Chris Burgess Explains What ‘Jedi Knight’ Keba Keita Brings To BYU Basketball

May 9, 2024, 4:30 PM | Updated: 4:36 pm

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball landed former Utah center Keba Keita out of the transfer portal.

It was an important addition to Kevin Young’s first roster in Provo. Keita gives BYU an athletic big man with room to grow in his game.


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A post shared by Keba Keita (@keba_keita_13)

One of those individuals who has seen Keita grow through his first two years in college is new BYU basketball assistant Chris Burgess.

Keba Keita gives BYU basketball the rim runner they desired

Burgess was an assistant at Utah for the past two seasons and worked closely with Keita and the rest of the Utes frontcourt personnel. BYU’s new assistant loves what Keita brings to the Cougar Hoops program.

“First of all, he’s a beautiful human being. You talk about humble beginnings. He comes from Mali, which is just different from America; there’s less there,” said Burgess to KSL Sports. “Now what [BYU] is getting in terms of a basketball player is, he’s an extraordinary athlete.”

Burgess continued, “[Keita] is the best athlete on the floor, no matter who plays. He is a rim runner, a rim protector, and a lob threat. With Coach Young, we’re going to play five out. So you have to have a rim roller and put pressure on the rim. Keba knows how to do that.”

Last season at Utah, Keita was primarily a backup to Lawson Lovering at center. He started in 13 games, highlighted by an 18-point, 15-rebound, and three-block shot performance against Oregon State.

If you simply search Utah highlights throughout the past two seasons, you’ll find no shortage of athletic plays at the rim from the former Wasatch Academy standout.

BYU got a taste of that last season in their loss to the Utes at the Huntsman Center last December. Keita scored 10 points off the bench and grabbed six rebounds.

“He’s going to put so much pressure on the big man, no matter what their coverage is in screen and roll; he’s going to put so much pressure in transition. We’re going to run fast because he is the fastest five-man out there rim-to-rim. Then he’s one of the best offensive rebounders. It’s just so hard to keep him off the glass.”

Burgess to Keba Keita: “Use the force”

Before taking to basketball, Keita was a volleyball athlete in Mali. There aren’t many similarities between basketball and volleyball, but one common thread is playing with force. Burgess is tapping into Star Wars to ensure Keita knows what to bring every time on the floor.

“When I work with my bigs, I always talk about playing with force. In fact, I joked I’m gonna wear a Jedi Master robe in the practice or the game. So you guys know that you’ve got to play with force as a constant reminder. Keba is my Jedi Knight. He just plays with so much force out there that you feel him. You feel him all game long and his PER 40s were off the charts. And he’s only been playing basketball for four years. So he’s going to continue to grow and the vision that Coach Young has for his five men, I was like, ‘Coach, that’s the guy you want to go get.'”

Keita averaged 8.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game last season for the Utes.

Support system

The 6-foot-8, 232-pound Keita joins a BYU basketball program that is looking to reach greater heights after an NCAA Tournament bid in their first season as a Big 12 Conference member. As he settles into life as a Cougar, there will be familiar faces on BYU’s roster with whom he already has connections.

“Keba has a great support system here. His host family is in Utah County. Fouss [Traore] was his roommate in high school, and he’s from the same city, Bamako, Mali. They speak the same language, obviously. They go back together every year to Mali to do some humanitarian work. Then another guy who goes with them is Richie Saunders.”

Like Keita and Traore, Saunders prepped at Wasatch Academy.

“So I just think that for a guy like Keba, the consistency here at BYU is what he needs. He needs consistency in his life. So when you have a guy like Richie, Fouss, myself, the state of Utah, and the support system around him, that was kind of our message to Keba, ‘Do not take your support system for granted.’ So, we’re super excited about him. I’ve got the best of both worlds. I got to coach Fouss his freshman year, and I get to come back for his senior year, and I get to coach Keba for all four years, so I’m really excited.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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Chris Burgess Explains What ‘Jedi Knight’ Keba Keita Brings To BYU Basketball