February 20, 2012

Keaton a change artist

Kevin McCarthy

In the song "Bye and Bye," Bob Dylan sang "The future for me is already a thing of the past - you were my first love and you will be my last." Austin Keaton may or may not know of those particular lyrics but the Modesto Junior College talent is living them.

photo of Austin Keaton

Keaton is listed as a freshman for Coach Paul Brogan's basketball program at MJC. His season to date borders on, if not occupies, spectacular territory. Try 17.7 points per game based on 55% from the floor, 85% from the foul line (177 attempts) and 52% on three-pointers, while grabbing 8.0 rebounds a game, passing for 74 assists plus nabbing 39 steals.

But he's not your typical frosh.

Not by a long shot.

He took the road far less traveled or maybe more aptly, the Detour Tour.

Let's have Keaton detail his travelogue.

"Growing up basketball was my favorite," he explained. "Since I was little, when I could stand up, I'd dribble and shoot at a hoop."

But another sport came calling.

After participating in both high school basketball and baseball at Pitman High in Turlock, he received words of advice.

"Out of high school, some pro baseball scouts told me I had a chance and that they would be watching me," Keaton said. "That kept me motivated for baseball."

He had college interest for his displays on both the diamond and the court but the professional possibility won out.

So Keaton focused on baseball for a couple of seasons at Modesto Junior College. After that, it was off to an NAIA school, Culver-Stockton in Canton, Missouri.

After a very successful season in the Show-Me State, one in which he played shortstop and batted .391, scored 44 runs and drove in 32, stole 24 bases and posted a .436 slugging percentage and a .490 on-base percentage in 54 games, Keaton was selected to the 2011 All-Heart of America Athletic Conference first team

But his head coach departed for a position in New Mexico.

Keaton had been wanting to return to California anyway so he made plans to transfer to Menlo College in Atherton (on the San Francisco Peninsula) and attend classes in the fall.

But then Menlo made a coaching change, prompting Keaton to make his own.

As he put it, "I just decided to stick with basketball."

Currently in his initial season at MJC, he has, as detailed above, adroitly switched playing fields. Being the top scorer and shooter for the Pirates while second in rebounding and assists, his play has helped Modesto to an 18-11 overall record, 7-7 in the Big 8 Conference, a league in which six of the eight members have overall winning records.

Keaton simply says, "I missed basketball."

He added, "We have a good group of guys and we're having a lot of fun."

As Brogan says, "Austin does everything well and he'll continue to improve. His heart is in basketball. I just kept recruiting him until it happened."

At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Keaton describes his role as "doing a little bit of everything." But he singles out his best skills as "working hard, being aggressive and getting to the basket."

Asked for an overall best basketball moment or highlight, Keaton offered, "Last night [February 14], the one-point win [66-65] over Diablo Valley College which clinched a playoff spot for us."

Rest assured, more of those occasions are to come.