basketball Edit

2022 Husker commit Blaise Keita making big strides in JUCO

HUTCHINSON, Kan.Blaise Keita hauled in an offensive rebound and followed with an easy jump-hook to put Coffeyville (Kan.) up by 20 over Southwest Tennessee CC midway through the second half.

Southwest Tennessee called a timeout, and one of its players gave an interesting – if not a bit hyperbolic – evaluation of Coffeyville’s 6-foot-10, 235-pound freshman center.

“Man, Blaise is tougher than Shaq in there,” the player said told his coach.

A productive freshman season in junior college has 2022 Nebraska commit Blaise Keita on track to hit the ground running with the Huskers.
A productive freshman season in junior college has 2022 Nebraska commit Blaise Keita on track to hit the ground running with the Huskers. (Robin Washut)

Keita’s final stat line was modest in the Ravens’ dominating 89-62 win over SWTCC in the first round of the 2021 NJCAA men’s basketball championship on Monday.

The 2022 Nebraska commit finished with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting and a team-high nine rebounds in 19 minutes.

But after playing just eight minutes in the first half, Keita dominated the paint on both ends of the floor in the second half.

Starting all 26 games that he played for Coffeyville this season, the former Sunrise Christian (Kan.) Academy product averaged 9.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. That was good enough to earn Kansas Jayhawk Community College Freshman of the Year honors.

Ravens head coach Jay Hirkelman said Keita’s presence in the post gave his team a distinct advantage all season, and that edge would only continue to grow as the Mali native further developed his game.

“He gives us a really good inside presence,” Hirkelman said. “A guy that we can throw the ball to, and there’s a good percentage that it’s going to go in. We’ve got some guys that can shoot it, and so when those guys are knocking down the shots, it’s hard to play him one-on-one in the post…

“The other thing that does really well is rebound. He guards well; he moves his feet well for a big guy. He’s going to keep getting better; he’s going to get stronger this next year, he’s going to continue working on his offensive game. I’m happy as heck, and he’s going to keep getting better and better.”

Keita said his focus all year was to improve every aspect of his game while also adding more muscle to his frame.

“The beginning of the season, it was a little bit harder. But it got better as I got more experience,” Keita said. “The coaches gave me a lot of the advice, and I’d go to the gym every morning before class. I never did that in high school.

“I’m just working hard, getting in the weight room, getting stronger, and just getting better.”

Hirkelman said Keita’s role would be a bit different next season, as Coffeyville would add 7-1 center Atem Chol – who missed this year to a knee injury – to its lineup. With another center in the rotation, Keita could get some more work away from the basket in 2021-22.

“He can do that; we just didn’t need that right now,” Hirkelman said.

Keita committed to NU in February over other offers from Baylor, Minnesota, Tennessee, Arizona State, and Oklahoma State.

Like in the NCAA, all junior college players were granted a free year of eligibility this season. That means that when Keita arrives in Lincoln in 2022, he will be listed as a sophomore with three years to play.

Hirkelman, an eight-time Region VI Coach of the Year who has produced numerous high-major players over his 24-year career, thinks Keita has only scratched the surface in his development.

“The fact that Nebraska is going to have him for three years is going to be a heck of a deal for him and for Nebraska,” Hirkelman said. “He just keeps getting better and better because he loves being in the gym. He loves work.

“I’m a Big Ten guy who grew up in Iowa. I know how good that league is, and he’s going to be a heck of a player in the Big Ten.”