Indiana basketball has its own man of mystery.
His name…Xavier Keeling.
Keeling is the 6-6, 220-pound forward from Huntsville, Alabama's J.O. Johnson High School who was one of two preps to sign with the Hoosiers in the fall. While many IU fans are familiar with his name, most are unfamiliar with his game.
But don't let the fact he's a bit of an unknown commodity lead you to believe he's only a marginal Division I prospect. According to his high school coach, Keeling is a special talent who will make a big impact at the Big Ten level.
"I'd rate him among the top players in the U.S.," said first-year J.O. Johnson Coach Kenneth Betts.
What Betts says Keeling has is the sort of physical presence that is more often associated with post players, combined with the ball handling skills of a perimeter player.
"He's probably as physical as any kid coming out of high school this year," said Betts.
Those skills have provided Betts with a slew of options when it comes to deciding how to use Keeling on the floor. He said Keeling has played everything from center to point guard this season, which in turn has made it very difficult for opponents to come up with a gameplan to contain the future Hoosier.
"We use him in the post, we use him at the three guard, and even the point," said Betts. "Against the press we use him to catch the ball in the middle and then get the pressure off of us and let him attack. Whatever is necessary, that's what we have him do."
That strategy has been a successful one. Keeling is averaging 17 points, 16 rebounds and four assists, helping lead his team to an 8-4 record and a No. 5 ranking in the state's Class 5A classification.
Betts says he's seen plenty of growth in Keeling's game from a year ago as well. First of all, Keeling decided to quit playing football and focus on basketball, a move that has allowed him to spend more time in the gym refining his skills. In doing so, he's become a much more adept mid-range and perimeter jump shooter, a skill that was lacking during his first three seasons of high school.
"His jump shot is a lot better," said Betts. "He worked really hard on it in the off-season, probably shooting 100 shots per day to try to work on his elevation. He's still got some work to do on his 3-point shot, but as far as coming off the dribble and shooting the basketball, he's gotten a whole lot better."
While the Indiana coaching staff is glad to know Keeling's offensive game is coming around, the biggest draw in their minds was Keeling's physical presence. With the losses of Marco Killingsworth and Sean Kline at season's end, the staff needed to add a player or two who wasn't afraid to mix it up underneath.
Add in the fact that he's a good ball handler as well, and Keeling will be able to play the power forward position if IU opts to go with a smaller lineup, or he can play on the wing if Indiana decides to go big.
"They like how Xavier can handle the ball so well for someone who is so big and strong," said Betts. "He can play that ‘3' position and he can guard out on the perimeter comfortably and he can get out in transition and finish as well," said Betts. "Everything else, you can build on at school."
What Does Keeling Have To Offer?
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