The statement that "all it takes is one" can sometimes ring true in sports. For former Central Florida head coach Kirk Speraw, we can actually trace things back to one specific day when his program officially took the leap from sheer mediocrity to a top 25 contender. That day was on November 19, 2008, and it was one special recruit who made a decision that opened up the floodgates.
That player is none other than Keith Clanton.
A 6'8", 240lb forward from Orlando Christian Prep, Clanton waited until the final day of the early signing period to pick between two nearby schools, South Florida or Central Florida. The entire process was quite gut-wrenching for Speraw at the time, as he knew exactly how monumental a notable local signing would be for his program. But above all, success in the early recruiting period can usually lend itself to a successful late signing period as well, and the UCF coach was hoping for a Hail Mary.
But then Clanton's papers came in. Boom. The signature. He was finally a Knight. Central Florida hit the jackpot, and Speraw it: "We’re ecstatic about Keith joining our basketball family. He’s one of the most skilled players in the country. I think it makes a statement to elite basketball players in our area that you can choose UCF first."
Choosing UCF first became a focal point. By the time the late signing period rolled around in spring of '09, Central Florida had morphed into an intriguing destination for recruits with the C-USA seal propping them up. That was even enough that Marcus Jordan, son of NBA legend Michael Jordan (you've heard of him, yes?), wasted little time venturing south all the way from Deerfield, Illinois. Nik Garcia, another three-star recruit, made virtually the same trek from nearby Evanston (he's no longer with the team, for the record). The key here is that without Clanton's commitment, Jordan could have easily signed with another school, forcing that elusive name-recognition bonus to go right out the window and likely setting the table for UCF to go 16-16 over the next four seasons.
That was two years ago. The Knights are 13-0 now. Ranked No. 18 in country according to a bunch of coaches. And wouldn't you know it, Jordan and Clanton are the two brightest stars leading the way, averaging a combined 32.1 points per game. And it's the sophomore with a famous dad who's garnering all the headlines for his impressive start to the season. That doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Nope. Not when Central Florida is all over the headlines at the moment. The exposure this team is currently receiving, even if half of it is blindly praising Jordan for his bloodlines, is absolutely unparalleled in school history.
But how are people overlooking the fact that Clanton leads his team in minutes, points, rebounds, and three point percentage? Is it that he's second in steals, second in blocks and third in assists? Too mesmerizing? Clanton, not Marcus Jordan, was the one guy who made staying home and playing for UCF a sexy option for in-state recruits. How else to describe an incoming 2011 haul featuring three 3-star Florida prospects? The moral of the story is clear: our protagonist set the tone, he's exceeding the hype on the court, and now Central Florida is bursting at the seams because of it.
So next time somebody asks 'Who Is Keith Clanton?', don't hesitate to inform them: He's the heart and soul of Central Florida hoops.