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Steel Valley's Keyes transforms into promising big man

| Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 12:36 a.m.

It's one of those stories that Shawn McCallister can't help to tell any chances he gets.

And it's one of those stories that he gets better at telling each time.

Steel Valley went to Chartiers-Houston for a scrimmage game last season with a pretty established team. Still, the longtime coach was eager to see 6-foot-6 sophomore center Dom Keyes.

During the game, Keyes was fouled and headed to the free-throw line for two shots when McCallister noticed that something just wasn't right.

“He was standing at the wrong foul line,” McCallister said. “They had a youth foul line on the floor, and he was standing at that.”

When you have never played organized basketball before, those things happen.

“Yeah, you can say he was kind of raw in the beginning,” McCallister said.

A year later, and there's nothing ordinary or raw about Keyes.

Keyes has transformed from a kid who didn't even know the rules let alone the intricacies of the game to become one of the dominating forces in the WPIAL.

He helped Steel Valley to a 15-4 regular-season record and will lead the Ironmen into Tuesday's Class AAA first-round playoff game against Mars at West Allegheny.

“From the time he started playing organized ball until now, he has just made amazing strides,” McCallister said. “He went from not understanding the game of basketball to becoming a dominant force out on the court.”

And definitely one of the most complete players as well.

Keyes finished the regular season averaging 15 points, 14 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.

He scored double figures in the first 12 games of the season and 16 of the 19, but saved his biggest games for the most important ones.

Keyes scored 22 and grabbed 18 rebounds against No. 2 Thomas Jefferson; had 21 points and 21 rebounds against No. 3 Elizabeth Forward and 25 and 18 against rival West Mifflin within a two-week span late during the regular season.

And just think, he didn't know what he was doing one year earlier.

“I put a lot of work in over the summer and during practice,” Keyes said. “Just practicing every part of the game to prepare for this. I've always loved playing basketball but never was good enough to play.”

Keyes went out for the Steel Valley Middle School team in seventh grade, but was cut because “I wasn't good enough.”

That quickly changed.

Keyes played summer basketball in Charlie Batch's Project C.H.U.C.K league when he was 15. That was about the time he first dunked a basketball.

“It was an alley-oop,” Keyes recalled. “And I was wearing those skater shoes.”

Even though he kept getting prodded to play basketball by his friends, Keyes didn't decide to play again until his sophomore year.

“I felt like I got way better, and that I could play with the guys,” Keyes said. “I figured I'd try out, and I made the team.”

Keyes mostly played junior varsity as a sophomore before McCallister moved him up midway through the season.

“He had to learn the game when it came to organized basketball. He just needed some experience,” McCallister said.

“Now he plays both sides of the court. He just won't worry about the offensive end. He likes to go to glass ,and he's long. He has a long body and has long arms, so he rebounds the ball better than most even when he is out of position.”

When paired with Ajan Smith and Dorian Broadwater along with Derek Taylor and Brandon Donovan, the Ironmen have proven to be a difficult team to match up against.

Steel Valley leads Class AAA in scoring at 74.1 points per game.

“Every team's goal is to make it to Palumbo,” Keyes said. “We are going to take it one game at a time. We just want to beat Mars.

“A lot of people don't expect us to go far. I think we might surprise some people.”

Keyes has already surprised his share, that's for sure.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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