Athletic Route to Div I – Pinder takes the road less traveled to achieve his long term ambitions.
Most great Australian high school basketballers picture their pathway to the U.S. as a direct progression from finishing Year 12, to starting at a NCAA Division I school the following Fall semester. However for various reasons, the pathway is not always so direct, as was the case with Western Australia’s ultra-athletic forward Keanu Pinder.
Pinder is currently attending Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, which has an excellent reputation both for its basketball program and its academic curriculum. Pinder has excelled at ‘Hutch,’ making an impressive mark on the NJCAA Basketball Tournament. Prior to that, he was at Sunrise Christian Academy high school where he participated in the Tournament of Champions against some of the top high school teams in the country, with decisive wins against Lalumiere and Christian Brother to take the championship 3-0.
The three most common reasons international players choose to attend high school or prep school in the U.S.A. are: (1) to improve their skills and get acclimated to the faster pace of the U.S. game, (2) to be seen by a greater number of U.S. college scouts, leading to more higher quality scholarship offers, and (3) to attain the necessary academic qualifications to gain NCAA eligibility.
What many international players and their families may not be aware of, is that both full and partial scholarships are available at the high school, prep school and junior college levels, in addition to the NCAA Division I and II scholarships that most high performing players are pursuing. Navigating through the options can be daunting, however fortunately for Pinder he has a very supportive mother and has also received guidance and mentoring from Randy Livingston.
When I spoke with Pinder by phone a few days ago he told me, “every question that I’ve had, I have asked Randy about it because he’s been through everything before. Being recruited, he’s been the one that I look to for answers. I rely on him to help me go through the American process.” Livingston met Pinder and his mother, Tracey Smith, at the U20 Championships in Launceston, Tasmania, in February 2012. Pinder added, “We have talked ever since then and he’s been like a big brother to me, we have a good relationship. He was also Head Coach of the Asia Pacific team I played for at adidas Nations last year, which was a great experience.”
Surely, having Livingston on hand for advice and suggestions in terms of things to work on with his game have proven to be beneficial, but Pinder’s relationship with his Mother can’t be underestimated. According to Pinder’s mother, “I played quite a few roles. I pushed him to get up out of bed and to be ready for training. I’ve played a mentoring role in trying to inspire him to believe in himself. At times I would even try to provide him with basketball advice! I think the people around him and his support system including Randy being a mentor for him have been good for him. Keanu has past coaches and people in the community that believe in him as well.”
Smith knew her son Keanu had that ‘it’ factor when he took his game to the national stage back at the U20 Championships in 2012. “He got his first dunk over a very worthy opponent. That was probably the defining moment for me.” From that very tournament, Pinder would dedicate even more time and effort to working on his game. With Pinder’s determination to get better, and his supporters around him, a ticket to the United States was assured. Smith continued, “when I first learned that Keanu was leaving to go to America I was really excited for him, and so proud that he was going on and achieving things that most Aboriginal people this way have only dreamed about. Our advice was to ‘study hard and play hard, follow your dreams’.”
Pinder’s new fast paced life in the US is a long way from the community where he grew up. Smith explained, “our family comes from the Kimberley region in the north of Western Australia and in our Aboriginal culture, being connected to our country is very important. We try and get up there whenever we can. When Keanu is home, we go up there and he has a chance to relax, go fishing. Honestly, after the initial excitement, I was really worried about Keanu leaving Australia and going off to America, but I was able to bring up my concerns to Randy and he would reassure me that things would be alright because Randy has a lot of contacts over there who can look out for Keanu. I had a lot of faith in what Randy was advising us.”
According to Pinder, “when I first came over here (to the United States) it was pretty hard for me to adjust. I wasn’t used to anything here. Everyone was just as athletic as me. Coming over here was kind of hard. This year though I feel like I’ve adjusted and this coming year is going to be a big year for me.” Smith concluded, “I definitely believe he is a role model for our community. I want Keanu to achieve the best he can and go as far as he can. I want him to be happy.”
Pinder has made his family and friends proud with the success he’s achieved thus far, but this is only the beginning. Now Pinder is preparing to step up once again, to play at the Division I level. He has committed to Division I powerhouse Nebraska and is dedicating himself to being the best he can be when he transfers to Div I in the Fall of 2016.