Boone goes from liability to asset
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A few weeks back, Keylan Boone sat in Mike Boynton’s front seat. Jay-Z was playing in the background.
It was late after Oklahoma State’s overtime upset of Texas Tech on a Big Monday. Boone had put up extra shots inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. He happened to leave when his coach left.
So, like Boynton often does, he took Boone home.
But this ride was different.
Boone received a key piece of advice.
“When times get hard, it’s easy to get complacent, just like when success is going on,” Boone remembers his coach saying. “You have to get a thin line in the middle of the great days and the bad days. You gotta look for the work in between.”
Earlier that evening, Boone made his first shot in 30 days during his first game action in nine days. His 3-pointer with 13:26 remaining ignited the Cowboys’ wild comeback.
And the conversation afterward was an even bigger turning point.
Boone broke out of his funk at just the right time. As the 12th-ranked Cowboys enter Thursday’s Big 12 Tournament opener at 10:30 a.m. against No. 10 West Virginia inside the T-Mobile Center, Boone is in position to thrive in a tournament setting.
A new focus helps.
He’s coming off an 11-point, five-rebound performance against the Mountaineers last Saturday. He has made 11 of his last 15 shots the past five games.
“I always talk to those guys about the work wins,” Boynton said after the Texas Tech game. “It’s hard to believe that when you don’t see that opportunity in front of you. The only way he was ready is because he prepared the right way and he was in the right mental place. I’m extremely proud of him.”
Boone opened the season red hot.
He had a double double at Texas-Arlington. A few weeks later, he had a dozen rebounds against Oral Roberts.
But then his playing time became less frequent.
After the first five Big 12 games, he played more than 10 minutes just once until Feb. 22 against Texas Tech. He played a single minute against Arkansas and Texas. He played just seven at Kansas State.
That was the roughest patch of basketball in Boone’s life. His confidence nearly wavered.
“I honestly was a liability on the court and that was hurting the team,” Boone said.
He met with the coaching staff. He wanted to turn things around. He asked how.
They told him to stay with it. They reached out every day offering advice.
Mentally, Boone started to improve. He focused better.
“That’s when I realized it’s more than just basketball,” Boone said. “That really helped me as a person. I can honestly say I’ve grown as a man every day now.
“And I feel like it’s their belief in me and their will to not let me fail and help me move forward is really showing in games.”
Boone became better in practice. That’s the first step to more playing time in Boynton’s program.
Boone then had success on the court.
With the Cowboys’ depth being tested the past two weeks without Isaac Likekele and with Cade Cunningham injuring his ankle, Boone has found big moments.
On Saturday, he came up with the key steal with 11 seconds remaining when he tipped away an entry pass inside to Derek Culver. Boone’s twin brother, Kalib, ended up with the basketball.
Keylan has averaged 24.7 minutes, 8.0 points and 4.7 rebounds the past three games. He looks more like the free-and-easy version of himself that shined at times last season and in November and December.
“I’ve been working a lot harder now,” Keylan said.
Everything changed that night in Boynton’s front seat. Keylan started to understand more about life.
He listened to Jay-Z’s lyrics with his coach. They finally spoke to him like they do Boynton.
“Music be talking to him and it’s relatable for him,” Keylan said about Boynton’s music preferences. “I started listening to more Jay-Z music. Jay-Z just talks.”