Gallon tries to fill big shoes at OU
Neil McGlohon, The Oklahoma Daily
Most college basketball players have worked all their lives to be where they are today. Many began playing basketball the day they were born, or shortly thereafter. Those who move on to play professionally do not stumble upon basketball — they make it a lifestyle early in their lives.
With every rule there is an exception. Consider OU freshman standout center Keith “Tiny” Gallon that exception.
“I really only started playing organized basketball my tenth grade year,” Gallon said.
After moving to Houston from California in eighth grade, Gallon was introduced by a middle school counselor to his AAU coach.
While he began playing on the team in eighth grade, the Sooner big man said he was just your average Joe.
“Eighth and ninth grade I really didn’t play,” he said. “I was just learning. When I came from California, somebody saw me and said they wanted to introduce me.”
That somebody was Tiny’s middle school counselor, who introduced him to his future AAU coach. Upon working out for the team, the coaches were in awe of how nimble Gallon considering how big he was. When he started receiving significant playing time in tenth grade, Gallon was a hulk at 360 pounds.
Now 6-foot-9, 290 pounds, the not-so-“Tiny” Gallon said his eating habits may have been hard to break at first, but now it is just a routine.
“A lot of it is just staying away from eating late,” he said. “That really is the key. If you eat late and go to sleep, it’s going to stay on you. I’ve also been having fruits and stuff for snacks. It’s been easy this year because I started doing it back in my junior year [in high school], so I’m used to it.”
After playing ball on Houston Hoops with current freshman teammate Tommy Mason-Griffin, Gallon found himself with the opportunity to go to Oak hill Academy in Virginia, a place many would call the biggest basketball factory in the nation that is the high school alma mater of current NBA stars such as Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith (to name a select few).
And while many may take it for granted due to his gargantuan size, Tiny’s high school game was not the norm for a 6-9 behemoth.
“Usually I would just face up and shoot,” the then-unblockable Gallon said. “I did a lot of dribbling and shooting. I didn’t play down low a whole lot. I was either at the top of the key or the short corner.”
While the transition from the life off a high school to college student has not been hard to adjust to, the adaptation of his game to that of a college center, Gallon said, has been difficult and there are several things he is not used to.
“[In] high school I ran at my own pace, I did what I wanted to do and on the court, everything ran through me,” he said. “Now I’m getting teammates involved and there’s a lot more running and setting screens, so it’s a big transition.”
“I played against some good players in high school, but here...it’s like men now, and so I’m having to use my strength a lot now.”
Gallon is currently working on his inside game with his back to the basket. He admits it is difficult, but said he is progressing alright and expects to become a much better player.
As if having to change his playing style was not tough enough, the highly-touted Gallon stepped into the old role of Sooner legend Blake Griffin, last year’s first overall pick in the NBA draft.
“I wanted to come here and show a lot of people that I can do those things, basically trying to do everything Blake did,” Gallon said. “And I think I still could but right now it’s just difficult learning a new game, having my back to the basket and stuff like that.”
But one does not just come in a pick up right where Griffin left off, as Gallon has figured out for himself, as he feels the pressure of filling such big shoes quite often.
“Everyday,” he said. “I feel it everyday, but I mean I’m only a freshman and a lot of people do [forget that] but I’ll be alright.”
Despite the constant banter and being in the public eye, the 19-year-old freshman uses all the attention and critics to his advantage.
“A person like me, I use that stuff like it’s gas because I go out there and I use that as constructive criticism and to work harder,” said Gallon.
Perhaps the hardest thing, said Gallon, is the 12-9 season the Sooners have found themselves in the middle of after being ranked as high as 17th in the nation preseason.
Athletes like Gallon, he said, are not used to losing, especially after leading Oak Hill Academy to an outstanding 40-1 record his senior season after a 35-4 season the year before.
But like so many on the team, Gallon said he believes they have the athleticism and talent to turn the season around, it’s just about finding the mental toughness and pulling things together.
Right now, Gallon says his focus is just on improving as a player, person and teammate. Staying out of foul trouble, continuing to get in shape and lose weight and honing his inside skills, mainly his defense, are his priorities at the moment.
And just like so many Oak Hill players before him, Gallon admits he does think about his future and possibly the NBA, but that is not as important to him right now as winning at OU is.
“That’s every kid’s dream; every basketball player’s dream,” he said. “It takes a back seat now, I’m not really trippin’ about the NBA, I just really want to focus on winning the rest of [this season’s] games”
While his dreams are common for a basketball player, his personality is not.
It is not every day you meet a 6-foot-9, 290-pound “kid.”