not stop there. At 6’8’’ and 230-pounds, the freshman big man can handle the ball like a guard and drive to hoop like a forward.

UCF legend Mike O’Donnell said of Clanton that he could play all five positions if given the chance and it showed in the team’s first exhibition.

On more than one occasion, Clanton found himself with the ball on the perimeter or wing and proceeded to drive to the basket and score or hit a cutting teammate for a high percentage look.

But Clanton isn’t the only player on this team and he wasn’t the only freshman who has showed promise early in this season.

Diakite doesn’t look like he belongs on the court with everyone else at times, but in a good way. He looks like he should be wearing pads or in the NBA with the 6’6” 215-pound chiseled frame he possesses.

If UCF fans were excited by Taylor’s high-flying antics last year, they will be even more impressed by Diakite. When Diakite jumps it’s as if a trampoline has been secretly put beneath him before he takes off. He flies.

The Washington, D.C. native played less minutes than he would have liked in the opener because of foul trouble but produced nonetheless. He scored nine points to go along with seven rebounds and showed nice variety and balance to his game. He even played a little center with one smaller lineup that the Knights went with.

Behind Clanton and Diakite, Jordan got the most playing time in the first game registering 23 minutes. He only scored one point but was strong defensively and calm while handling the ball in the backcourt, something Speraw values highly in his perimeter players.

Jordan showed a coolness that said he had been there before and looks more than ready to handle big minutes in his freshman campaign with the Knights.

Garcia and Scott saw less time but both could become solid contributors for the Knights this season. They each attempted multiple 3-pointers and even though they missed all five of their attempts, they looked comfortable taking them and Speraw definitely looked confident when they were shooting.

The UCF Knights will only go as far as their young contributors take them this season. That may be obvious seeing that almost all of their players are young but it is true.

The Knights’ roster consists of one senior, two juniors, five sophomores and eight freshmen.

Losing a star like Taylor will give UCF the opportunity to sneak up on opponents the first time they see them, which can be especially important in conference play.

The Knights will have a much more balanced attack on offense this year and with Memphis now on the decline following John Calipari’s departure, UCF will have a chance to make a run at the conference if all the parts come together.

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