Keeshawn Kellman didn’t take a long and winding road from Princeton to Florida Gulf Coast University. It was fast and direct.
In the first round of the 2023 NCAA tournament, Kellman helped Princeton stage a historic basketball victory over second-seeded Arizona, scoring eight points and blocking two shots as the Tigers became the fourth 15th seed ever to reach the Sweet 16. The first 15th seed to make it? FGCU, which captivated the nation in a dazzlingly fun 2013 run.
After Princeton’s run ended, Kellman had two choices: transfer for graduate school or play professionally overseas. The Ivy League doesn’t allow student-athletes to stay at their school for more than four years, even though the NCAA granted an additional eligibility year due to COVID-19 cancellations. Kellman still wanted to develop his game, chase more success at the collegiate level and earn his master’s degree.
Soon after registering his name in the transfer portal, he received a call from FGCU coach Pat Chambers. Kellman later received offers from Nevada, James Madison and Hofstra, but he didn’t visit any of them after sampling what Chambers, FGCU and Southwest Florida had to offer him.
“I felt that they had a real plan for me to grow and continue to advance my career,” Kellman said. “I felt that I could be a great fit into the team and what they were trying to do. I had a lot of schools reach out to me during that time, but I was drawn here from the start. I took my visit, liked what I saw, and it was a done deal.”
Kellman lived in Brooklyn and the Bronx until his family moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, when he was 4. His parents, Steffon and Kehinde Kellman, worked tirelessly, he said. His father commuted (and still commutes) 90 minutes to New Jersey, working overnight and then returning at 7 a.m. so that he could take his children to school. His mother worked in the daytime.
“They sacrificed so much time in order to make sure we were taken care of,” Kellman said. “My parents never complained once about anything and taught me to work hard. They taught me what hard work really was — and I still carry that with me today.
“My dad has been a huge inspiration to me. No matter what sport I wanted to play, he was fully behind me and was willing to take any available time out of the day to help me get better.”
On the soccer field, his father shot hundreds of balls so his son could practice goalkeeping. For baseball, he pitched for batting practice. For football, dad played quarterback so Keeshawn could work on route running and catching the ball.
“He would demand my best with everything. He would challenge me mentally and let me know if I wasn’t doing my best. He never just let me sit inside and be lazy all day. I had to work at something and be productive. Seeing how hard he worked every day — with his long drive overnight while having all the time in the world for me — made me want to work hard, too, and to make something of myself no matter what I wanted to do.”
FGCU a good fit
A similar hard-work ethos attracted Kellman to FGCU’s basketball program. He calls Chambers “a very passionate and energetic guy.”
“He is a motivator who gets all of his players to play hard, and he has a strong belief in us and what we can do,” he said. “I think he’s been really good for me personally, as he pushes me on the court every day, and he pushes me to be a better man off the court.
“There’s just a high level of energy here. You can feel it from the coaches to the players to the managers. Everyone involved has bought in and wants nothing more than to succeed.”
And after he earns his master’s in entrepreneurship in 2024?
“I plan on playing basketball professionally as long as I can, as that brings me the most enjoyment now and has always been a goal of mine,” Kellman said. “I also want to work toward whatever entrepreneurial venture that I decide to pursue, so that I can build that up, and it could be strong once my playing days are over. I’m hoping that between my pro basketball career and entrepreneurship, that I am well off and that I can help take care of my family because they took care of me.
“I would love to create something that I feel strongly about that could impact the world positively, and put my all into it to make it succeed.”