Tristan Spurlock was standing in the runway a few feet from courtside late Wednesday night when Donnie Jones, the head basketball coach at the University of Central Florida, walked past the Woodbridge product.

“Next time we play here, you will be playing,” Jones said to Spurlock, who transferred here to UCF after one season at the University of Virginia.

“Yes sir,” said the smiling Spurlock, wearing a dark sweatsuit after his team’s win over Southern Methodist.

Jones, in his first season at the school near downtown Orlando, was being optimistic and was in a good mood following a comeback win over SMU in the last regular-season home game of the season. The Knights, who have not been in the NCAA tournament since 2005, could end up hosting a game in the NIT or some other post-season event if they don’t make the NCAA field.

But if all goes well Spurlock will indeed be able to play in the first game of the season for UCF in 2011-12.

UCF won its first 14 games this season and broke into the national rankings, which confirmed to Spurlock some of his reasons for leaving Charlottesville and the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Knights and Conference USA.

“I really like where the program was headed. That is the key,” said the 6-foot-8 Spurlock, who hopes to be a small forward for the Knights.

“Coach Jones likes to push the ball up and down and that fits my style. I can spot up and shoot the three.”

So why did Spurlock leave the Cavs program at Virginia?

“Honestly, the biggest thing was it was not the staff (at Virginia) that recruited me,” said Spurlock, without any bitterness. “They were short on bigs so they threw me down there with bigs. I am not a 4 or 5 but that is where they had me fit in. When I talked of transferring they had no intention on trying to keep me to stay. They had six freshmen coming in. I played the 3 throughout high school.”

“There are a lot of good players in Conference USA,” he added. “Everybody knows about Memphis. We almost beat Memphis when we played them here. We lost at the buzzer” 63-62 last month.

Among the few connections Spurlock had to the UCF program was Marcus Jordan, a sophomore for the Knights and the son of former NBA star Michael Jordan. Spurlock said he knew Marcus Jordan from playing summer travel ball while in high school. Spurlock has been able to meet Michael Jordan this season and the former NBA great attended the UCF home game here on Feb. 26.

Jeff Jordan, another son of Michael, is also a transfer at UCF after playing at the University of Illinois.

He is regular workout partners with Spurlock, who is able to practice with the team and attend home games but is not allowed to travel on road trips.

“Tristan has done a great job. He has worked very hard,” UCF associate head coach Shawn Finney said after the March 2 game.

Finney said Spurlock is projected to play the small forward spot next season, which is music to the ears of Spurlock, who attended Woodbridge High as a freshman.

Spurlock, who graduated from Word of Life Christian in Springfield after two years at Montrose Christian in Rockville, Md., emphasized he was not recruited by Virginia head coach Tony Bennett and his staff, who took over before the 2009-10 season.

Spurlock planned to fly home in time for the March 4-6 weekend as the school begins spring break. The team will take part in the USA Conference tourney beginning March 9 in El Paso, Texas. The Knights were 19-9 overall going into the regular-season finale March 5 at Marshall in West Virginia. Spurlock would have to pay his own way to El Paso if he wanted to attend the conference tourney.

As per NCAA rules he has to sit out this season and he will have three more years of eligibility. Spurlock played in 13 games and averaged just 4.6 minutes and 2.4 points per game in his only season at Virginia.

So has it been hard to watch his teammates play this season?

“It is funny, because it is not as hard as people think,” he said. “It is harder when you are at a school (like U.Va) and you could be playing (more). It is harder to have a jersey and not playing” a lot. Next season he should not have to worry about that situation.

Source: InsideNova ©2011 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC, Tristan Spurlock waits his turn at Central Florida, by David Driver, for the News & Messenger. Published: March 06, 2011.