Forever Young

Oct. 29, 2013

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By Doug Richards

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - Surrounded by half-eaten sandwiches and empty Lunchables boxes, Tristan Spurlock sits happily, enjoying time with his sister, Jade. When the approachable men's basketball senior visits home in Virginia, he makes time to visit the 11-year old at school, often joining her for lunch.

During those visits, Spurlock cherishes the moments with his sister, and also realizes the power of serving as a role model, not only to Jade and his 16-year old sister Jazmine, but to Jade's classmates who push and prod to get a seat at his table, and every other youngster he encounters.

As he gets ready to start his senior campaign at UCF, Spurlock is enjoying his stature off the court as well. He serves as a one-person marketing staff for the Knights on campus, encouraging students to come to games and support the team. And back home and at youth camps in Orlando, Spurlock is a mentor and role model, positions that he is comfortable embracing.

"I don't mind it at all. I have always been like that. Kids are really genuine," he said. "They don't have any ulterior motives. If they like you, they like you. The older you get, people have motives. They want to be your friend for this reason or that reason. I am happy to talk to the kids and mentor them."

Currently, media members covering college athletics seem focused on stories involving motives - academic scandals, pay-for-play allegations and other improprieties. Well aware of these stories, and knowing that his sisters and other kids are watching him, Spurlock focuses on making sure that he does the right thing on the court, in the classroom and even online.

"I do not see anything wrong with sitting down and being able to talk to kids," Spurlock said. "I don't see anything wrong with not tweeting curse words or derogatory things. I am young too, so I have moments where I act 22. But I try to keep things as clean as possible. I get Instagram requests from kids who are 11. I know I have a scope on me."

That scope is especially focused from Jade and Jazmine.

"I have always had to be careful of what I do and what I say because I am the oldest. They watch everything that I do," he said. "Stuff that I don't think they watch, they watch. They know everything that I do. I have always had that, growing up with them and being responsible for them."

On the court last season as a junior, Spurlock was responsible for some big performances. The forward averaged 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and scored in double digits on 18 occasions. He shot a team-best 76.2 percent from the free-throw line and upped his averages to 12.9 points and 6.5 boards in league play.

With the Knights getting ready to face the toughest schedule in program history in the American Athletic Conference, Spurlock has turned much of his attention this season to guiding the squad's younger players.

"Tristan has done a good job taking some of our freshmen and sophomores under his wings. He is a guy who been around our program and knows what is expected of our players on and off the court," UCF head coach Donnie Jones said.

The leadership role was not something that Spurlock was always comfortable with. When he first arrived at UCF in 2010 after spending his freshman campaign at Virginia, he was introverted and quiet, and often looked out for his own interests before the team's success.

"It is something that I had to learn," he said of growing into a leader. "I wasn't always like that. I am so competitive. When I first came here, I saw everybody as competition. When you get older, you realize that it is not about the competition, it is more about the team. You need to make guys better."

Spurlock will graduate in December with a degree in interdisciplinary studies and a minor in interpersonal-organizational communication. He hopes to play professionally once he concludes his time with the Knights and then transition to a sports-broadcasting career.

He inadvertently prepares for that by making sure that he is approachable to adults, fellow students and kids alike.

"Walking to class, when people look at me, I always say hi. I am real outgoing. When I am in class and someone says that they can't wait to see us play this year, I say thanks and start a conversation. Being able to talk to anybody at any given time helps. If I can do that, I can definitely talk about basketball or any type of sport."

As he spends his final year at UCF, Spurlock is still striving to serve as an approachable role model, becoming the antidote to the college athletes that Sports Illustrated and Yahoo Sports are currently fixated on.

"One day, someone is not going to want your autograph," he said. "One day, you are going to be able to walk everywhere and no one is going to recognize you. One day, I am not going to be able to dunk. So for now, when (kids) ask me to dunk, as tired as I might be, I am going to do it."

And the line to sit with him at the lunch table will not be long either, so he better enjoy his visits to the middle-school cafeteria while he can.