The many emotions of Detroit’s ‘X-Man’

Xavier Keeling feels he can be the Titans' best player. But the former Indiana Hoosier knows that he still has a lot of learning to do.

"So far this season, I'd probably give myself a C-plus because I've been slacking a little bit, getting in foul trouble early and putting my team into a jam," he said.

As the season has progressed, most of the players on Detroit's roster have started to develop clear roles. Chase Simon and Thomas Kennedy are the Titans' offensive weapons, Woody Payne is the distributer and Eli Holman the defense.

Keeling, though, can do a little bit of everything. "He can pass, he can shoot, he can rebound and he can dribble," said head coach Ray McCallum. "He's just one of those players that can be good at doing a lot of things."

It's that same versatility that has certain fans wondering if Keeling can ever be exceptional in a specific area.

He is, at his best, a passing big man, someone McCallum described earlier the season as a "point forward." But, according to critics, he is as shaky as an out-of-control freight train, with emotions that impede his questionable decision-making.

The criticism appears not to bother Keeling. "I'm very emotional," he said. "I go 100 percent all the time. I can't help that. I feel I have the potential to be the best player on the team, but at the same time I know we have a lot of talent. I just want to do whatever it takes to win."

Although Keeling has complained to referees on multiple occasions, McCallum attributes that to his youth and inexperience. Keeling says his vocal nature will never change, and it can be used to the team's advantage: "I've been that way all my life, but it does help our team out as well. If I'm yelling, everyone feeds off it."

McCallum agreed, saying that Detroit has lacked the type of emotional leadership that Keeling brings.

"The way he plays can inspire the other guys, but you have to make that (emotion) work for you," he said. "You can't let one bad play lead to another and I think that sometimes he can let mistakes roll on to the next play."

Keeling averages 4.7 rebounds a game, and that low number acts as another magnet for his critics, who see it as abysmal for a starting power forward.

But Keeling, an Alabama native, says he is only trying to help his team. He emerged from high school as a guard and still feels most comfortable on the perimeter.

"Most of the time I'm trying to block out so one of them can get it," he said. "I'll tell them that I'll block out and then get out and run because most of the bigs can't keep up with me."

Of Detroit's eight losses, six have come down to the final shot. Keeling has taken four of those shots: two missed layups and two three-pointers that have rimmed out as time has expired.

It hasn't affected his confidence, though. "I have no problem taking that shot," he said. "Some of them go, some of them don't. I don't feel any pressure. If my teammates are open, I'll pass them the ball, but if I have to take it, I will."

Turnovers have troubled the Titans, and Keeling has had his share. And he hasn't shot well consistently.

But that doesn't worry McCallum, according to the coach. He believes that Keeling, a junior, will improve.

"He's a tremendous competitor," he said. "You look at our defensive numbers and at how hard we play; he's a big part of that. From defense to rebounding to toughness, a lot of the intangibles he brings to our team make him so valuable for us.