Highland Park point guard Malik Keith has taken his game to another level as a senior.
Keith, the top-ranked 2016 player in Topeka, has nearly doubled his scoring average averaging 23.0 points through five games for the Scots.
“I knew I was going to put up the numbers,” Keith said. “I feel like that’s what I have to do in order for us to beat teams. I have to score a lot. That’s what I’ve been working on, my offensive game, and it’s coming along right now.”
Keith is also averaging 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.8 steals a game. He is shooting 53.5 percent from the field and has made 11 3-pointers with his quick release and pinpoint accuracy. His true shooting percentage is .655, which is well above average.
“It’s been OK,” Keith said of his performance. “It hasn’t been 100 percent. I feel like I can be better. I have to focus on my defense more instead of my offense. We just need more stops. We can score the ball, we just need more stops on the defensive end. But I feel like I’ve been playing OK.”
Keith opened the season with 13 points in a win over KC Sumner and has been on a terror since with scoring outputs of 25, 22, 28, and 27 in his last four games.
There’s still plenty of games left in the season, but Keith could be on his way to doing something a Highland Park player has not done in 20 years—average 20 points a game in a season.
The last Scot to accomplish the feat was Tony Barksdale, Keith’s summer team coach with the Kansas All-Stars, in 1995-96 when he averaged 20.9 as a senior before eventually playing at Western Michigan. Robert Townsend (19.9 in 2001-02) and Jahmal McMurray (19.7 in 2013-15) came up just short of the 20-point mark.
Highland Park has started the season with a 3-2 record.
“The first month was pretty cool,” Keith said. “We lost twice, of course we didn’t want that, but it was pretty good. We all came together better as a team. We all understand what we have to do now, which is to defend and rebound. It was an all-around good month. I feel like the first month taught us a couple lessons.”
During the start Keith had a chance to square up against Lawrence senior point guard Justin Roberts, who holds five Division I offers. The two went toe-to-toe in a highly-contested battle won by Lawrence in overtime as Roberts led the way with 32 points. Keith had 25.
“He’s another player to me, he’s just another point guard that I play against,” Keith said. “He’s a really good player though.”
After dropping their second straight game at the Blue Valley Shootout finishing fourth, Highland Park won their next two games against Topeka High and Topeka West to take some momentum into the break.
“It got everybody’s minds back to the winning stage,” Keith said. “Of course nobody wanted to lose those two games, but it’s over with and you have to move on. I feel like the two wins boosted our confidence even more.”
Fellow senior DaiShoun Fox has also shown improvements from his junior year as he has been averaging 10.8 points a game on 53-percent shooting as a versatile player.
“DaiShoun is a big key to our team,” Keith said. “He’s going to rebound and he’s going to defend. He can score for us too. He’s been doing well and he’s been in the gym with me and Ahmad (Fox). We’re trying to get his shot better so he can knock down more 3s and become a better scorer. He’s a big key to our season.”
Keith’s backup, sophomore point guard Dasani Giardina, has also been making improvements averaging 5.4 points.
“Dasani has came a long way,” Keith said. “He’s varsity-ready now. He knows that he can’t get nervous and if you’re open, shoot the ball. He knows his role. He knows he’s not going to come in and get 30. He’s somebody that’s going to come in and knock down a couple shots. He’s come a long way. I’m teaching him little lessons here and there to let him know what he needs to get better at because point guard is not an easy position. I’m trying to teach him the little things about being a point guard.”
During the break prior to the Jan. 5 contest against No. 8 in 5A Shawnee Heights (3-1), the Scots have been in the gym working on their games.
“We all said we were going to get better over break so everybody’s in the gym,” Keith said. “Everybody knows you have to be in the gym working to get better. You can’t be slacking.”
Highland Park beat Shawnee Heights 78-59 in their last meeting last season. The Scots have a similar team from last year while Shawnee Heights had to replace all five starters.
“I feel like we just have to come out and put it on them, don’t give them no easy looks,” Keith said. “Just lock them down and not let them score and for us to score. I’m trying to beat them by 20 to be truthful. I’m not trying to win by single digits.”