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Seniors Nixon and Keller the Pillars of Friar Ball

Third Consecutive CCL Title and Eyes on State

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By Chris Sedlacek and Noah Shaar
Catch them on the court, how ‘bout that. The Fenwick Boys Varsity Basketball team is the regular season champion of the CCL North League for the second year in a row as well as repeating champs of the Chicago Catholic League tournament.
The boys kept their conference win streak alive this year by going a perfect 9-0 in the CCL North; the last time they lost a conference game was back in 2014. In the conference championship, St. Joseph took the Friars into overtime, but Jamal Nixon, DJ Steward, and the team battled back, and the boys from Oak Park brought Fenwick another CCL Championship.
One of the biggest keys to the team’s success this year has been the play of freshman phenom DJ Steward. Steward has earned himself a starting position at point guard, meaning that he facilitates the play of the Friars on both offense and defense. Perhaps the biggest game of his career so far at Fenwick came in the Friars 46-37 win over Loyola Academy on January 31st, when Steward dropped 17 points and had many assists to his teammates.
Fenwick head coach Rick Malnati realizes the load that has been placed on the 15-year-old from Oak Park but has high praise for his point guard, “We’re asking him to do a lot,” Malnati said, “But he’s doing great. Big-time kid.”
Steward and the team’s other young players follow the example of the team’s two superstars: Jacob “Jake” Keller and Jamal Nixon. Replete with athletic prowess, sportsmanship, and character, Jamal Nixon and Jacob Keller are shining examples of how a Fenwick Friar should look and act. Jamal Nixon is the winningest basketball player in Fenwick history and looks to continue his career at Minnesota State. Jake Keller is a two-sport star, a hero of the court and the gridiron, and he is set to play quarterback at Northern Iowa University.
Characterized as the “rock” of the team, Jamal Nixon is one of the most capable players on the court; his height and ball handling skills allow him to play anywhere. The 6’ 5’’ guard can pass like a point guard, but has the double-double potential of a forward. Being a leader on the court, Nixon identified that his biggest key to success was, “Getting to know guys I never met before and just try to gel with them and build chemistry on the court.” A seasoned varsity veteran, Nixon was able to accrue much success in his athletic career such his role in leading the boy’s basketball team to super sectionals in 2016. The personal goals do not matter as much to Nixon, a team player, who said, “Leading these guys is my biggest concern this season.” His greatest success of late is passing up Fenwick alum and NBA star Corey Maggette as having the most wins in Fenwick history with 93 wins. “Since freshman year, when I stepped in the gym, the first thing I saw was Corey Magette’s banner.” commented Nixon, “One day I want people to remember me like that.” Nixon’s wish might just come true because even after he leaves Fenwick for college basketball at MSU, sitting in the most frequented hall at Fenwick lies a ball in a trophy case. That ball reads, “Jamal Nixon. All-Time Winningest Player.”
Upon meeting Jake Keller, you notice two things: his tall, athletic figure and his smile. Keller’s positive attitude and great sportsmanship have been something he has worked toward during his high school career, as Jake said, “My biggest challenge was my attitude. I’m so competitive. I would get so frustrated and mad when we lost and when we weren’t playing at our potential. I knew we could be better. I calmed down over the years. I matured. I am more laid back now, but during games, I get fired up and can control it better.” Do not mistake his sportsmanship for weakness, as Keller has just dominated on the court, averaging 14.3 points per game going into the Catholic League Tournament. Although Keller is a stellar basketball player, his future is on the gridiron, where he will play quarterback for Northern Iowa. Keller reminisced on his stellar 2016 football season where he said his keystone moment was, “The Phillips game when we came out at halftime and scored a couple of times and came back and won the game. I think that was a big game for the team and for me and that set the tone for the season.” Making the decision to play football in college over basketball was a tough decision for young Jake Keller, who was anticipating an offer to play basketball at Miami-Ohio University. Keller revealed, “I prayed on it, and I was just set on football. Head Coach Farley [of Northern Iowa] said if I start off pretty well with my grades, he will let me try out for the basketball team.” Truly an ambitious and hardworking young man, Jake Keller looks to continue the success he has had at Fenwick in the halls of Northern Iowa.
Looking ahead, the Friars look to avenge their super-sectional loss last year in the state playoffs by going all the way this year. “We had a lot of fun this year playing basketball,” exclaimed Keller, “Hopefully we can win State.” Coming off of a CCL Championship, the boys have momentum. The way they have played this year is an indicator that they have their sights set on one thing, and one thing only: cutting down the nets next month in Peoria as Class 3A State Champions.

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Seniors Nixon and Keller the Pillars of Friar Ball