With UCF set to take on rival USF in hoops on Thursday night, we look at a few of the major storylines heading into the matchup in Orlando
Clanton Recruited into Rivalry
Despite being an Orlando native, it wasn’t always a slam dunk that sophomore Keith Clanton would become a Knight. He entered a season ago as one of the most hyped recruits in program history, but it was almost not to be.
In fact, his crowded recruiting picture narrowed to UCF and USF at this time two years ago.
“The recruiting process went well,” said Clanton. “It came down to UCF and USF. I liked both schools, but I just determined UCF would be a better fit for me.”
With South Carolina a distant third option coming out for the Orlando Christian Prep product, it became apparent early that Clanton would find himself on one side of this rivalry. The Knights suffered a 69-65 defeat in Tampa his freshman season that he would like to avenge this year.
“That has us real pumped up for the game. They’re our rivalry school, like you said. It’s just going to have us more excited to play with everyone coming to watch.”
Clanton has a tough test ahead of him on Thursday. The Bulls enter Orlando with a 1-1 record, losing to Southern Miss but bouncing back to beat St. Francis (NY) on Monday. Even with their modest record, Clanton is due to be challenged by the 6’11” senior Jarrid Famous and 6’10” junior Augustus Gilchrist in the post.
After a banner freshman campaign, Clanton seems even more prepared to deal with such a challenge this year. The 6’8” forward credits the conditioning program Coach Jones brought in this offseason for his quick start.
He scored a career high 24 points in the season opener against West Florida and followed that up with a 12 point, 10 rebound effort on Monday versus Jackson State.
Meaning of Rivalry Renewed for Jones
When Donnie Jones was named UCF’s new head coach, he had only heard brief tidbits about what his new school’s meeting with their neighbors to the west meant. When the yearly football meetings between UCF and USF halted in 2008, the annual basketball contests took center stage.
Jones has experienced many rivalries during his coaching career including games with FSU and Kentucky while at Florida. As he looks back at his various stops, Jones feels the matchup Thursday most resembles the games he was a part of at Marshall against the in-state BIG EAST foe West Virginia.
“I am starting to get a little feel for [the rivalry],” said Jones. “Obviously, I knew being in the state, at Florida, I knew a different rivalry, but I knew those two had a rivalry. I know it’s grown from far away. I know what rivalry is about, so we have no problem having a rivalry.”
One element of the USF program Jones is very familiar with is Bulls head coach Stan Heath. Jones coached against him from 2002-07 as an assistant on the Gators staff while Heath was the head man at Arkansas.
“I have great respect for [Stan Heath],” said Jones. “I think he is a terrific coach. He does a great job. Last year, they had their best year in his third year. He’s building a really good program down there. He’s trying to learn to play without one of his best players and guys are getting different roles. He’s going to have those guys ready to play.
That player Jones mentioned is current Dallas Mavericks guard Dominique Jones. Jones led the BIG EAST in scoring his senior season all while leading USF to a 20-13 record and a bid into the NIT. Even without last year’s star, Coach Jones anticipates a difficult test for his Knights.
“They have great size, BIG EAST size. They have big bodies. They’re strong, they’re athletic. They’ve played some zone and are very good defensively. Those are the things that usually Stan Heath’s teams are all about. He’s going to have his team be a tough rebounding team.”
With two blowout wins in his back pocket, Jones gets the first chance to put his new program out in the spotlight for Knights fans. With a blackout of the UCF Arena scheduled, Jones knows he will soon understand what the college version of the “War on I-4” is all about.
“We appreciate the crowds that have come out,” said Jones “[This Arena] is an exciting place. Hopefully we can pack this place for USF. I think it will be a great atmosphere in here. I know it’s a great rivalry and we’re looking forward to it.”
- UCF is 5-19 all-time against USF, including a 1-10 mark in their last 11. The first ever athletic event between the two schools came in basketball, with a 115-96 loss by the Knights in Tampa on February 22nd, 1972
- After two games, UCF ranks second in the country in field goal percentage (66.7%). They are also in the top ten in scoring with 97.5 points per game. Donnie Jones’ Marshall team finished 9th in the nation in scoring last season.
- In the win Monday against Jackson State, the 39 points allowed to the Tigers tied for the fewest given up by UCF since joining Division 1 in 1984. The 115 points the Knights scored in their opening contest were the most they have had in a regulation game since 1982.