The good news keeps coming. On Friday night, graduate transfer Christian Keeling committed to play his final year of college basketball in Chapel Hill. It’s UNC’s third commit for 2019 in the past four days and fills a key void on the wing for next season. He was one of three official visitors this week, as we highlighted here.
My mother always told me that if it is in your heart then don’t keep it hidden. My family & I decided to announce my decision earlier! This is an honor and tribute to you Mama You will always live through me— Christian Keeling (@BasktballPower) April 27, 2019
I Love You Mama but with that being said..#BlueCollarKid pic.twitter.com/8SoHxtfBp9
Another visitor, Anthony Harris, committed on April 23rd within hours of completing his OV. That followed Cole Anthony’s much anticipated announcement earlier in the day. Keeling’s decision completes a whirlwind trifecta. After a frustrating season of near-misses on the recruiting trail, UNC suddenly has the talent to contend for the ACC title again next season.
As a junior at Charleston Southern in the Big South Conference, Keeling averaged 18.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. He did it on the back of 46.5% shooting from the floor and 38.0% from three. Most will focus on the scoring numbers, but averaging almost seven rebounds from the perimeter may be more pleasing to the coaching staff. (He will have to clean up his 2.7 turnovers per game).
Those numbers were rewarded with a 2018-19 First-Team All-Big South selection. That’s an improvement on his sophomore campaign when he was named Second-Team All-Big South. If he can maintain those efforts against ACC talent, he’ll be a dangerous replacement on the wing for the Heels.
Projected to slide into the “2” spot after the departure of Kenny Williams, there are similarities between the two shooting guards. At 6-4 and 175 pounds, Keeling is comfortable shooting from deep (6.3 attempts per game), coming off screens and exploiting holes in the defense to nail mid-range jumpers. He is equally comfortable getting up court in transition, whether he initiates a fast break or flies up the wing to get behind the defense.
However, as evidenced by his 53.8% success rate on two-point field goal attempts, Keeling can also create his own shot and consistently get to the rim. It’s a skillset that’s largely been absent for UNC from the shooting guard position the past 3 seasons. That success isn’t a statistical illusion based on low shooting output, as he averaged 7.3 attempts from inside the arc. For reference, Kenny Williams never averaged more than 3.8 two-point attempts in his career. Not quite the defensive player that Williams was (most are not), Keeling has the tools to be more than an adequate replacement.
Here are a few (minimal) highlight videos from his time with the Buccaneers.
Against Abilene Christian (freshman year).
Against Radford (freshman year).
Against Florida State (freshman year).
With most graduate transfers from lower-tiered conferences, there are always questions of how their talents will transfer to the rigors of power conference competition. Banging against Duke, Virginia, and Notre Dame is different than Presbyterian, Winthrop, and High Point. It’s easy to point to two games where a player went off because he’s the only scoring option for a low-major team and/or super motivated to prove that the big boys missed out. It’s also just as easy to find a player who lit up their conference, only to struggle against power conference teams. (Everyone wave at Fletcher Magee).
For Keeling, those two games last year came against Florida and Clemson. He poured in 18 points and 5 rebounds in Gainesville. That was followed that up with a 25 and 3 performance against the Tigers. You can add 18 and 6 against Marquette for good measure.
The good news for Tar Heel fans? Those weren’t an anomaly or directly attributed to being an experienced veteran. There were glimpses during his entire career at Charleston Southern that Keeling can have consistent success against top-tier competition.
In eight games against high major competition over three years, (Marquette, Clemson, Florida, Florida State x 2, Virginia Tech, Georgia, and Alabama), he averaged 18.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game on . In those eight games Keeling only scored fewer than 16 points once -- when he was held to just four points against Alabama in the sixth collegiate game of his career. He did it on 49% shooting (43% from three) and 76% from the foul line. Some people just know how to get buckets and Keeling now gets a chance to prove he’s not just a product of feasting on Big South opponents.
With just Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, and Andrew Platek returning on the wing, there are minutes to be earned. Roy Williams will give Keeling every opportunity to earn them. Will Keeling replicate his junior year production? Maybe. Maybe not. Is he capable of providing an additional multi-dimensional scoring option? Yes, absolutely.
As the #7 overall transfer according to ESPN, over 25 programs contacted Keeling. He had visited Georgia Tech and Clemson prior to his official visit to UNC. A visit in May with N.C. State has now been cancelled.
The fifth commit for the Heels’ 2019 class, he joins guards Jeremiah Francis, Armando Bacot, Cole Anthony, and Anthony Harris. North Carolina still has one more scholarship available. They now await word on graduate transfer Justin Pierce (William & Mary) and McDonald’s All-American Precious Achiuwa.