Jan. 22, 2012
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By Marc Daniels
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - To see Keith Clanton off a basketball court is to see a tall, laid back, easy going and funny student among 58,000 on the UCF campus. To see Keith Clanton on the basketball court is to see a talented, smart, and at times, dominating big man who has become a team leader whether he recognizes the role or not.
It was a quite a week for the junior from Orlando. Clanton scored the game tying basket against Memphis with four seconds to go and then hit the go-ahead free throw to secure the school's first win over the Tigers. It capped off a 23-point and eight-rebound effort.
On Saturday, Clanton came up with a huge block, which happened to be the block to make him the school's all-time leading shot blocker, and then scored on a beautiful post play to secure UCF's 48-41 win over UAB in Birmingham.
Clanton's season performance is a huge reason UCF is 15-4 overall and 5-1 in Conference USA. And whether he knows it or not, Clanton is a team leader in many ways. You will not find Clanton screaming at teammates during practice or games. You will not find him barking in a team huddle about picking things up on the defensive end. No, when it comes to the vocal floor leader for UCF, that is A.J. Rompza.
Clanton leads by his performance. He is calm and patient on the offensive end and sneaky good on the defensive end.
Offensively, Clanton has expanded his game by improving his outside range and has become one of UCF's best 2-point shooters. But down low, there may not be a better low post player in C-USA.
At UAB, with UCF up 44-41, Clanton recorded his record block and then after a Donnie Jones timeout, got the ball down low and went to work on UAB's Cameron Moore, the Preseason C-USA Player of the Year. Showing his patience, Clanton backed down Moore and even looked up at the shot clock before making an NBA-style move to score and put UCF up 46-41 with 26 seconds left.
Defensively, looking at Clanton, you do not see a ferocious Dwight Howard-like machine. But Clanton is as smart a defensive player as you will find. Most of his blocks come from behind on players and his timing is something rare on the college level.
Clanton is one of Jones' go-to players when the game is on the line. And his hard work is paying off as the junior is playing as good as anyone in the league.
"Keith has really come up big in big games for us," said Jones. "He has those qualities that are tough to find in post players at the college level."
Clanton has become a tough matchup for opponents because of his versatility but he is the first to say his teammates are the reason for his game going to another level.
"My guys are getting me the ball in the right place to make plays," said Clanton. "We all feed off each other and everyone can make plays for us and that's what makes us a team."
Saturday after the win at UAB, Clanton was asked about becoming the school record holder for blocks and he once again brought it back to the team.
"I just got in position to make a play and we needed a stop at that moment," said Clanton. "And I wanted the ball at the other end and was glad I had a chance to make a play."
That would be the second straight game Clanton would make big plays at the end of a game.
"Keith is really doing the things we ask of him," said Jones. "And if we are going to compete for a conference title we are going to need him to play at this level the rest of the way."
Clanton's work ethic to get better is a commitment to his team and something younger players can learn from. Clanton off the court is as fun to watch at times as he is on the court.
Never short of a laugh, the aspiring rapper (not in a professional way) is one of the team's best jokesters.
Yet, Clanton understands when game time comes. When the lights go on and the ball goes up, UCF's quiet leader speaks volumes by his performance.
Knights notes and more: To criticize UCF students for storming the court after the win against Memphis is to not understand the significance of the win. It's also a compliment to what Memphis has meant to the league since UCF became a member...Heard from numerous fans who came to the Memphis game and said they had a great time and loved the atmosphere. Hopefully, more are joining the movement of supporting a team that has earned crowds like that the rest of the season...It was quite a week for UCF. The Knights had never beaten Memphis or UAB. Those are no longer on the bucket list...Final thought: One of the UCF couples who sits by me at the arena for basketball games had recently lost a rather expensive bracelet after a recent home game. Not expecting to ever see the item again, they still thought to give it a shot and check the arena's lost and found. And there is was. Someone had found the bracelet and turned it in. Kudos to the unidentified person who did the kind gesture...Final thought II: I usually have one cup a coffee each day in the morning. I get the option of adding whole milk or 1 percent milk. But when it comes to half-and-half, what exactly is that other half?
Marc Daniels' From the Press Box runs several times per month on UCFAthletics.com. Listen to Marc during UCF football, men's basketball and baseball radio broadcasts on the UCF Sports Network. Each weekday, Marc hosts The Beat of Sports on ESPN Radio 1080 in Orlando.