March 9, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- Keaton Nankivil was genuinely excited for his UW teammates, Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, after both had been named first-team All-Big Ten by the league coaches. “Totally deserved,” he said.
Nankivil, modest by nature, was also personally fulfilled after receiving honorable mention recognition from the coaches and media. He was in good company with Purdue’s Lewis Jackson.
Nankivil and Jackson have been critical pieces to the puzzle – complimenting the respective tag teams of Leuer and Taylor for the Badgers and JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore for the Boilers.
As excited as Nankivil was for Leuer and Taylor garnering first-team honors, they were just as excited for Nankivil knowing what he has meant to making them more of a complete team.
“He’s one of the most skilled big men in the country,” Leuer said.
“It’s good to see him getting recognized for his accomplishments,” said Taylor.
Nankivil was also cited by the Big Ten for his sportsmanship. “That means a lot to me just because I take a lot of pride in how I conduct myself on and off the floor,” he said.
To be viewed among the top 22 players in the conference by the coaches holds special meaning for Nankivil. “It’s always nice to be recognized because we do put in a lot of work,” he said.
Nankivil has been an award-winner in the classroom, too. He can still remember when he first made the Dean List’s and forwarded the e-mail to his mother. “She was proud of that,” he said.
Setting goals and striving to reach them is part of the Badger way under Bo Ryan.
“One thing I’ve definitely learned playing here under Coach Ryan,” said Nankivil, ‘’is strive for the best every time otherwise you’re selling yourself short.”
He has also learned to appreciate his peers. “To me it’s the best way to learn,” he said, “to kind of pick up on qualities I respect in other people and take them and put them into myself.”
As a UW freshman, Nankivil lockered next to Michael Flowers, a Madison La Follette grad. “That’s the crazy thing about basketball,” he said, marveling how rivals can later become friends.
Flowers was more than just a teammate. “Without directly being a mentor, Mike was kind of an indirect mentor,” Nankivil said. “He had an intensity about him. I love being around people like that.”
Nankivil loved Flowers’ work ethic. He also loved competiting on the scout team with Tanner Bronson, a walk-on. “He knew the game so well and he taught me a lot,” he said.
As a sophomore, Nankivil looked up to seniors Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry.
“Joe, like Mike, had that competitive fire,” he said. “He wasn’t going to get in your face and do the rah-rah thing. But he was such a competitor just being around him brought the best out of people.
“Marcus played as a undersized big in our system and I saw a lot of stuff in his game that I had to use because I’m not that much bigger and there are a lot of big guys we have to play against.”
There were so many other teammates who impacted Nankivil’s development and understanding of the game at the Big Ten level. That included Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma, among others.
That growth has continued this season.
“I love playing with Jordan Taylor,” Nankivil said.
Can he draw any comparisons between Flowers and Taylor?
“Jordan has that same kind of competitive fire and mentality,” he said. “I would say Jordan is more vocal. Mike was so tenacious and defensive minded. Jordan is more of a floor leader, the consummate point guard. The same qualities come out when you play with them.”
Nankivil was not surprised that Taylor was named to the All-Big Ten defensive team.
“Obviously, I don’t play against him because he’s a guard,” he said. “But he’s a tough guy to score on. He’s tough one-on-one and he sees the whole floor defensively.
“We’re not a team that is going for stats by any means. We’re just trying to play solid team defense. Jordan has become so good at that and he has figured out when he can take his chances.”
Resulting in deflections and steals – but not at the risk of taking himself out of position.
“He does it all,” he said.
Nankivil singled out another “mentor” – Wesley Matthews, a former teammate at Memorial.
“He’s similar to Mike and similar to Jordan,” he said. “Every time I play with him to this day in a pick-up game, he’s got such an intensity and competitiveness. It brings something extra out of you.
“He’s like Mike, one of those indirect mentors. When he’s back home, I try to work out with him as much as possible. It’s fun to be around people you’ve known for a long time. He has great skills. Whether it’s basketball or anything else, he’s going to be successful just because of his personality.”
Nankivil wishes there were more opportunities to socialize with some of the players that he has battled with in the Big Ten. But the competitive nature of the sport itself won’t allow it.
“During the season, there’s such a tension,” he said.
Still, he has a healthy respect for Johnson and Moore from Purdue, Juice Thompson from Northwestern, Talor Battle from Penn State and Draymond Green from Michigan State.
That would not even be his complete list.
“I could go on and on,” Nankivil said.
The Big Ten is a brotherhood, he agreed.
Nankivil has saved many of the trophies, plaques and medals that he has earned over the years. Some have more sentimental value than others. Like being Mr. Basketball in the state of Wisconsin.
On his desk, he has two rings; two “beautiful” keepsakes. One is from winning a state high school championship at Madison Memorial. The other is from winning a Big Ten title at Wisconsin.
They obviously mean a great deal to Nankivil.
“But I can’t think of a situation where I’d go out and wear them,” he said.
Too showy for his tastes.
Still, as postseason play begins, don’t think for a second Nankivil isn’t hoping to bring home some more hardware.
By Mike Lucas