By Shaun Chornobroff and Luke Lombardi
In the midst of a rebuild and with only one returning upperclassmen, Rider men’s basketball is in dire need of leadership. Little did anybody expect that leadership would come from a freshman who will be unable to play this upcoming season.
Corey McKeithan is a freshman point guard and someone who men’s basketball Head Coach Kevin Baggett expected to play a significant role in the team this year. But, unfortunately, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the beginning of August and will be forced to redshirt this season.
McKeithan has made the best of a bad situation and established himself as a leader, despite not being able to touch the court.
“He’s already outspoken in the right way. He doesn’t mind saying the right things, when guys are struggling he doesn’t mind rallying guys in, saying ‘hey come on we got to get through this’ as a head coach you always lean on your point guard,” Baggett said. “In basketball terminology I call them our quarterbacks because they are an extension of the head coach. You need them thinking with the same mindset that I have and leading with the same mindset that I have and Corey was no different.”
McKeithan’s leadership abilities are evident to those who have known him, especially during his high school days at Windsor High School in Connecticut.
“We promote seniors to be leaders in our program,” McKeithan’s high school coach Ken Smith said. “Corey was one of the best we had on and off the court.”
Smith said McKeithan is a “great young man who believed in the Windsor program and represented it well, as a player he was top five, one of the best who has ever played for us, and he comes from a very supportive family. He is a great kid who will be an asset to the Rider basketball program and community.”
While this injury could be a death sentence for a number of college freshman, Baggett believes this may aid him in the long run.
“I don’t think it’s a setback, I’ll tell you what he was down early on, but right away he turned his attention to saying I’m going to come back bigger, faster, stronger, I’m going to study the game more, I’m going to be a coach on the sideline,” Baggett said. “He’s a guy who’s glass is half-full, not half-empty, he just has a great outlook about everything and our trainers raved about him because he’s always on time, he’s always reaching out, he’s very appreciative of everything, he’s thanked her for her persistence with him and trying to get him back healthy already from the day after his surgery. He’s a guy that I don’t ever question that he’s going to work at it on and off the court … So you appreciate those guys because they come few and far between.”
“It kind of reminds me of when Dimencio Vaughn tore his ACL. That year he sat out, I was really worried about the fact that he was missing the on-the- court work, but actually he learned a lot and ended up being first-team all conference that next year when he was back healthy. I could hands down see Corey being on the rookie team, if not being the best or one of the best rookies in the league the following year.”
McKeithan’s reputation doesn’t come without recognition. The 6-foot-1 point guard was a three time all-state selection and was all-conference all four years he spent at Windsor.
McKeithan was a guaranteed bucket at Windsor and had an on-court aura that stood out to opponents.
“He was always known as one of the toughest players to guard because he was so versatile. You always had to account for him at all times during games” said Luke McGarrity, who played against McKeithan multiple times during his high school career.
Stories about McKeithan’s in-game exploits can be told by many people. Smith said “When he was a freshman he was in a preseason game and had a chance to beat a rival program with a game winner, he missed and the rest of his years he became known for making game winners.”
Baggett recalls watching McKeithan play in an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) game and his toughness making an impression on him.
“I watched him last summer, he got hit in the head, bloody nose, bloody lip and I thought he had a concussion, but he went right back out there and continued to play. That’s when I knew he was tough and he has something pretty special about him.”
McKeithan’s toughness also goes hand in hand with his skill, but also his work ethic and motivation. Smith said his work ethic was something that made him so good, which is a sentiment Baggett agrees with, as he raves about McKeithan’s work ethic and his motivation.
McKeithan’s motivation, the thing that has pushed him to be so great since his love affair with basketball started at three-years-old is his family. His father, who brought him the game of basketball and helped develop him, his 14-year-old brother, who McKeithan is trying to motivate and be a role model for and his mother, who McKeithan dedicated his forearm to, are all sources of motivation.
“I have a tattoo on my forearm,” McKeithan explained. “It’s a dove with my mom’s name on the forearm and a rose. The dove is for peace … and the rose is for love.”
McKeithan has two other tattoos, both representing family.
“I got a family tattoo, it’s a heart with a heartbeat, my mom has it and my father got it. I have a tattoo on my inner bicep and it says ‘you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have’ and it has a cancer sign. The cancer sign isn’t really for any type of cancer. My aunt had passed away from ovarian cancer and my grandma was a survivor of breast cancer, so that tattoo means a lot to me.”
McKeithan’s character and leadership qualities has Baggett excited for what he will bring to the program over the next five years and believes he’s a star in the making.
“We’ve been fortunate of late to have guys like Stevie [Jordan], Teddy Okereafor. We’ve had some really good point guards of late and he’s going to be another one that’s going to have a great career here for us when it’s all set and done,” Baggett said.