Incoming Nebraska center Blaise Keita journeyed from Mali through sweltering heat and a language barrier in pursuit of his basketball dream.
COFFEYVILLE, Kan. — Snow is coming. Six inches overnight, another 2-4 in the morning. Wednesday’s junior college basketball game between the hometown Red Ravens and Barton Community College may have to be rescheduled.
That’s big news In the town of 8,800, where you can drive through in eight minutes and the closest major airport sits across state lines in Tulsa, 60 miles away.
Besides a few restaurants and hotels, “This is Coffeyville,” guard A.J. McBride says, gesturing toward the Red Ravens’ parquet floor. “For the most part, this is it right here.”
If the gym is Coffeyville’s main stage, then sophomore center Blaise Keita, a 2022 Nebraska commit, is the lead actor. Keita led Coffeyville Community College to a juco national title, championship last season. And after missing 13 games with a stress fracture in his foot, Keita has led the Red Ravens to a 13-5 record after returning on Jan. 5.
Fans, coaches and teammates love Keita for the way he teases teammates during rap battles, performs traditional Malian dances, and wears what former Nebraska assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih calls “a million-dollar smile.”
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Behind the grin is a quiet, steadfast determination. He plays basketball for his family in Mali, where half of the population lives below the international poverty line ($1.25 per day). Blaise’s family owns a home, and he grew up with his own room. But they support a lot of family members. And as Blaise says, “It’s too hard to get money,” which is how he ended up here.
“If you can play here,” reads a sign in Coffeyville’s east gym, “you can play anywhere.” Blaise plans to test that theory at Nebraska — and, eventually, in the pros — so he can help his family.
“They took care of me,” Keita says. “They’ve done everything for me. So now I have to do something for them.”
Sunrays blistered over the cracked cement courts at the 2016 Mali Hope Camp in Bamako.
Thermometers read triple digits. Camp director Jason …….