Keba Keita wanted a trophy when as a youngster his volleyball team won a championship game back in Mali, West Africa. 

He was so upset that he didn’t get one, he recently told the website prospectiveinsight.com, that he started playing basketball a few months later.

The University of Utah’s men’s basketball coaching staff couldn’t be happier about that decision.

Keita, a 6-foot-8 center who played the last two basketball seasons at Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Sanpete County, committed to the Runnin’ Utes on April 13 and signed the next day. The near-consensus four-star recruit has been seen as a huge get for second-year Utes coach Craig Smith, considering Keita is an ESPN Top-100 prospect (No. 84) and was the NIBC Defensive Player of the Year for the 2021-22 season.

“Keba is a superior athlete with crazy shot-blocking abilities. He brings a physical presence to the game. He is basically everything you want out of a big man — a guy that runs the floor, sets a lot of screens, has a high motor. He can block shots and rebound on both ends of the floor. He’s just a defensive star, a defensive mastermind.” — Wasatch Academy coach Paul Peterson on Utes’ freshman Keba Keita

What are the Utes getting in Keita, who has only been playing organized basketball for four or five years? The Deseret News recently spoke to Wasatch Academy coach Paul Peterson, who has had Keita in his program for two seasons, to find out.

“Keba (pronounced: KAY-buh) is a superior athlete with crazy shot-blocking abilities. He brings a physical presence to the game,” Peterson said. “He is basically everything you want out of a big man — a guy that runs the floor, sets a lot of screens, has a high motor. He can block shots and rebound on both ends of the floor. He’s just a defensive star, a defensive mastermind.”

Peterson said Keita will play center, often referred to as the “five” position, for the Utes and will be a “perfect” complement to Utah’s second-team All-Pac-12 forward Branden Carlson, who enters his fourth year in the program this fall.

“Utah talked to Keba about Branden Carlson being so unique because he can shoot and dribble and be a movable piece,” Peterson said. “They told Keba he is going to be the five, and play (with) Branden, who is more of a pick and pop guy, a four. Because Branden has a beautiful stroke.”

Keita doesn’t have a great jump shot yet, or a lot of shooting touch, but he’s working diligently on that, said Peterson, who has been Wasatch Academy’s head coach since 2020 and joined the staff in 2018. 

“He does a lot around the rim. He’s got a beautiful right hook shot,” Peterson said. “A lot of his stuff comes from being big on the inside. And that’s why he is excited to play for coach Smith, because he feels they can expand his game and he can develop in other ways. And he is a ferocious dunker.”

According to a University of Utah news release when he signed in mid-April, Keita averaged 11.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in NIBC play last season. He connected on 66.7% of his shots and also averaged 2.0 blocked shots per game.

“Keba is a warrior. He plays the game with tremendous ferocity and is extremely athletic,” Smith said in the release. “He plays with force on both ends of the court and is an elite defensive player that brings us versatility in our frontcourt. We are pumped.”

Smith called Keita “a highlight reel” because of his dunking and rebounding ability.

“Every night on the floor, when you watch him play, you just start smiling,” Smith told The Zone Sports Network. “The dude’s (film) is unbelievable. You say, ‘I can’t believe he just did that.’ He is one of those guys.’”

Keita played his sophomore season at American Heritage, a charter school in American Fork. He improved immensely between his junior and senior seasons at Wasatch Academy. Peterson said Keita’s recruitment blew up last winter and he received between 15 and 20 Division I offers. 

“He had to go through the recruiting process pretty fast,” Peterson said. “The (transfer) portal is scary, so it kinda sped things up just because teams want to get old and stay old.”

Keita narrowed his choices to UNLV and Utah before going with the Utes. Peterson said Keita’s relationship with Smith is what won the day for the Utes.

“He likes Craig’s excitement and energy,” Peterson said. “(Smith) really proved to Keba that he believes in him. And then I think being in Salt Lake was a factor. Keba has never really hung out in Salt Lake. I think he got to see a little bit more of how different Salt Lake City is, even though it is still in Utah.

“I think he got to see the city and hang out down there and kinda see the difference and see a little bit more diversity and things like that.”

Keita will be the second Wasatch Academy product on Utah’s roster, joining Cincinnati transfer Mike Saunders, who committed to the Utes on April 2. Former BYU player Caleb Lohner, who is transferring to Baylor, and incoming Cougars freshman Richie Saunders also played for Wasatch Academy.

Peterson said BYU coaches “talked to Keba a lot,” but didn’t end up offering the big man a scholarship.

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“They were in that unique position where they had to wait and see what some of those other guys of theirs were going to do for next year,” Peterson said of the Cougars.

Keita became Utah’s second signee from the high school class of 2022, joining shooting guard Wilguens Exacte Jr., of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Exacte, 6-6, joins the Utes after playing in the NBA Academy Latin America last season. 

Counting the aforementioned Saunders Jr., Utah now has six newcomers on their way to the Hill, five scholarship players and a walk-on, BYU graduate transfer Gavin Baxter.

Most recently, the Runnin’ Utes have received commitments from Wisconsin transfer Ben Carlson and Serbian forward Luka Tarlac. The commitment of Tarlac to the U. was first reported by Eurohopes.com and Balkan Prospects via Twitter.