Originally from Mali, Africa, big man Keba Keita got his start playing volleyball prior to ever picking up a basketball. After just a short time spent learning the game, Keita and his family made the decision to move to the United States to help him develop athletically as well as academically. Once in Utah, the physical and athletic tools along with his upside to become a high major college prospect were evident and he soon joined Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, UT. Keita worked heavily with Coach Paul Peterson his junior season to help him adjust to the style of play in the United States which ultimately built the foundation for him to be a crucial starting center for the Tigers this past season in addition to picking up numerous college offers. After taking visits and discussing options with his inner circle, Keita decided to stay home and play for the University of Utah.
With an extremely strong frame, freakishly long arms and some major bounce, Keita will be a much needed interior presence for the Utes as he excels at running the floor, blocking shots, rebounding, and finishing above the rim.
In our latest rendition of the Pro Insight Q&A series, Keita discussed his decision to join the University of Utah, his unique basketball journey from Mali, Africa to Wasatch Academy, Coach Smith’s reaction to the news, how they want him to develop, and more.
Pro Insight’s Tyler Glazier spoke with the newest Runnin’ Ute.
Pro Insight: Talk about your basketball journey — how did you get to where you are today?
Keba Keita: Before I played basketball I used to play volleyball [back in Mali]. So we made it to a championship game and we won, but they didn’t give us a trophy and I got mad and I left volleyball to play basketball. I started playing basketball two months later. Then I met Mike, he was helping people to come here [to the United States]. I also met Mady [Sissoko]. He was the first one to come to the United States [played for Wasatch Academy]. That’s how I started playing basketball. Basketball is totally different in the states compared to Mali.
PI: What are the main basketball differences between Mali and the United States?
KK: The United States has a lot of stuff like shooting machines, training facilities, weight rooms, nice cars, etc. Also the rules, because in Mali we play FIBA rules, but here it’s different.
PI: What was the adjustment like coming from Africa to the U.S.?
KK: It wasn’t easy because I didn’t really understand what was going on with the language barrier and everything. So I had to be really focused because also school was tough too, so I really had to be focused and work hard. Like review stuff, ask questions, etc. I would also say my game from last year and this year has changed.
PI: How do you feel your game has developed at Wasatch Academy?
KK: I’m a lot stronger, have a better motor, run better, etc. I’d say this year I got a lot better. I understand the game way better than last year, so I think that’s the most important thing. Now I understand what to do to be successful. I just have to be focused, keep asking questions and always try to learn.
PI: Describe your game — what are some of your strengths?
KK: I would say rebounding and blocking shots are two things I do well. I need to work on my offense and my free throws. We didn’t really use post touches a lot [at Wasatch Academy], so I would say my offense and free throws [need work].
PI: When it came down to it — what were the most important factors in choosing your next step?
KK: The first important thing was education. That’s really important for my mom, she really wants me to get an education. That’s the reason I’m in the United States, because of my mom. So I would say education, trusting the coach, playing time, development, not as much school size since I want to play and develop. But the first important thing is education, that’s very important.
PI: Any subject you’d like to major in?
KK: I want to do business, but I don’t know what yet. My plan after my basketball career is to be able to go back home and help people there. I want to study business, but I’m not sure what [type] of business, yet.
PI: Without further adieu — where will you be attending college?
KK: I will be attending the University of Utah. Last year I was like, “I’ve only been here for one year and now I’m in my senior year then going to college” so I was a little stressed out since my junior year. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to understand, I thought college was nice, but it’s going to be hard. I talked to my mom about it and she told me to just be focused and she knows I’d find a way. Playing in college next year I’m excited, but at the same time a little bit stressed. I really want to play with Coach Smith next year.
KK: Thank you.
PI: What was Coach Smith’s reaction when you told him the news?
KK: He was really excited. I texted him first when I was in class, I said “hey coach I want to wear #13” and he tried to FaceTime me and I said, “no I can’t talk to you now.” So he asked, “are you going to be a Runnin’ Ute?” and I said “yes” and he took like two or three minutes before he replied back. He was really excited. And when I was coming back home [that day], Carlos [Iglesias] was dropping me off on campus and Coach Smith was talking to Carlos and was really excited. Carlos told me he was not going to say anything [about his commitment] to Coach Smith to let me hear the first reaction and he [Coach Smith] was really happy. It was really good.
PI: What’s Utah getting in Keba Keita?
KK: They want me to be successful in school, first. Before we even talk about basketball we have to do good in school. So that’s a big thing. On the court they want me to just be me, play hard and keep doing what I’m doing. We will build it brick by brick. They want to develop me and they want me to bring the same energy, even more if needed. Coach Smith told me he wants me to lead the PAC-12 in double-doubles. That’s really exciting, that’s a challenge for me [to accomplish]. I’m planning on only going for three years, so that’s a challenge for me, too.
PI: Are you hoping to graduate in three years?
KK: Yeah, I’m looking to graduate in three years. I talked to my parents about it and they told me to get my degree, but if I want to graduate in three years then I have to really really focus. I [also] need to see how my development is going to be, if it’s going slow then we’ll do four years. I’m confident that I can be done in three years. That’s what my parents told me, too.
PI: What are you hoping to work on between now and getting to campus?
KK: I’m working on my free throws and my shot. I’m trying to fix my shot right now. When I get to campus I’m going to start lifting again. I can’t really lift right now because I had surgery on my hand about 6 weeks ago now. I can shoot a ball, but I can’t lift. So I’m just working on my shot and doing conditioning.
PI: Are there any collegiate or pro players that you like to watch and model your game after?
KK: Not really. I started watching Bam [Adebayo] in Miami, but a lot of people told me that I have a similar style of game to Serge Ibaka. They told me to watch him because we have similar games. I would say “ok I’ll watch Serge,” the only similarity I saw was blocking shots. I think I like his game too, but I like Bam’s game more.
PI: What motivates you to work hard?
KK: It’s my mom and also the situation back home. The situation in my country isn’t the best. Also, my older brother. He has the mindset that really excites me. I don’t want to be like him, but I want to pass him. He’s doing great, he’s playing professional volleyball in South Korea and he’s doing really well there. He just wants to win. He’s always hungry to win. So I have that kind of mentality, too. Also my mom and dad, I want to make them proud. I want my little brother to fall in love with basketball. I don’t want him to play volleyball [laughs].
PI: Lastly, do you have any message for the Utah fans who are thrilled about your commitment?
KK: I would just say it’s going to be a fun season. Bring energy every night and it’s going to be a fun season. They’re going to see a new team and I just want them to bring energy every night and support. It’s going to be a fun season.