Nankivil thrives on right mentality

first_imgSenior forward Keaton Nankivil has been a steady source of points for UW, averaging 11.7 ppg in conference play on .488 shooting.[/media-credit]Fans have always wanted big things from Keaton Nankivil.The senior forward for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team has the size, standing 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, the mobility and the perimeter marksmanship.As a native of Madison and a former prep star at Madison Memorial High School, he’s even got the background too.But over the course of his first two years as a starter for the Badgers, consistency issues arose for Nankivil, now in his third and final year in the cardinal and red’s starting five.Many people saw big scoring potential in Nankivil, but during the 2009-10 season, his shots from the field soared (.493 percent) while his three-point shooting slipped (.316).But this year, it would take quite a picky fan to have qualms with Nankivil’s play.He’s improved in nearly every statistical category. His dead-eye shooting clip (.508 from the field, .479 from the arc) has forced opponents and fans alike to recognize him as one of the most reliable shooters in the conference and the nation.Through 28 games, he’s already registered nine more blocks than he did in 33 regular season games last year. His free throw shooting has increased about 12 percentage points to .862 and he averages just under 10 points per game.How did he manage the improvement? For a guy who studies kinesiology, it didn’t have much to do with the body’s mechanics. To Nankivil, it was all about his mentality.“He’s playing at a pretty confident level,” assistant coach Gary Close said. “For the most part I think one of the reasons he’s such a good shooter is because he’s a pretty even-keeled type of person so he doesn’t get real excited when he makes a bunch or get real disappointed when he misses, but he’s worked real hard on his shot.”2010-11 hasn’t necessarily been a dream season for Nankivil though. Shooting the ball well is a difficult thing for anyone to maintain every single day, but over a recent three-game stretch, a dip in Nankivil’s shooting began to emerge.Against Iowa, Ohio State and Purdue, the senior collectively hit nine of 41 shots and just four of 20 three-pointers.Nankivil, confident yet ever so humble, reminded himself before the third game against Purdue that trends only come in threes.But after another frustrating game against the Boilermakers, Nankivil slowly admitted to himself that he was, indeed, slipping into the doldrums. But his honesty with himself still didn’t cause his poise to burst.When Penn State visited the Kohl Center on Feb. 20, something clicked. Nankivil hit three treys in the game’s first six minutes. He suffered a minor ankle injury on the third bucket, but he still finished the game by going 8-9 from the field and 5-5 from the arc, good for 22 points.“It’s always nice [to hit that first three],” Nankivil said. “Right when I was willing to admit that it was starting to become a trend, finally something got me off that track.”But with Nankivil, he never quite leaves the track, never derails. His confidence may bend, but it doesn’t break.“He’s got a good ability to move on to the next play and that’s the way that this game’s got to be played, because it’s so fast you can’t dwell too long or one mistake’s going to compound into three or four,” Close said.“His ability to move on and his ability to stay even-keeled is a big part of why he plays so consistently well.”A principal example of that notion came against UW-Green Bay in mid-December. About a minute and a half into the contest, Nankivil received the ball at the top of the key but had it stolen from him by forward Daniel Turner.As Turner raced down the court for the go-ahead layup, Nankivil chased him down and returned the favor, swatting the ball away as it headed toward the rim.To Nankivil, it’s not a matter of diagnosing yourself with a “short-term memory” – pretending the mistake never happened. He acknowledges the occurrence and takes it from there.“I think it’s usually better to think ‘I gotta make the next [shot]’,” he said. “Always try to move forward.”Nankivil, who enjoys tutoring students at Madison West High School when he can, always likes to be straightforward about his success and give credit where credit is due.If you asked him why his three-point shooting percentage has improved so much, he’d tell you it’s from his confidence and his teammates, specifically senior forward Jon Leuer and junior point guard Jordan Taylor, who demand extra attention from opponents.And if you try to call Nankivil, Leuer and Taylor “the big three,” he’ll try to correct you.“It is ‘the big two’,” Nankivil said. “They work so hard for every shot. I’m a beneficiary of those two working hard 90 percent of the time that I score.”But his teammates know how hard he works too.“He just goes about his business and doesn’t let anything faze him,” Leuer said. “There’s not a better teammate, or just a better person out there. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and when he’s on the court he’s a warrior and he’s fun to have on your side.”last_img