Nov. 5, 2009
By John Denton
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Heralded UCF freshman Keith Clanton faced up to the basket, pump-faked his defender into the air and drove hard to the rim where he completed an athletic 3-point play.
With that one brief moment in UCF's 84-65 defeat of St. Leo in Wednesday's exhibition game, UCF fans got a quick peek into the bright future of the men's basketball program.
Clanton, arguably the most coveted recruit in Kirk Speraw's 17 years at UCF, made his Knights debut Wednesday at UCF Arena and certainly didn't disappoint with his performance.
Clanton, who turned down SEC and BIG EAST scholarship offers to stay close to home at UCF, had 16 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes for the Knights. More impressively, he made seven of nine shots and looked comfortable with the pace and intensity of the Division I college game, something that was a concern of his after making the jump from Class 1A basketball in Florida.
But Clanton was hardly the only Knight who played well and gave hope to what was quite possibly the largest crowd ever for an exhibition game at UCF. P.J. Gaynor had a resounding alley-oop dunk from point guard A.J. Rompza late in the second half that electrified the crowd and sealed UCF's nice start to the season.
Here are four quick observations from Wednesday's exhibition opener. The regular season tips off for real on Nov. 13 at UCF Arena against UMass.
1. A.J. Rompza is the heart and soul of this basketball team.
The sophomore showed off the improvements in his game throughout Wednesday night, torching St. Leo's guards for 16 points, seven steals and five assists.
Rompza played with tremendous confidence, something that couldn't always be said of Rompza last season when he was true freshman starting alongside other more experienced players. Rompza got to work out this summer with the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Those sessions with the stars did wonders for Rompza's approach.
2. Clanton eased into the game, but he was really good as it progressed.
Clanton showed off his inside-outside array of skills, hitting shots from the perimeter and working hard on the inside on a couple of post moves. Speraw and many of the Knights players have raved about Clanton's footwork in the post, something that allows him to negotiate angles and use his size to score on the low block.
3. UCF's lack of size and youth is going to be a problem on the boards.
UCF outrebounded St. Leo 38-36, but the Knights did yield 17 offensive rebounds in the game. St. Leo used those second chances to keep the game close in the first half. UCF's superior depth and conditioning ultimately allowed it to pull away in the second half. The Knights held a 47-32 scoring advantage after halftime.
4. UCF's fanbase is clearly excited about the promise of the future.
Speraw joked recently that if fans didn't already have their tickets in the lower bowl of UCF Arena they might be in trouble. Season ticket sales are up even though the nonconference schedule of home games isn't loaded with marquee opponents. That fans are still scooping up season tickets, Speraw said, shows that they believe in the future of the program.
With the way Rompza, Gaynor and Clanton played Wednesday, clearly this will be an entertaining team to watch this season.
John Denton's Knights Insider appears several times per week on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at email@example.com.