|Clanton could've gone almost anywhere. (US Presswire)|
Kentucky called. So did Ohio State and Alabama. Keith Clanton even took an overnight visit to Florida State and strongly considered playing across the state in Tallahassee for his final season.
"In the end, I trust Donnie Jones and Central Florida to get me where I need to be," Clanton told CBSSports.com in his first interview since deciding to stay in Orlando.
Clanton's high school coach was fielding the calls in the aftermath of Central Florida's one-year postseason ban, one that made the star forward a free agent, along with his fellow seniors. No shortage of high-major schools made inquiries since just about everyone could use a skilled big man who has put up no shortage of double-doubles over the course of his career. He could have gone to Lexington and become perhaps the missing piece, a veteran frontcourt player, to give UK fans consecutive national titles.
Ultimately, he decided to give his phone number to just one coach, FSU's Leonard Hamilton.
"I felt like I could have been happy at Florida State," Clanton said. "But I just felt as though I could accomplish all my goals staying at Central Florida."
It was a shock to many when Clanton tweeted the news Saturday night, just moments after delivering his decision to both Hamilton and Jones. However, Clanton had established a strong bond with Jones and the program.
"He's a great person and people are taking it the wrong way," Clanton said of his head coach. "He's got such high-character and I trust him completely. We're behind him 100 percent and people that don't know him just don't understand the type of guy that he really is."
"It's great to see Keith stay home and play for his school, team and family," Jones told CBSSports.com.
So now Clanton will finish his career as a Knight, with no postseason -- but with the knowledge that he remained loyal to his coach, teammates and program. He played down the road at Orlando Christian Prep and his mother, Gloria, lives just 15 or so miles away.
"We can still win the regular-season title," Clanton said. "And play for pride. That's important, along with my hopes to play at the next level."
The 6-foot-9 Clanton led the team in both scoring (14.5) and rebounding (8.1) last season. While the Knights lost Marcus Jordan, who has decided to focus solely on classes at UCF, and C.J. Reed (Georgia Southern) and Josh Crittle (UIC), Clanton feels that the team can still challenge for a top spot in C-USA.
"I think we can shock the country," he said. "We all have a chip on our shoulder and we have one of the best coaches in the country."
Clanton will assume more of a leadership role with the departure of Jordan and vocal guard A.J. Rompza. In fact, he and senior walk-on Bobby Horodyski wasted little time rallying the troops, calling a team meeting for Monday night. "We talked about our goals and how we can prove people wrong," he said.
Clanton returns as to go-to guy, but he'll still have the help of Isaiah Sykes (12.3 ppg), former Virginia forward Tristan Spurlock (7.2 ppg) and Oklahoma transfer Calvin Newell, who averaged 13 points for the Sooners before transferring midway through last season.
"People say it's loyalty," Clanton said of his decision. "But it was the best decision for me, the best opportunity for me. This is the right place for me to end my college career."