Dominique Keller transferred from Lee College two years ago with high hopes for major college stardom at Illinois. The Port Arthur, Texas, native felt he would fit in well and provide a spark to improve the Illini team.
While he has had his moments, he has not received the playing time he sought. Part of it was the quality of teammates playing the same positions. Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis in particular have played well enough to need infrequent substitution.
"It was a big change," Keller explains. "In junior college I was playing the 3/4. It was a run-and-gun offense, so both forwards were basically the same position. When you come here and play in a solid motion offense like this, I'm a tweener between a four and a five and a wing. So I was stuck in between a lot of positions.
"It was a lot of stuff to learn in two years. The others had a whole extra year of experience under them, so they knew the offense a little better. Coach trusted them a little bit more than me. I can't find fault in that. That was just the way things worked. I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Also, the Big 10 Conference is more difficult for junior college players than some other conferences according to Keller.
"I think the transition depends on the place you go to. If you're in the Big East or ACC, where they run and gun all the time, it's easy to go from junior college because they're basically doing what you've been doing.
"But when you go to the Big 10, you have people actually guarding you the whole game, and they're bumping the whole time. And you've got to chase screens, and you've got all these different defenses to get ready for every night. It's hard. I figure I learned most of it, but I'm still trying to get better at it."
Regardless, Keller is looking forward to Senior Day while still focusing on beating Wisconsin and making the NCAA Tournament.
"As for Senior Day I'm happy, I'm excited. It's my last game in the Assembly Hall. But at the same time, we're not really focused on that. We're focused on winning this game because we're trying to get into the postseason.
"We've still got a chance to win a Big 10 Championship in the tournament, so that's still in our minds. We didn't win the Big 10, so now we've got another chance to make it that way."
Keller has enjoyed his time at Illinois.
"I've liked it a lot. Coming from where I'm from, in Juco playing in front of crowds of 2000-3000 most times, it's a lot of fun. There's really no comparison. You come to a sold out arena every night, the fans following you, texting you and asking for autographs in the street, taking your picture wherever you go. Playing on a national stage is a humbling experience. I've enjoyed my time being here, and I appreciate it a lot.
"It's exciting. The fans really care. If we lose a game, the fans are really hurt by it. It's good to be around where expectations are high."
He has many fond memories that can sustain him in later years.
"I've had fun. I've had a lot of exciting games here and been a part of a lot of special things. The NCAA Tournament game last year, there is nothing like it. It was a fun thing to be around.
"I had a good game against Gonzaga in the United Center. I never thought I would have the opportunity to play in the place where Michael Jordan played. Going to Purdue and beating them at Purdue, beating Wisconsin this year. I've had a lot of exciting memories."
One memory stands out as special.
"My favorite memory is probably when we beat Michigan State. There was nothing like it. No one picked us to win the game. They didn't have Kalin Lucas, but they were still number 5 in the nation and they were still very good. Just to beat them on our home floor on College Game Day in another sold out arena was great."
Keller has developed a number of lasting friendships with teammates, but he says he has been especially close with his fellow seniors.
"Rich (Semrau) helped me through a lot of times here. The season is starting to wind down, and those guys helped me so much. Bubba showed me around town when I first got here and didn't know anybody. And he showed me some stuff in practice I didn't know about offense and being in position on defense.
"And just the team in general. Those guys are like family. I was from Texas and most of those guys are from Illinois, but they treated me like I was one of their own."
Keller still hungers to play basketball. His unorthodox shooting style might prove valuable overseas. The Communications major figures on completing his degree first.
"If I pass all my classes this semester, I'll have only one class. I'll probably try to finish up before I explore other opportunities."
Illinois coach Bruce Weber appreciates what Keller brings to the team.
"Dominique has only been here two years. Everybody talks about his unorthodox style, but he has a great personality. I think he's become a fan favorite. The groups around town, the Rebounders, anywhere he's gone to speak, he has that fun-loving personality and people appreciate that. I think he has a great future ahead of him."
Weber has some career ideas for Keller once his playing days are over.
"Dom has an opportunity to graduate, which would be a great accomplishment for him. He can get done this summer if he takes care of business. I think he wants to try to go play, but either way I think he can have a positive future as a coach, as a radio guy, a personality-type person."