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 read more

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Not over: Unlikely hero Joe Blanton delivers to keep Dodgers alive

first_imgLOS ANGELES >> Yasmani Grandal reached out and caught the slider that Anthony Rendon couldn’t hit, and Dodger Stadium turned into a sound cloud of gratitude.Joe Blanton, the man who threw that pitch and kept the Dodgers from losing a season, just turned and looked at the right-field foul pole, seeing nothing, just living his own moment amid 49,617 people.“I wasn’t thinking anything,” Blanton said. “Except I was glad it was over.”He meant the seventh inning, the one in which Washington came back from 2-5 and made it 5-5 and sent Clayton Kershaw into the clubhouse. Blanton knew nothing else was over. He retired the Nationals in order in the eighth, with 15 pitches. Then he watched Chase Utley bounce the game-winning single into right field, and he saw Kenley Jansen pitch like closers do in closer situations. The Dodgers won, 6-5, tied the Division Series, 2-2, and are headed for a knockout Game 5 in Washington on Thursday, on a plane with a cockpit built for 25 or more.• PHOTOS: Dodgers, fans celebrate Game 4 victory“I’m kind of enjoying the ride right now,” Blanton said.Actually his son Mateo was enjoying the ride on his dad’s back, as they navigated their way to Blanton’s locker.But this is far from Blanton’s first season at 38,000 feet. In 2008 he was part of Philadelphia’s rotation and hit a home run in a World Series game. The next year he turned in a quality start in a Game 4 NLCS win over the Dodgers, capped by Jimmy Rollins’ ninth-inning double. His career became a frustration. In early 2014 he retired and went home to Tennessee, with no intention of returning, even at 33. But when he began working with Zach Duke, a lefty reliever who was coming back from injury, Blanton discovered some retrospective zip in his arm. He signed with Kansas City, did well there, came back to the Dodgers and has been a sturdy bridge between Jansen and the starters. Blanton pitched 80 innings in the regular season with 80 strikeouts and only 55 hits allowed.“It’s two different experiences, two different teams,” he said. “I guess I’m letting myself enjoy it more this year. I realize just how hard it is to get into this position. I know I’d better appreciate it when it happens.”He also pretty much assumes he’ll pitch in every game, even when Kershaw is working. Kershaw, for the fourth consecutive year, pitched on three days’ rest in an elimination situation. Kershaw said he’s getting a little better at it, but it took him 27 pitches to escape the first inning, and was lucky to do so with one run.“We felt like Clayton had the game in control after that,” said Blanton, especially after Kershaw’s leadoff double began the two-run third inning and made it 4-2.But Washington’s front-line hitters are having a big series, and Kershaw left in the seventh when he walked Bryce Harper, a battle of Cy Young vs. MVP that was decided by Harper’s eagle eye in the shadows.“After that, things started moving pretty fast down there in the bullpen,” Blanton said.Pedro Baez came in and drilled Jayson Werth, bringing home a run. Lefty Luis Avilan came to face Daniel Murphy, even though Murphy has a 6-for-20 career slate against him. Murphy dribbled the two-run single that tied it. Now Blanton’s number came up.“If this had been in the regular season,” he said, “I might not have had enough time. But that’s probably the good thing about the adrenalin. It didn’t take me too much time.”His curveball got him ahead in the count, and then Blanton kept throwing sliders, and Rendon fouled off one and swung fruitlessly at the other. Blanton said he didn’t hear the noise. He did hear it when Utley got the game-winner off right-hander Blake Treinen, with Washington manager Dusty Baker reluctant to add to left-hander Sammy Solis’ workload.So many Dodgers are loving their second lives. Utley is 37 and was shipped out of Philadelphia as part of a salary dump. Andrew Toles, who got hit to start the winning rally, was released by Tampa Bay. Andre Ethier, who guided a single through the infield hole exposed by a defensive shift, missed almost all of 2016 with a broken leg. Justin Turner was an extra man who struggled to escape Triple-A with the Mets and Orioles, and has become a top N.L. slugger since.And there’s Blanton, the pitcher from AARP.“Somehow you have to treat all this like another game,” he said. Thanks to him and his fellow high-riders, another game awaits.center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img read more

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