There was a time where Lexy Keys’ future course could have differed, instead of mulling 11 Division I offers to play college basketball somewhere following her senior year next season.
This year’s Phoenix Female Prep Athlete of the Year’s early passion was fastpitch softball.
“She traveled all over the country playing, wanting to eventually play softball in college,” recalled her father, Billy Keys.
Dad has coached basketball and taught 21 years at Woodall School, a K-8 school equidistance between Tahlequah, Park Hill and Fort Gibson. In his high school days, he played basketball at Tahlequah High and later was a scholarship player at then Bacone Junior College. Her mom, Christy, was an all-state fastpitch player at Fort Gibson.
The summer going into her freshman year, Lexy did both, including slowpitch into her freshman year at Sequoyah. Add to that load, AAU basketball.
“It became too much,” she said. “(AAU) basketball tournaments started in April and May and I’d have to miss those because of slowpitch.”
Her choice had evolved, and the deal was sealed. Dad’s sport would be the one she’d pursue as a means for paying for college.
She did, however stick with fastpitch in the fall months. She posted a .377 average in 130 ABs, 32 RBIs, 9 doubles, seven triples, four home runs, 21 stolen bases and a .960 fielding percentage in 120 chances in making the Phoenix’s All-Area team and helping the Lady Indians to their first state championship in the sport. She then turned to the court, and the 5-foot-7 point guard won her third consecutive All-Area basketball MVP, averaging 19.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.0 steals, hit 47 percent from the floor, 43 percent on 3s, and 81 percent on free throws.
Jeff Turtle, the Sequoyah fastpitch and slowpitch softball coach, is glad she stuck it out for fastpitch.
“She’s started at shortstop since her freshman year,” Turtle said. “This past year our defense was really good on that side of the infield. She didn’t make many errors, she batted leadoff, and was a base stealer. We ran her as much as we could when she got on.
“For sure, we’ve known whatever sport she went to college to play in, she was going to excel. No doubt about it.”
While she juggled both, she got a double-dose of the parent-coach-daughter conundrum.
“Dad was definitely tougher on me than the other girls and at first, I was like ‘this is unfair,’” Lexy said. “But looking back at it, I’m glad he was like that because I wouldn’t be the player that I am today and I liked having him as a coach.”
Mom coached her in fastpitch from tee ball forward.
“She kind of related to me because she was a girl, but it was still the love-hate relationship I had with my dad,” she said, laughing. “When I played softball I’d be a daddy’s girl and when I played basketball, I’d be a mommy’s girl. I’d just go back and forth, but just like with basketball as I got older, I learned to appreciate that experience.”
It instilled a work ethic that took her out of last Christmas’ celebration to head down to Woodall for some shooting, just days before Sequoyah was in the Tournament of Champions.
Woodall students have the option to attend either Tahlequah, Keys or Fort Gibson in high school. Lexy faced that choice. Her older brother, Dakota, had started out at Fort Gibson but transferred to Sequoyah and found a fit with a wider rotation system and a better opportunity to break into playing time early on.
Sequoyah became option number four.
Christy said her daughter wanted a chance to compete for a spot immediately. The decision came down to Fort Gibson or Sequoyah.
“We really liked coach (Jerry) Walker (at Fort Gibson) and his approach, but we’d heard that he was going to be leaving soon and I didn’t want her to go where there would be a coaching change,” Christy said. “We loved Callison and he’s one of the reasons we chose Sequoyah.”
Walker indeed left after one more season at Fort Gibson. So Callison, as in Larry Callison, and his Sequoyah squad which had just won a state championship under him landed her.
Lexy would start from the get-go at Sequoyah, just as Angel Goodrich, a four-time All-Phoenix MVP who went on to a record-setting career at Kansas before a stint in the WNBA.
“When she got there, they didn’t care if you were a freshman, sophomore, whatever, if you could play you’d play,” Christy said of her daughter. “But Lexy said from the outset she was going to go in there and earn her starting position.”
That work ethic was quickly noticed by Callison.
“The thing that amazes me about Lexy as much as anything is I’ve coached girls for several years and most of the time with the girls you know what you’re going to have as sophomores,” he said. “For the most part they don’t get any better, most of their growth is over and most of the time after that year they won’t put in the additional time.
“You take girls like her and Angel, they keep working on their game. Lexy’s so mentally tough and I think it’s easy for her to get frustrated playing around some of those other type of kids because they don’t have the same drive as her. But that’s what separates her.”
That drive played into a situation at the Class 3A state tournament this year where she injured the thumb on her shooting hand in her team’s quarterfinal win against Washington. She saw a doctor prior to the next day’s semifinal matchup against defending 2A champion Christian Heritage and he shared his concern.
“He told her, ‘I know you’re not going to not play, but if the ligament there moves in just the right direction, you’ll have to have surgery and will be out the whole summer,’” her mom recalled hearing him say.
“I looked at her and said ‘you’ve got to understand the depth of this. You have 11 offers now. If you mess up, your scholarship could be done. She looked at me and said, ‘this is my team. I’m playing.”
She didn’t have her greatest shooting day on 6-of-15 from the field, but still scored 22 points, including a bucket-and-one in the stretch for a one-point lead that appeared to be a momentum changer for Sequoyah. Especially when she yanked the bandaged brace off, just after the whistle blew that sent her to the line for the free throw.
Lexy admits it wasn’t as much an emotional release as it was an irritation with the wrap being loose and a distraction to her.
Whatever the reason was, Christy, not knowing but watching from the stands, almost had a stroke.
“I panicked,” she said. “Now there’s nothing to protect it and we’ve still got time left.”
Sequoyah eventually fell, 51-48, to a team that would go on to lose by double-digits to Adair, which the Lady Indians had beaten in each of three season meetings, including a 22-point win in the area championship game.
That would be Callison’s last game. He indicated a few weeks earlier that he would retire after 40 seasons in the business, although he later said he almost changed his mind after the season, the day the board officially accepted his resignation and initiated the search for a replacement. That replacement would end up being Justin Brown from Locust Grove.
“I had planned on staying through her senior season but the long drives (from Claremore) were tough, and I didn’t want to leave it completely dry, although at Sequoyah the barrel is really never empty,” Callison said.
“Lexy will be a big part of things, she’ll have a good athletic bunch of young girls and for the first time since she’s been there, it will truly be her team to shape. One of her characteristics is her unselfishness and sometimes it’s worked against her. She wanted to defer that role to upperclassmen when she could have taken on that role as a freshman if she wanted. And she sets out to make her teammates look good when at times she needs to take over a game.
“She got better at making those decisions, but there’s nothing that will stop her from being every bit the leader she needs to be next year.”
She will, however, juggle something else.
There will be a decision time of where she’ll play the following year.
Texas-Arlington, Texas-San Antonio, Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Santa Clara, Washington State, Arkansas-Little Rock, Missouri-Kansas City, Wichita State, Oral Roberts and Ouachita Baptist have all made offers. Others will likely be added.
One experience has already struck a chord with her mom.
“The Texas-Arlington coach watched her with her AAU team. They were getting beat like 40, and the coach said even in that situation, her motor never quit running and even noticed how on one occasion she got clotheslined, came up smiling and the effort never stopped,” Christy recalled hearing.
Coaches take note. Personal connection will be a key to landing Lexy.
“Whether it’s a Sun Belt team or a Big 12 team, it’s about the relationship with coaches and players and I think that’s why home visits are extremely important,” Billy said.
She leaves one relationship now.
“The thing about Coach Callison leaving is that I wanted him to go out on top,” Lexy said. “It stung that didn’t happen.”
So now, it’s back to the gym, even at Woodall’s gym on holidays. There’s still more for her to accomplish, like three state championships in four years.
And back-to-back ones on the dirt.
That part of the juggling act, as well as the juggling of 11 (for now) options regarding her life beyond Sequoyah, continues.