By Justin Cutler
Countless clichés can be used to describe the spectacle that is Marcus Keene. While the average college basketball Point Guard stands at 6’2” tall, the Central Michigan Chippewas team standout is making a name for himself at a mere 5’9.” His presence in Division one college basketball is amazing. His scoring ability, however, is truly remarkable.
Keene is currently averaging 30.2 points per game, which makes him the NCAA’s leading scorer by almost 6 points. He’s doing it for a Central Michigan team that was projected to finish last in their conference and would have to win their conference tournament to make it into the big dance. Still, Keene’s performance has been worthy of putting the Chippewas on the map.
As the son of two military parents, Keene is accustomed to a life of discipline and rigid schedules. His dedication, along with his passion for the game, was evident at a young age. “He told me that he wanted to play professional basketball since the age of four years old,” says Marcus’ mother, Tina Keene-Jones.“ Even as a small child, that’s what he wanted to do and he was willing to work for it.”
Basketball was life for Keene. He not only spent countless hours emulating his favorite players in the driveway of his home, but he also did everything from sleeping to eating, with a basketball by his side.
Despite leading his high school team to multiple state tournaments, the dynamic guard only received one scholarship offer from a division one school. That was from Youngstown State.
After averaging 6.5 points per game as a freshman and 15.6 points as a sophomore, Keene grew frustrated with his restricting role as a shooting guard and three-point specialist. He knew that he needed the chance to play point guard to even entertain the possibility of playing professionally after college.
So the soon to be point guard transferred to Central Michigan, where he gained 15 pounds of muscle before stepping onto the court for the first time as a Chippewa.
Now as a junior, Keene is garnering attention from NBA scouts and is on pace to be the first player in the NCAA to average over 30 points per game in the last 20 years. His highlights include a 40 point and 11 assist game against Green Bay, a 50 point game against Miami (OH) and a game-winning three pointer to beat rival Western Michigan.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are two former college basketball players from Mid-Major college programs who have eventually become All-Star caliber players in the NBA, because they were able to expand their repertoire beyond the ability to score. However, Mid-Major level colleges more often produce average to below average players like Andrew Goudelock and Charles Jenkins, whose abilities outside of scoring did not translate at the next level.
Keene’s goal, of course, is to play in the NBA but a career overseas seems more likely because, like Goudelock and Jenkins, Keene is only an elite scorer. Still, I wouldn’t tell that to the kid from Texas who was playing varsity basketball as a 5’2” high school freshman.
Keene is known for his strong work ethic, as he continues to work on aspects of his game that may hold him back from being successful in the NBA.
Despite his growing attention, Keene is still the first to arrive and last to leave practice. As a guy who has been proving people wrong his whole life, Keene looks at current Boston Celtic Point Guard Isaiah Thomas, who will play in his first NBA All-Star game at the end of the month, as a role model.
Thomas, who is also 5’9,” gives Keene hope that he has what it takes to make it in the NBA. “Brad Stevens gave him [Thomas] the keys to run his team how coach Keno [Davis] gave them to me to run the team and you can see what he’s capable of doing with his coaches believing in him and trusting him… That’s why I’m able to produce how I’m producing.”
If confidence is all that it takes, Keene will have no problem continuing his success.
There’s only so much one can do on natural ability alone. Keene does not let his height define him. He continues to defy odds and make his unorthodox path to triumph one of his strengths. As human beings, none of us are given an easy road to success. Like Keene, however, we all have the ability to hone in on our assets and use our mental resiliency to flourish. We are all strong enough to turn our dreams into goals. If there is anything to learn from the continued conquest of Marcus Keene, it’s that hard work and dedication are the most important aspects of achieving greatness.