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Friendship leads star athlete to Duke

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For as long as he can remember, Trevor Keels has played basketball with Jeremy Roach.

The two guards go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Neither is “Robin” to the other’s “Batman.” It’s much more of a “Batman and Batman” situation, according to Coach Glenn Farello of St. Paul VI Catholic High School.

The duo, who both were ranked by various recruiting sites as top-20 prospects in the country during their time at the diocesan high school, temporarily split up this past season when Roach graduated and joined the Duke University men’s basketball team.

“I definitely missed him my senior year — he should have re-classed and came back,” Keels said.

But the band is getting back together.

Keels recently committed to play basketball at Duke next year, joining Roach on the hardwood again.

He said his friendship with Roach, as well as life lessons learned at Paul VI, made the decision easy to spurn offers from the University of Virginia, Villanova, and Kentucky.

“Duke was my dream school because I like bright lights — that’s one of the reasons I came to PVI. I like the fans; I like the crowds,” Keels said. “Duke is a great school on and off the court, and I knew it was going to prepare me to be a man in life.”

COMING TO PAUL VI

Keels grew up in Clinton, Md., a solid 47 miles from Paul VI’s new campus in Chantilly.

In middle school, he started playing summer ball with Team Takeover, an elite Washington-area AAU club. There he met Roach, who was headed to play high school basketball at Paul VI the following year.

In recent years, Paul VI has built a reputation as an elite basketball school, the kind of high school team that will play on ESPN.

As a freshman there, Roach began piquing the interest of major college programs.

When Keels was about to finish eighth grade, Roach tried to persuade him to come to Paul VI, telling him it’s a “school for guards.”

Keels was planning on attending DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., another basketball powerhouse. There, he knew people and felt comfortable.

One day changed his mind.

Roach invited Keels to a workout session at Paul VI that was open for college recruiters to spectate.

There he saw coaches from the University of Virginia, Miami, and Kentucky, among others, scouting the PVI players.

“I was like, ‘This is what I want. I want to be a high-major (NCAA Division 1) player,’ ” Keels said. 

As a freshman at Paul VI, Keels said he “didn’t like stepping out of my comfort zone at all,” but he quickly learned to open up and express himself.

Now, as a senior, he enjoys friendships with many students outside of his basketball teammates, and said he goes out of his way to greet people in the hallways.

“I’m an outgoing person — I’m goofy, and that’s what they like here,” he said.

GROWTH AS A PLAYER AND A PERSON

While he was performing on the national high school basketball stage, he was studying religion (among other topics) at Paul VI.

It didn’t come naturally to him at first.

“I’m in class my freshman year and I don’t know what’s going on — I’m learning things I never heard of,” Keels said. “I never touched a Bible before I came to PVI, so I really paid attention in religion class and learned.”

Apolonio Latar, chair of the Theology Department at Paul VI, remembers that freshman religion class with Keels, about Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”

“My first impression was, actually, he didn’t care about my class … but he was very nice to me whenever he saw me in the hallway,” Latar said. “I think it changed at the middle of the year. He was having a hard time with the subject but he always participated in class and he was really committed.”

Keels maintained a friendship with Latar and opted to take an apologetics class with him his senior year.

Latar said the student he knew his freshman year was like a whole new person.

“He just became a great student — he stood out in class,” Latar said. “He was the first person who would speak during a discussion. He’d ask tough questions and he would try answer tough questions without being afraid of being wrong, and I really admired that about him.”

Latar said Keels “doesn’t take faith for granted.”

“He asked himself the critical questions about life, of God’s existence, of Scripture, of the church, and he’s also open to listen to others and ask them questions,” Latar said. “For him, he wants to really live a life worth living, and to me that is what faith is about. It’s a certainty that life is worth living, and it’s good. It’s a gift. And he’s taken that into his own heart.”

Keels said learning about the Catholic faith at Paul VI has inspired him to look into getting baptized and becoming Catholic.

“When I’m in a tough time, I just think to myself, ‘God got me.’ I never used to think like that at all,” he said. “I’m actually going to religion class happy and I never thought this day would come. It definitely put a turn on my life.”

BROTHERS AT DUKE

Keels remembers the first time he met Duke coach Mike Kzryzewski.

The legendary coach was visiting Paul VI to talk with Roach, and Farello, Paul VI’s coach, invited Keels to meet Kzryzewski.

“I was just stuttering,” Keels said of that meeting. “He asked me where I lived. I don’t know what I said. I couldn’t even get the word out because, you know, it was my dream school and my first time ever meeting Coach K in person.”

Now the two laugh about that initial encounter.

Keels boosted his stock in a big way his sophomore year at Paul VI, when Roach tore his ACL.

With Roach on the sidelines, Keels had to take a larger role in leading the team that year. He said he became much closer with Roach because of that.

“(Roach) was just like another coach on the sidelines — he taught me so much,” Keels said. “I think that’s when we really got close, him being a big brother to me and teaching me a lot of things.”

Keels said his friendship with Roach is special because they keep each other grounded.

“I definitely see him as a role model, somebody I definitely look up to,” Keels said. “He’s not just going to tell me things I want to hear. He’s going to tell me the bad things too. A lot of people are not going to do that, and somebody like him you’ve got to keep close in your circle.”

There’s no competition or jealousy between the two of them, they said — “if he scores more than me, I don’t really care as long as we get the win,” Roach said.

In his freshman season with Duke, Roach started in 18 of 24 games, averaging 8.7 points and 2.8 assists per game.

After an admittedly disappointing COVID-abbreviated 2020-21 season in which Duke went 13-11 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than 20 years, Keels and Roach said the pressure will be high next season.

Then again, they said they’ve thrived on pressure their entire basketball careers.

“Everybody’s going to be looking at me, looking at Jeremy, knowing we played in the backcourt together,” Keels said. “They’re going to be expecting us to win a lot of games. And we are going to win a lot of games.”

While Keels said he’s glad to see his hard work pay off with the scholarship to Duke, “the road is not over.”

He has ambitions to play in the NBA one day, and some outlets are predicting that day could come just a year from now.

But until then, Keels will relish being the “Batman” to Roach’s “Batman” once again in Durham, N.C.    

“You can’t wish for anything better than this – one of your best friends that went to the same school, you’ve been playing with him all your life,” Roach said. “You can’t ask for anything else better than that.”

Riedl can be reached at matthew.riedl@arlingtondiocese.org or on Twitter @RiedlMatt.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021