NORMAL — Kaza Keane might have turned 18 years old in January, but his AAU coach said Illinois State is getting a point guard who plays like someone much older.
Ro Russell, the head coach of Grassroots Canada, believes Keane will pay immediate dividends for the Redbirds. ISU officially announced Thursday that Keane, who played last season for Christian Faith Center Academy in Creedmoor, N.C., has signed with the Redbirds and new coach Dan Muller.
“Kaza will be an impact player for Illinois State with his ability to deliver the basketball to the right people,” said Russell of the first Canadian player in ISU history. “He plays a high-octane game in terms of his motor and proficiency in pushing the ball and making plays, and he’s also a gritty defender.”
The 6-foot-1, 183-pound Keane averaged 22 points and seven assists for Grassroots Canada. Keane averaged 18 points and 11 assists for Christian Faith Center Academy.
Keane admitted he didn’t know anything about ISU until Muller called after getting the Redbirds’ job on May 8. After visiting the campus last weekend and hearing Muller’s pitch, Keane said he was sold.
“It’s a beautiful campus and stadium. Everything on the campus is beautiful,” said Keane. “I felt like I was at home in Toronto. It felt like a great situation.”
Keane sees his role “as making everyone better.”
“I like to make my teammates look good and make my team look good,” he said. “I don’t care if I get zero points and 10 assists. I’ll do whatever it takes for us to win.”
ISU was in need of a point guard after Nic Moore, who started 29 of 35 games as a freshman last season, announced he would transfer. Muller had seen Keane play in a tournament in April while he was still a Vanderbilt assistant coach.
“Once Nic decided to leave and made it official, in mid-May there’s not a plethora of good players and point guards available,” said Muller. “He was the first guy I called. I started recruiting him right away. I didn’t want a player who could not help the program.
“He’s a really talented point guard, a skilled passer and just a floor general. He’s played at a pretty high level for a high school kid. He’s a smart kid who knows and understands the game.”
Russell said Muller and assistant coach Dana Ford were able to sell Keane about what they were planning to build at ISU. Several high major programs, such as Penn State, Oklahoma State and South Florida, were interested in Keane.
The Redbirds return their other four starters and several key reserves from a 21-14 team that advanced to the National Invitation Tournament’s second round before losing in overtime at eventual champion Stanford.
“They were able to educate him and show the golden opportunity he had with a very strong team that needed a point guard to be its glue and a program on the rise and working on being like Butler and VCU,” said Russell.
Keane, a native of Ajax, Ontario, will compete in a tryout camp for the Canadian junior men’s national team on Saturday in Toronto. He is seeking to be selected to represent Canada in the FIBA Americas U18 Championships in Brazil from June 16-20 and is not likely to arrive at ISU until July.
“The kid is special,” said Grassroots Canada assistant coach Ryan Schmidt. “He’s going to be exciting for the fans to watch. The fun part is he’s very, very unselfish. He loves passing.”
Keane will be the third member of his family to play college basketball following his older sisters, Kalisha (Michigan State) and Takima (Cleveland State). Kalisha Keane was later with the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars.