To say the electrifying Marcus Keene is operating with a chip on his shoulder would be an immense understatement.
The 5-foot-8 junior point guard led the nation in scoring at Central Michigan during the 2016-17 season. And despite averaging 30.0 points per game, 4.5 boards and 4.9 assists while shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range, he was not invited to the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago last week.
He had a 50-point outing against Miami of Ohio and scored 40 or more points on seven occasions this past season. His detractors will point to his size and competition level, but his follow-up question is, "Did I get the job done?"
His first pre-draft workout is with the Boston Celtics on Monday.
In a Q&A interview session with ESPN, a candid Keene explains his frustration with consistently being overlooked and how it's only going to motivate him to prove he belongs in the NBA. He also has a message for teams that are skeptical, and lets it be known that he's willing to go toe-to-toe with any top point guard in the 2017 draft class.
Editor's note: The NBA draft lottery is May 16 and the 2017 NBA draft will be held on June 22.
Chris Haynes: Leading the nation in scoring is no small feat, regardless of the school. How proud are you of that achievement?
Marcus Keene: That's a big accomplishment, especially where I started off in my college career at Youngstown State. And then my size, being 5-8, 5-9 maybe on a good day. To lead the nation scoring 30 points a game and efficiently from the field for some of the shots I took, it's a big accomplishment for me. I know we didn't get the wins like how I wanted, but from an individual standpoint, I feel like I did accomplish a lot this season and that's why I made the decision to go ahead and enter my name in the draft and move on to the next process.
CH: You attended Youngstown State for two years before transferring to Central Michigan. Why did you transfer?
MK: One, I think [coach Jerry Slocum] was still trying to play me more as a 2-guard the following year. I guess he wanted me to finish out my college career playing the two, and I knew I had aspirations of playing professionally somewhere and I knew being a 5-8 two-guard, that just wasn't going to happen. I didn't even bring up the ball. And I feel like we just couldn't compete. Youngstown has never had a winning season. We struggled every time it comes to conference tournaments. I just wanted to start somewhere fresh, somewhere I can go and actually play my game. And that [redshirt] year that I sat out was really big for me. I really wanted to do that. Most people don't, but I wanted to sit out, get my body right and just prepare for that year that was coming up.
CH: How did you feel about not receiving an invite to the combine?
MK: I took that as motivation. I took it personal, but at the end of the day, it's motivation because I've been doubted my whole life. I felt like I did something [in college] that hasn't been done in a long time and I feel like just off of that, I thought I should have gotten that chance. But I guess they wanted to see other players. I'm not worried. I'm just going to go in there and do what I can and control what I can. Going into these workouts and performing like I know I can is what I can control and that's all I'm going to do.
CH: With all you've accomplished, do you still feel like you're going unnoticed?
MK: I do feel like I'm being slept on because if people respected me, I would have been invited to the combine. And since I didn't get invited, I feel like I'm still getting slept on. So, that's just more motivation when I'm in the gym, getting up my shots, getting my strength up, learning how to run the pick-and-roll better. All that stuff is motivation because, yeah, I am slept on. I feel if they would have respected me a little bit, I would have at least been invited to the combine so they could actually see what type of player I am. But it is what it is. And no disrespect to the guys who got invited to the combine. Those are my boys.
CH: Do you believe you're slept on because of the school you played at, because of your height or a combination of both?
MK: I think it's a combination of both. But like I said, I can only control what I can control. I mean, I wanted to go high major, but no higher-major coaches wanted to take a chance on me probably because of my size. That's why every game this year, I took it serious that I was trying to kill whoever was in front of me because I knew I could play at the higher level and that's what I did.
CH: How do feel you stack up with the other point guards in this draft?
MK: I feel like I can play with anybody. I work out with [Maryland's] Melo Trimble, I work out with [Oklahoma State's] Juwan Evans, so I definitely hold my own with them. I know [Kentucky's] De'Aaron Fox is a bigger guard, [Washington's] Markelle Fultz is a bigger guard, but I've been playing bigger guards all year. I know how to score on bigger players and I feel like I can compete with any of them. And when I'm lined up with them, they're going to know me, and they're going to feel me, and know my name.
CH: Would you welcome the challenge to compete in a workout with the likes of UCLA's Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Thomas or Markelle Fultz?
MK: Of course. I would like to work out against Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox. I would like to go up against them, but really the Frank Masons [of Kansas] and the Derrick Waltons [of Michigan] and the Juwan Evanses [of Oklahoma State], those type of guards, those are the guards that I really also want to go at, too. I feel, yeah, they might get drafted because of their names, but I feel that I could be in the same position as them. De'Aaron and Lonzo, I'll go at them, but everybody knows who they are. But the other guards that no one really knows about, those are the ones that I really want to take down. And then when it's time to go against Ball and them, then I can show what I got.
CH: How do respond if a general manager asks if the scoring you did at a low-major can translate to the NBA?
MK: I would say do you want to go back and watch my film? My pull-up transition 3s, you can't really teach that. It's either you have it or you don't. My catch-and-shoot 3s, I can do that so when they swing it and I got an open shot in the corner, I'm going to knock that down. Or if I'm coming up in transition and the defender is backing up, yeah, I might not be super athletic, but I got my pullup, I got the floater. I know how to score the ball, so if I can get to my spot and get open looks, I'm going to knock them down. Me scoring is never going to be a problem. I played against pros before and I know how to score the ball. The other stuff is what I'm trying to improve on so teams can give me that chance.
CH: Do you think teams question if you can be a playmaker because of how much you scored at the point?
MK: That's what I'm saying. If you go back to high school, I was a true point guard. I didn't really shoot the ball as much. At Youngstown, they kind of moved me around and at Central Michigan, they needed me to score. But, like I said, if they really sit down and they watch the tapes, for somebody who shot 21 shots a game, I passed the ball just as much and sometimes my teammates didn't capitalize on it. But if you put me around players like [Kentucky's] Malik Monk, and players that can actually finish and score, then I'm going to show them that I can run the team and get them the ball while getting my shots up when it's time. But I know how to play the point guard. I just need the opportunity from one of these coaches, and one of these NBA GMs to give me a chance and I'll show them that I know how to run the point guard position.
MK: I feel it is, because if you see even with the Phoenix Suns' Tyler Ulis. He's kind of a different type of point guard than me, Isaiah and even Felder. But he got a chance and he performed. What Isaiah Thomas is doing is helping me out a lot. It has helped a lot of little guards out that's coming up. That's real big. I tell people I got that attitude like Isaiah Thomas. I want to do what he can do, and then after that, make my own name.
CH: Tell me a little bit about your upbringing.
MK: I come from a military family. My mother and father were together and they ended up splitting up when I was around 8 years old. And my stepfather was in the military. I grew up in San Antonio, did a year in Hawaii and came back to San Antonio because I knew to even get looked at as far as scholarship-wise, I had to come back over. Playing in Hawaii wasn't going to work out. So, I came back to Texas. My parents retired and we went from there.
CH: How did that upbringing shape you as a person?
MK: One, hard work. And two, professionalism. Because my parents, they carried themselves as professionals every day. No matter if they were in their work clothes, or even when they were not, they were consistent. That was big. And just basically teaching me the meaning of respect, respecting the people around you. That's what I was taught growing up. A 'yes sir, yes ma'am' kind of family.
CH: What are your off-the-court hobbies?
MK: I tell people I'm more of a plain guy. I like to hang with the homies on the free time. Maybe go go-kart racing at Six Flags. Stuff like that.
CH: What would be your dream draft scenario?
MK: To be drafted by a team who wants me. But outside of that, I tell [my manager Andrew] Ace [Thomas] this all the time. I want to go back and play with the Atlanta Hawks and play with my boy T.P. (Taurean Prince). I feel that connection we had in high school and us with our talent as we've gotten better and better, I think we could do that. We could bring that to this level and that would be something special. The storyline of two high school teammates getting back together and the next you know, we're bring something to Atlanta -- that's real special.
CH: For teams that may be hesitant on giving you a serious look, what do you want to say to them?
MK: I want them to know I'm going to be the first in the gym and the last to leave. I'm a hard worker and all about getting better and all about competing. And I feel as a team, you need competitors and people on your team who want to win, want to get better and who wants to make your teammates better and I feel that's what I can bring to a team. And then after that, I can show them the skills I have. But first, I want them to know how competitive I am and how much I want to win. I just want the opportunity, and after they give me that, that's on me and I can't blame nobody but myself. But if you give me one shot, I feel I can make some people proud.