It’s almost like Isaiah Thomas has a long-lost brother who plays in the MAC.
Central Michigan guard Marcus Keene not only models his game after Thomas, but he stands eye to eye with him, at a diminutive 5’9”. Given Keene’s success, it’s no surprise that, other than height, they share one key trait: grit.
Sure, Malik Monk is putting up ridiculous numbers in Lexington and Lonzo Ball might be the most entertaining player in college basketball, but no one is outscoring Keene. He is averaging a nation-high 29.8 points per game, nearly five points better than the next best scorer, Valparaiso's Alec Peters.
“I got the ultimate green light,” Keene said, adding that his head coach, Keno Davis, lets him shoot pretty much whenever he wants.
But it hasn’t always been that easy for Keene.
He started his career at Youngstown State as a shooting guard. After a rough patch there, serving primarily as a set-up 3-man, despite efficient play, Keene found a change of scenery at CMU.
He had to sit out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer policy but used the time off to his advantage. He credits that year as being monumental in helping him adapt physically to the game, especially in his transition to point guard.
And what a point guard he has been.
Keene’s priority remains helping his teammates get better, and this year he has doled out 5.3 assists per game, the second-most in the MAC, with the league’s third-best assist rate. But Keene’s instant offense helps his team the most.
“It just so happens that I’m a good scorer and our team needs me to score,” Keene said.
Most of America only knows him for his 50-point outburst against Miami (OH), but it is clear that he is much more than that. Keene knows this better than anyone.
“I feel like I’m still under the radar,” he said.
Keene’s efficiency numbers are strong, though not other-worldly. His effective field goal percentage is .556 and he is connecting on 39 percent of his three-point attempts — numbers made even better by how consistent he has been.
He’s shot more than almost any other college basketball player and other teams still have not found a way to contain him. In fact, he has scored 30 points in 11 games this season and scored half of his team’s points 13 times.
This all goes back to his confidence and that Isaiah Thomas/worker bee combination that seems to be common among guys under six feet.
“We’ve been small all our lives and at every level we get to, we always try to prove ourselves,” Keene said.
He’s excelled in this area, but CMU hasn’t yet reached its potential, according to Keene. The 13-7 Chippewas are stuck near the bottom of the MAC West, but have won four of their last five.
“You’ll see us winning a lot more games,” Keene said. “We’re putting everything together.”
It’s easy to dismiss that statement as a player merely saying what the fans want to hear. And if you think that, this surely isn’t the first time that Keene has been doubted.
But that’s just fine. Keene isn’t here for the spotlight.
On what he wants Americans to know about him, he simply said, “I’m never going to stop working.”
Now it’s time for his Chippewas to string together a few wins so the nation can see him first-hand in March.