Dec. 20, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- Keaton Nankivil’s assist total does not include the one he has been giving to students at Madison West High. Throughout the first semester, Nankivil has set aside some time on Friday mornings to serve as a tutor. He has been working with an Algebra class and a resource room/study hall.
“I’m just there as an extra resource if people need help,’’ said Nankivil, a UW senior.
It’s not like the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Nankivil can walk through the hallways without drawing attention to himself. Especially since the former Madison Memorial product is a former Mr. Basketball in the state of Wisconsin. Especially since Nankivil is entering his third season as a starter for the Badgers.
“Going into it, I tried to make that as little known as possible,’’ he said of his high profile as a local college athlete. “But some of the teachers introduced me that way because they know it can fire up their kids somewhat. So I’m willing to put that out there if it makes the kids more willing to talk.’’
Did Nankivil, reserved by nature, have any reservations about being front and center in the classroom? “People who know me would probably say it’s not something that I would tend to do,’’ he admitted. “At the beginning of the semester, I was as shy as any of the kids were towards me.’’
But there has been progress on both sides as a comfort zone has developed between the tutor and the students, mostly freshmen and sophomores. “They’ve been more willing to ask me questions,’’ Nankivil said, “and I’ve been a little bit more willing to circulate around the class and offer help.’’
What intrigues Nankivil about teaching? “I think no matter what profession you’re in,’’ he said, “knowing how to teach is a pretty useful skill. Just having the opportunity to work with these two classes for the semester, I’ve learned a lot about working with kids.’’
Teaching is coaching.
Coaching is teaching.
“I’ve been around basketball all my life,’’ said Nankivil who added that it’s “about 50-50’’ on whether he might get involved with coaching after his playing days. “I don’t see myself getting away from the game or being that far removed. Coaching is one way to stay connected.’’
All things considered, Nankivil feels like he avoided a disconnect with the West students despite being on the cusp of a generation gap with a group of kids who are at such an impressionable age.
“In one way, it hasn’t been that long since I was that age,’’ he said. “In another way, it feels like it has been forever. I have a brother (Cameron) who’s a junior at Madison Memorial and the difference in a junior and a sophomore is pretty incredible sometimes.’’
Cameron Nankivil also plays basketball. “He’s very skilled,’’ Keaton said. “He’s been around the game. He has traveled with our family to tournaments and has experienced everything I’ve been a part of. He knows the game. It’s just a matter of confidence for him. But he’s a very talented kid.’’
There was a twist of irony and familiarity in those words.
It’s just a matter of confidence for him.
But he’s a very talented kid.
Okay, so maybe Keaton Nankivil is not a kid anymore.
But the same things have always been said about him.
“Basketball is a game of confidence,’’ Nankivil agreed.
Can that often begin with the first shot, the first make or miss?
“For me, yes,’’ he replied. “Especially on our team where we do value every possession. If my shooting is not going well, I’m going to try and get the ball to someone who’s hotter.’’
But what about the time-honored axiom of shooting until you get hot? “It’s a balance,’’ Nankivil said. “It’s still something I’m trying to figure out, even as a senior.’’
While he may struggle with his back to the basket and low post game – outside of dunks or tips – Nankivil has a beautiful touch on his jumper and can “face-up’’ with anyone his size in the Big Ten.
In fact, few “bigs’’ can match his range.
“But my game is nowhere near where I want it to be,’’ Nankivil said. “I’m confident in my skills. But I need to keep working on how to apply them. There’s a bigger picture. We come to practice every day and try to figure out those little things within the schemes we run. It’s a work in progress.
“Where do I use certain moves? How do I get myself better shots? One of my biggest weaknesses is the ‘back-to-the-basket’ game. I struggle when I have to pound the ball and make that move. If I can get a quick angle and entry pass and get a softer shot up, it’s more effective for me.’’
Nankivil is still at a loss for words to describe the Dunk That Wasn’t against Boston College during the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. The ball was completely in the cylinder when it popped back out.
“Every time I’ve ever practiced or have been playing by myself in a park or a gym, I’ve missed dunks off the back of the rim,’’ he said. “But I’ve never had one go into the net and sling-shot out like that. I was probably more confused than anyone in the gym.
“I saw the guy from Boston College take off with the ball and I just figured they got it out of the net real quick and I had no idea what was going on. Dunking is one of my favorite things to do. In college you don’t get the opportunity as much, so when I do get the chance, I’m going to try and put it down a little harder. I think that might have hurt me in this case. But it still blows my mind a little bit.’’
Nankivil had one of his finest defensive efforts in Orlando where he blocked five shots against Notre Dame. Last Wednesday, he was definitely a presence at that end of the floor again in the UW’s 61-40 win over Milwaukee. Nankivil helped shut down Anthony Hill, who came into the game leading the Panthers in scoring, including a high of 30 against Youngstown State. Hill went 0-for-8.
During one impressive sequence, Nankivil rejected a shot by guard Jerard Ajami, a former prep teammate at Memorial. After the ball was rebounded by the Panthers, Nankivil swung from right to left across the lane to block another shot attempt by Hill, all in the same possession.
“I’ve always loved playing defense and blocking shots,’’ Nankivi said. “It’s a little different in college where people are better at using their bodies or drawing fouls. You have to pick your spots – pick your time to do it – but when you do get one (a block), it feels good.’’
Before the Milwaukee game, UW first-year assistant coach Lamont Paris pulled Nankivil aside in the weight room and encouraged him to take advantage of his assets.
“I told him that he’s a special athlete,’’ Paris related. “He has a combination of skills and athleticism that you don’t find everywhere. There aren’t many people who have the ability to shoot the ball like he does. He’s someone who needs that confidence and he needs us to reaffirm that and pat him on the back from time to time. The biggest part is his mental approach.’’
Nankivil appreciated the feedback. When asked if he tends to over-analyze, he said, “I do. That’s my mindset. That’s how I am, not only in basketball, but that’s the way I live my life. My mom (Nancy) has always said, ‘That’s part of my DNA and you’re not going to change.’
“We’ve taken steps to work past that. Basketball is such an up-and-down flow game. It’s not about breaking everything down because you’ll hurt yourself in the long run. And it’s been an area of focus for me. The mental game is as important as the physical things you can do.’’
It’s like standing in front of a roomful of high school kids and executing a lesson plan. There’s no limit on what you can do when you believe in yourself and others believe in what you’re doing. It’s just a matter of confidence, after all.