Marcus Keene couldn't help but notice the parallels between him and Celtics star Isaiah Thomas this past season. As Thomas was en route to his second All-Star appearance, Keene was lighting up college basketball as the best scorer in the country. Both are just 5-foot-9 and renowned experts at proving people wrong.
It was Thomas' 2016-17 campaign where he scored 28.9 points per game, third-best in the NBA, that helped convince Keene to leave Central Michigan University after his junior season. With a 5-foot-9 star making headlines at the NBA level, Keene feels he can capitalize on a building momentum for the little guys.
"People were comparing me to Isaiah Thomas all year. He was averaging close to 30 all year, I was averaging 30-plus all year. This was the right time for me to come out," Keene said after working out for the Wizards on Tuesday.
Keene also noted how CMU was not going to play any high-major schools next season and how averaging 30 points per game is a feat he would feel pressure to recreate. But much of his decision was about Thomas and other small NBA guards paving the way for him.
"I look up to Isaiah Thomas because he's my size. I played against [Cavs guard] Kay Felder as well back in college. I know little guards like that. The ability to score the ball is what people think we can't do at the highest level. Them two showed it, especially Isaiah Thomas, but even [Suns guard] Tyler Ulis later on the year he started showing he could score, as well," Keene said.
Thomas has proven for years that he can score at a high level, but it wasn't easy and it didn't happen overnight. He was the last player selected in the 2011 NBA Draft and Keene may not even be that fortunate. He is currently projected to go undrafted by many mock drafts and wasn't invited to the NBA combine last month, a slight he called a "slap in the face."
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Still, Keene remains fully confident he can score in the NBA.
"I was pretty good in college, pretty good in high school as well. I feel like I can score the ball on anybody. I've played with NBA pros before. I was able to get my shot of on big guards and little guards, it really doesn't matter. Scoring isn't really a problem. It's really the other things that I have to work on," he said.
Keene has played against several NBA players like Hawks forward Taurean Prince, Celtics guard Marcus Smart and in high school he played against Wizards forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. He believes the key for success will be doing a lot of the same things Thomas does well.
"The ability to draw contact. He knows how to get bigger guards off of him. We smaller guards know we have to get to our spots. We have been small all our life. It's not like we shrunk or something. We've been small, so we've learned how to score on bigger guards. He knows how to get to his spots. I know how to get to my spots," he said.
Keene knows the odds are against him getting drafted. But all he wants is a chance to continue proving people wrong.