BLOOMINGTON - The fundamentals of basketball are taught at an early age. Dribble. Pass. Shoot. While dribbling and passing may be underappreciated skills, shooting is obvious. Either the ball goes through the net or it does not. Shooting stars stand out. Illinois Wesleyan senior Keelan Amelianovich stands out.
"Keelan is one of the best shooters I've ever had the opportunity to coach," said IWU coach Scott Trost, a former assistant at Michigan. "Keelan is a great perimeter shooter."
Infrequent playing time on a senior-dominated team limited Amelianovich to 27 points and six 3-pointers as a freshman. Still, the 6-foot-6 forward is making an impressive ascension on school career lists in both points and 3-pointers.
"There is so much tradition here with all the great players who have gone through," Amelianovich said Tuesday. "I didn't think I would be nearly this close since I didn't play as much my freshman year. That would be something cool to look back on."
With 222 career 3-pointers, Amelianovich is gunning for IWU career leader Korey Coon (245) and second place shooter Mark Edmundson (235).
Amelianovich ranks 12th in school history with 1,371 points and needs 48 points to crack Wesleyan's top 10.
The Naperville native has done so while maintaining a sterling shooting percentage on the strength of a textbook perfect jump shot.
Amelianovich set a school record with 82 3-pointers as a sophomore while ranking second nationally in Division III with a 50.6 percent mark. He slipped a bit to 45.6 percent as a junior but is currently 67 of 133 (50.4 percent) from beyond the arc for the 17-3 Titans.
"Everyone sees his form and points to that first, but I would point to his work ethic," said senior point guard and close friend Adam Dauksas. "It's something to be admired. He works harder than anyone. He pushes others to work as hard as him. I think that's the main reason he's such a good shooter."
Amelianovich has had to work harder since a breakout sophomore season saw him average 17.9 points and earn the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin's Most Outstanding Player award as well as All-America honors.
The past two seasons, opponents know where Amelianovich is at all times. Breathing room anywhere past halfcourt must be earned and savored.
"It's tough on Keelan. Everybody is developing their game plan to stop him," Trost said. "Teams are really trying to be physical with Keelan, and he's had to adapt and change his game a little bit."
"I've had to be better with the ball and better moving off the ball," said Amelianovich, who is currently averaging 18.9 points. "All the things you have to do to get an extra half step have become crucial."
Amelianovich was held to five points in a Jan. 14 loss to Elmhurst. In the Feb. 4 rematch, with the Bluejays again hounding him with a shorter, quick player, Amelianovich scored 24.
"The games he was held to five and eight points, he kind of took it and didn't fight back. They bumped him off his cuts and he kind of stopped," said Trost. "He's learned from those two games you've got to keep fighting and work that much harder. That's evident in what he's done the last couple games."
More of a threat to drive to the basket than in past seasons, Amelianovich is shooting 65 percent (28 of 43) overall and 62 percent from 3-point range (13 of 21) over the past three games.
"Most games, every time I shoot the ball I think it's going in, which is good because it doesn't hurt my confidence when I miss a shot," he said. "If I make a couple shots in a row, I'm feeling good enough to let it fly from anywhere close."
Edmundson, the long-range shooting complement to standout scorer Jeff Kuehl from 1986-90, admires Amelianovich's all-around talents.
"He's not only a pure shooter and a very good pure shooter, he's such a good athlete," said Edmundson, currently the basketball coach at LeRoy High School. "He's not just a shooter. That's just part of his game, but he's awfully good at it. He's extremely strong and, no, he doesn't have much of a conscience.
"But that's what you need to be a good shooter. If he's missed two or three, it's not going to deter him. If you're not ready to guard him immediately, he can put it up right in your face."
Millikin coach Tim Littrell is glad he will face Amelianovich for the final time today in a 7:30 p.m. game at Shirk Center.
"I think he's the best in the league coming off screens and shooting in rhythm," Littrell said. "With his size, he really presents problems for a lot of teams in our league, having someone big enough to get a hand in his face. He's been special to this league, that's for sure."
Amelianovich hopes to play professional basketball in Europe after graduation. The accounting major already has the promise of a job at the accounting firm of Ernst & Young when his playing days are over.
The stone-faced Amelianovich has been a perfect partner to the fiery Dauksas the past three seasons. Yet Dauksas said his friend isn't always strictly business.
"That's probably one of the biggest misconceptions. He's so focused on the court he doesn't really show emotion, which is good for him," Dauksas said. "But he's a totally different person off the court. He cracks jokes and he's one of the funniest people I've ever met. Sometimes he doesn't shut up."