Some Illinois players seem to dread speaking with the media. When they see the assembled horde, their shoulders droop and their eyes look dejectedly to the ground. Dentists see this look daily. For them, interviews are like a form of torture, a necessary evil they must endure.
However, Texas junior Dominique Keller is a media delight. He comes up and shakes everyone's hand like a politician soliciting votes. His explanation is a simple one.
"I'm a friendly person. I like meeting people. I see you guys coming in every day when you don't have to. I know it's your job, but we see you every day. So we might as well be friends."
Dominique is also a funny person who is highly quotable. No coachspeak for him. No parroting the head coach's mantras for the week. Just like his three point shot, he shoots from the hip. For instance, he states proudly he is the team's Horse champ.
"There's no one on this team that can beat me at Horse. Chester (Frazier) made a left handed shot off the left leg with the eyes turned far around. It's an awkward shot. Everybody tried it for like 30 minutes to make it, and I made it on my first try. I'm the awkward king. Nobody can beat me at horse."
Awkward king? That's one way of describing Keller's unorthodox style. It isn't a case of an awkward player demonstrating deficiencies. It is just his own way. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
"My shot is self-taught. I didn't start playing basketball until I was in the ninth grade. I used to just play in the parks. When my coach saw me playing in ninth grade, he said I had a funny shot. He tried to change it five or six times, but I would miss after the change. When I went back to my old style, I started making it. And ever since, whatever coach I've had said to just stay with it."
Coach Weber says the 6'-7" power forward might have scared off some recruiters with his unique style.
"There's no doubt. If you watch him play, it's crazy. He does those hooks and all that. He was unorthodox when we recruited him. The famous flying hooks he shoots now, he was shooting them before. And then the three pointer from the hip.
"He's a little bit like Shawn Marion. I'm not saying he's as good as him, but if you watch Shawn Marion it's not real pretty either. When he gets his elbow under the ball, and he gets it in his spots, he's pretty locked in. When we do shooting contests and stuff, when he has his feet squared up, he's one of our better shooters.
"I'm just trying to get him to understand we don't need quick threes. It especially can't be his first shot. He's got this little floater in the lane, and he uses the glass well. The easiest shot he had the other night was one he missed, a little layup. If he can keep making progress, we'll be happy. It helps that the other guys are trying to encourage him. I think that's important."
Weber accepts Dominique's uniqueness, as long as it fits the team's needs. It is taking him some time, but he appears to be understanding his role better.
"He's made good progress. I think he's starting to figure it out. He still has his moments where he reverts back to the way he played in junior college, a little bit loose and free. He's definitely been better at home than on the road. That's the thing I don't think he totally understands, momentum and tempo of the game. You know, quick shots, things like that. But when he plays well, it helps us."
Keller agrees he is starting to settle down.
"I'm in a comfort zone now. Coaches wanted me to watch film, and now I watch film all the time. I just go to the open spots. If I see an open spot, I'm going to it. If I get double-teamed, I will kick it out. If they don't, I'll just take the open shot. Most of my shots are on one-on-one post moves and other shots I'm comfortable making."
Of course, there is always room for improvement. Weber brought him in to help with post defense and rebounding, but the rebounding still has a ways to go.
"The one thing he hasn't done is rebound, and it's kind of baffling to me. I know it wasn't his priority in junior college, but he got rebounds. I thought with his athleticism he'd be able to rebound much better. We got Mike Davis going the other day. If we can just get Dominique with a mindset of getting 4 or 5 rebounds a game, it's gonna help us in the gut-check part of the season."
Keller knows he must make improvements in attacking the glass.
"Yeah, I was just talking with coach about that the other night. They expect me and Mike Davis to get the rebounds. He came along last game. Coach called me around 11:30 after the game and told me to get on the bandwagon. So I'm gonna give my best effort to grab every one I can."
Expect to see many more stories about Dominique Keller before he graduates. Like how, after finding out Demetri McCamey stole a bag of his noodles, he returned the favor by stealing five boxes of McCamey's Debbie Cakes. It's all in a day's work for the personable and friendly Illini forward.