When Shaquille Keith hits a basketball court, he is transformed from the reserved young man who enjoys writing poems, and listening to gospel music, into a strong, fast, and skilled ‘beast’. At 6ft 5 inches tall and more than 220 pounds, the 26-year-old is well aware of the power that comes from his size, and harnesses it to his advantage. He calls it ‘Bully Season’ whenever he’s on the court.
“I’m a beast on the court, a bully on the court, I muscle up, it doesn’t matter what size you are or how big you are. I’m a really strong basketball player-Bully Season, that’s my Mamba mentality, that’s where I can tap into a different me,” he said.
Keith’s professional basketball career was almost predestined. His mother, an avid basketball fan, named him after one of the greatest players in NBA history, Shaquille O’Neal. And from an early age, she introduced her son to the game.
“My mom always had a basketball around me, we used to watch basketball a lot. From there, my mom put me in camps, and I fell in love with the game myself as I continued to learn more about it growing up in middle school,” he said.
As a child, Keith moved around a lot, from one inner city neighbourhood to the next. His mom, a single parent, was just trying to keep him from falling prey to the criminal activities that plagued these neighbourhoods.
“In the areas that I grew up in, street life is the real thing. Gun violence, crimes, and drugs. The hardest part about it is trying your best to stay on the right path when you’re influenced by fast money. Especially as a young black man, growing up in these areas, your’re easily enticed, you can easily be manipulated into being a part of the street life,” he said.
Keith shared that he lived in Jamaica with his mother’s relatives for a year, before moving back to Canada, and settling in Brampton. This was where his development as a basketball player began.
Let the games begin
He attended the Fletchers Meadows Secondary School in Ontario, and played shooting guard on the team. When he was in 11th grade, he tried out for Team Ontario, and made the team. Even with all his achievements so far, Keith shared that this is still one of the biggest highlights of his journey.
“It was one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. Realistically speaking, they take the best kids out of the province, and put together 15 guys on a rooster to compete against the other provinces, and to be a part of that was amazing, especially coming from the lifestyle and the upbringing that I was coming from. It was a dream come through, and it boosted my confidence 1000 per cent,” he said.
At the time, Keith was 17-years-old.
Keith then received a scholarship to attend REDA PREP, where in 2011 he led his team to a title in the National Prep School Athletic Association. The first prep school basketball league in Canada, run by P.H.A.S.E. 1 Youth Association.
P.H.A.S.E 1 would again set the stage for Kieth to put his name on the map when he was selected to play in the 2012 All Canada Classic-Rumble in the T-Dot national high school all star game.
“Wayne Dawkins gave me the opportunity to showcase my skills on one of the highest levels at that time in my age group. It really showed Canada and America what my potential was, and how I could be. Being able to play in the All Canada Classic at the Air Canada Centre where the Raptors played, was actually the first time I ever played on an NBA court. To me, I already made the NBA, in my mind,” he said.
Many athletes are misunderstood because of their intensity or how they play the game like they got a chip on their shoulder. Shaquille Keith was exactly that but I could see past it because I saw myself in him. Watching him harness that passion on and off the court since then is a testimonial to his faith and just a glimpse into the great things that still lay ahead for him. – Wayne Dawkins, P.H.A.S.E. 1
He went straight into university after the All Canada Classic, and attended the Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia Canada.
During his first year on the team, it won the Subway Atlantic University Sports Championship 2013. They won against Acadia University 83-75, and was awarded best rookie team.
After spending only one year in university, he transferred to Kilgore Junior College in Texas, United States, to pursue his NCAA dreams. He played for them for the 2014-2015 basketball season.
And after being recruited by division one schools like Colorado State University, Houston University, Texas Christian University, and Middle Tennessee University, Keith found out that the credits he did while studying in Canada did not transfer into the American school system. And because of this, according to NCAA rules, he was eligible to attend any of these universities.
Although he was disappointed at the time, he later realized that it was a blessing in disguise.
“After that didn’t work out, I came back to Canada. I was going to commit to the University of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I). But in my recruiting process I received a call from Jeremie Kayeye a GTA pro am Coordinator at the time. That’s when I received an offer to workout for the first ever NBA Development Team In Canada, The Raptors 905 D-League (now Raptors 905 G-League),” he said.
“At that point I decided in my life, I knew what I wanted to do, I knew what I was destined to do. I was playing at a high level at that time so I decided to become a pro. I choose to bet on myself, drop out of school, and pursue my dreams as a professional basketballer,” he said.
Just 21-year-old at the time, Keith said he was cautioned that he was too young. But had the counsel of one of Canada’s top professional basketball players who taught him the ins and outs of professional athlete life.
“I used to train with Denham Brown at Falstaff Community Centre. I had the opportunity from a young age to train with him, so I got a lot of education that guided me and that gave me the confidence to understand that I can make that jump into becoming a pro at that age,” he said.
So he took the jump, and landed pretty safely.
” I did a lot of workouts with the G-league team to test my skills, and see what level I was at. I got drafted in the NBA G-league, and I made it to training camp. I played three pre season games with them, I did well, and then after that I started my pro career.
“Then I played in NBL Canada with the Windsor Express as shooting guard for five seasons,” he continued.
He soon began travelling and playing in countries like Taiwan, Peru, and China. In 2019, he played for the Saskatchewan Rattlers that won the Canadian Elite Basketball League Championship.
He is currently playing for San Carlos, a basketball team based in Dominica Republic.
NBA Dreams still alive
But a career playing in the NBA is still on the cards for Keith. “NBA is still my aspiration, I’ve been able to get two workouts with Houston Rockets, and the Dallas Maverick G league teams. I’m young, but seasoned, so I still have that opportunity, and that opportunity is still there for me. And it’s really just waiting on the right time to get in there,” he said.
And when that time comes, he will be ready. Because for him, basketball is more than a game, it is his destiny, it was his gateway to a better life. And a gateway that he would like to lead others to.
“Basketball for me it’s an escape from life. It helps keep me sane, and it allows me to motivate and inspire people that might come from the same type of struggle that I come from in my life, and the experiences that I’ve been a part of-being a minority as well as being somebody that comes from poverty,” – Shaquille Keith
And that is what motivates Keith, that and the ferocity of each game.
“The intensity of the game is what drives me, the trash talking, the competitive nature, that’s what drives me to wanna play. It lights up a fire, and it allows me to focus my energy much differently,” he said.
It’s very important that he prepares himself mentally before each game. He ensures he takes the time to visualize what each game would look like, and when he hits the court, actualize.
“I like to get to the gym early, I like to get to the court, and just sit down, and just visualize myself doing certain moves on the court. I look in the empty arena, visualize where the fans will be, visualize what spots on the court I’ll be in to score. Then I go to the locker room, play some of my favourite music, I listen to everything but I find that there’s much more peace when I’m listening to gospel and heartfelt music. Before I go out, I pray, and then after that I go do my job,” he said.
That’s a job he takes pride in, that fuels his passion. Although Keith admits that he has been handed the short end of the stick for most of his life, he had learned how to use that short end to his advantage, and no one should count him out.
“It’s something that I use to remind myself, never to settle, never not to believe I could do something,” – Shaquille Keith