GR Press Article On FSU's Justin Keenan

Ferris State's Justin Keenan (Photo by Darren Breen, The Grand Rapids Press)
Ferris State's Justin Keenan (Photo by Darren Breen, The Grand Rapids Press)

Note: This story was originally published by the Grand Rapids Press dated Nov. 11, 2010, and is available via the newspaper's official MLive website at the link below:

By Dean Holzwarth

GRAND RAPIDS -- Here's a warning to all newcomers on the Ferris State men's basketball team: Don't leave your soft drink unattended when Justin Keenan is in the neighborhood.

Keenan, a 6-foot-7 senior forward/center from Ottawa Hills, has earned a reputation as a practical joker when the Bulldogs travel for road games.

"It's a continuing thing, and he always gets a rookie with it the first couple times on the road," Ferris State coach Bill Sall said of Keenan's signature prank. "We go to a restaurant, everybody gets a soda and he puts salt in their drink.

"Everybody knows now with him that you don't leave your drink. But every year, he gets somebody and it's pretty funny. He hasn't got me yet, so let's hope that streak continues."

Close friend and teammate Matt DeHart said Keenan's road antics are well known.

"That's been a long tradition since our freshman year and he always gets somebody," said DeHart, a senior guard from Greenville. "He always seems to get somebody and he keeps a sense of humor. He shows us that it's not always business and there is some fun involved on the road."

Keenan's free-spirited approach to life is in sharp contrast to his demeanor on the basketball court.

A relentless worth ethic and a commitment to succeed has helped him become one of the top Division II players in the country.

Sall said his senior standout, who was named preseason Division II Player of the Year, has a dual personality.

"If anybody has watched him play, he's a fierce competitor, and that has made him really good," Sall said. "But he also has the ability off the court to just tone it down. He's a very mellow person who is quick with a smile and he has the type of presence that teammates want to be around."

DeHart agreed.

"He's a great leader, a great overall person and he's always there for you. He looks to make the people around him and himself better," DeHart said.

Keenan led the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in scoring last season averaging 21.1 points and was named the league's Player of the Year. He also set GLIAC records with 176 made free throws and 253 attempts in league games and set a Ferris record with 215 made free throws in all games.

And when he's not setting records, he enjoys life to the fullest.

"My friends would say that I'm a goofy person and I like to keep the mood light, but I definitely get serious when I need to be," Keenan said. "I'm just a fun and easy-going guy."

And speaking of friends, Keenan has more than 1,800 of them on Facebook.

He's not into Twitter yet, but he said he likes to stay in touch with fellow players and opponents.

"I love Facebook because it's nice to connect with people and talk to them about what they are doing and how life is going," Keenan said. "I've actually kept in contact with a lot of players across the GLIAC that play at other places."

Keenan relishes the few opportunities he is afforded to get away from the daily demands of college basketball and school.

And there's one place where he prefers to unwind.

"I come home, because my family is the most important part of my life outside basketball," Keenan said. "They really keep me grounded and it's nice to come home. We don't talk about basketball, and I get a home-cooked meal and just relax before it's back to the grind when I come back up to Ferris."

Keenan's father, Vernon, is one of his biggest supporters. He has missed only nine games during his son's career. He said his son enjoys spending time at home in Kentwood.

"He seems like this big rough and tough guy on the basketball court, but he's a homebody," Vernon said. "It's funny, because a lot of times when he comes home, we expect him to shoot out to see his buddies. But a lot of times he stays at home.

"It's refreshing, and he loves hanging out around the house."

Keenan also has a close bond with his teammates. They hang out together regularly and challenge one another in video games.

"We're a very competitive team, so we play Madden," Keenan said. "And we like to talk trash about who is winning all the time. We like to go out and have a good time and, sometimes, we go bowling."

In high school, Keenan was equally gifted on the football field as a lineman. He received scholarship offers from several colleges before choosing basketball.

However, he still watches college and pro football on the weekends.

"I miss (football) until I see everyone getting concussions and getting knocked out," Keenan said. "Football was definitely a big part of life before I started playing college basketball. Sometimes, I get the football fever, but I picked basketball."

When Keenan arrived on campus as a freshman, Sall said a major focus was getting him into basketball shape.

Keenan has become leaner, dropping 15 pounds from his initial weight of 280 pounds.

"When we saw him in high school, I thought he had tremendous hands and really good feet, but he also was a football player at that point and he had a football body," Sall said. "It's amazing how much his body has transformed from there. He still runs about 265, but it's a completely different 265."

Since making basketball his top priority, Keenan has been a force in the college ranks.

He is a two-time All-GLIAC performer who last year became the program's first All-America selection in 20 years.

"I can't say I pictured myself doing all of this, but I knew I was working hard to accomplish a goal and become good," Keenan said. "I wanted to be a good player and work to not let my teammates down."