“It was a stop in my journey”
Many times, in life as in sports, we have a plan as to how we are going to get where we want to be. We work hard to execute those ideas, but when they fall short we are left with a sense of failure and often we do not know how to come back from it. This wasn’t the case for one student-athlete at Carleton University.
Kaza Kajami-Keane, a 6’1 guard from Ajax, Ontario, came into Carleton University’s basketball program in 2015, after leaving the NCAA three seasons in, playing 99 games and tallying 311 points.
“Playing in front of almost 5000 fans was overwhelming for an 18-year-old kid,” said Kajami-Keane. “Although the program helped me grow, I wasn’t performing well for them- my time as a player wasn’t a good one; but, in the end I left with great relationships, and a second home”
The ex-NCAA player knows that although the NCAA produces many NBA hopefuls, the Carleton franchise can build players that are of the same caliber, though they have been historically overlooked due to the low key nature of U SPORTS.
“Just look at Diressa [from the Ryerson Rams], he is torturing everyone,” added Kaza.
Both leagues are very similar: athletic, competitive, and talented.
The transition into the Ravens system wasn’t all that easy for Kajami-Keane, but with the help of the Smarts, he moves closer each day to becoming the player and person he wants to be.
“I have never had a trustworthy relationship with coaches. It takes a lot for me to open to them, but with Dave and Rob, it was easy. Dave is an intense man, but for all the right reasons. He wants us to succeed, and he sees the potential in us that we don’t. From the outside looking in, you don’t feel the love and passion like we on the inside do.”
Similarly, Rob Smart expects a lot from his guys, but being a professor he made sure that Kajami-Keane also focused on his school load.
“When I first got here, the academic transition was hard, and very different from what I was used to”, reflected Kaza. “[Rob] and I had our battles, but he really helped me reach the academic goals I didn’t know I had.”
After being eligible, but going undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft, Kajami-Keane says that he still has a long way to go before he can make that dream a reality.
“Right now, I don’t think I’m there, but I think one day I will be, due to the people behind me.”
With his biggest fans—his parents—supporting him, he knows nothing can stop him. The game of basketball has not only given him everything, but it has also done the same for the rest of his family. With two sisters playing DI basketball, his entire childhood revolved around basketball; from his mom driving him to see his sisters play to working at basketball camps with his dad.
If he didn’t want to play it professionally, his goal would be to help inner-city children play like his father does right now.
“My dad believes that it’s not all about winning. This game, it teaches you how to build your character and that is the biggest victory you can take away from it.”
Being a Raven has treated Kajami-Keane well, and today he is one of the leaders on the roster. Averaging 15.5 PPG, and a field goal percentage of 51%, Kaza has soared as one of the best players in the OUA this season.
Graduating this year, Kajami-Keane will be leaving the Ravens along with seniors Connor Wood, Joe Rocca, and Ryan Ejim. To him, it was all about playing for the guy beside you, and with guys like that, he leaves the program knowing they gave it their all.
Ahead of the Final 8 tournament in Halifax next week, they have one more battle to conquer.
One huge factor in Kajami-Keane’s development has been the presence of James Owusu. Initially a walk-on for the Ravens squad, Kaza says that he would not be the player he is if it weren’t for Owusu.
“He’s the best guy I know; the first guy on the court, and the last one to leave every practice. He brings an energy to the team that no one else can, and I owe him a lot.”
What’s next for Kaza Kajami-Keane?
If it’s playing overseas, only time will tell, but right now his focus is Nationals, finishing his degree, and then it will be time to gear up for whatever comes his way.
“Never give up on yourself and what you dream of doing,” he reflected. “There are times I almost stopped because I thought there was no need to play anymore, but then I would force myself to get back on the court, shoot around a bit and remember why I love this game. It was hard, but you should never stop wanting to learn and be the player you want to be.”