Making A Difference - Xavier Keeling
Jan. 29, 2007
Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. When head coach Kelvin Sampson took over the Indiana basketball team, it was quickly understood that defense and rebounding were going to be two of the fundamentals that he focused on throughout the season. He wants to bring that sixth championship banner to Assembly Hall.
Freshman forward Xavier Keeling fits right into that plan.
Keeling was a top basketball player at J.O. Johnson High School in Huntsville, Ala., averaging 19 points, 14 rebounds and four steals per game. He earned honorable mention all-state honors, as well as a host of other accolades. He also played football for the Mighty Jaguars, earning all-district honors as a junior defensive end.
Although many athletes play multiple sports in high school, Keeling is a rarity in that he was highly recruited in both sports. Among the schools that recruited Keeling for football include powerhouses Tennessee, Louisville, Georgia and Georgia Tech.
He insists that basketball is his true love.
"I really loved basketball more than football," Keeling said. "I was just really good at football and I used that to be more physical on the court. That is one of the main reasons why I played."
The defensive similarities have transferred over to the basketball court, he said.
After Sampson was named head coach of the Hoosiers, he made a trip to Alabama to talk to Keeling about how he could fit into the team. After their discussion, the freshman knew that he had a place on Sampson's court.
"Coach Sampson is a great coach and he wins," Keeling said. "I'm the kind of player that Coach Sampson likes. He likes hard-nosed guys, and I felt that I could fit in with his program."
Another reason he wanted to come to Indiana was fellow Alabama native D.J. White. Keeling played AAU basketball with White for the Alabama Lasers in 2003.
"I really wanted to play with D.J. again," Keeling said. "That's one of the main reasons why I came here. We're all good friends off the court; we really spend a lot of time together. We hang out, go watch movies, play video games, stuff like that."
Keeling has seen action in several games this season, including scoring seven points against Purdue. He had a breakout game against Ball State, with four rebounds, two blocks and two assists in 16 minutes of action.
"It's one of those things where you wait around for your opportunity and you hope when it comes you can do your best," Keeling said after the Ball State game. "I felt like I got some chances and I was able to contribute. That's all you want to do. You want to feel like you're helping your team win."
He has been praised for the little things that he does that make a difference in the game that don't show up on a stat sheet.
"For a freshman, Xavier has a pretty good basketball IQ," Sampson said. "We're working on his shooting, and I can see improvements in that area in practice. He passes the ball pretty good, defends it pretty good and rebounds it pretty good. He's a tough kid."
Keeling has also noticed the improvements in his game.
"I feel good, I feel like I'm a lot more physical," Keeling said. "I'm learning to play the game a lot more, and learning to be patient. Then I'll get my chance to play."
He says that getting those chances to play, getting out on the court and having fun, are his biggest moments so far. Keeling has seen more minutes in recent games and looks to continue to make an impact for the rest of the season and the next three years.
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