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July 20, 2017

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Findlay Prep hoopster has talent, drive and … great hair

Dekeeba “Keeba” Battee-Aston impressing coaches with his determined play

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Rob Miech

Findlay College Prep sophomore forward Dakeeba “Keeba” Battee-Aston, a 6-foot-8 Aussie who played prep ball last season in Texas, relaxes after a recent Pilots practice.

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  • Findlay College Prep sophomore forward Dekeeba “Keeba” Battee-Aston on the training he’s received so far at Findlay.

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  • "Keeba" on Findlay coach Mike Peck and his assistants, Todd Simon, Brett Price and Andy Johnson.

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  • "Keeba" on what he wants fans that see him play at Findlay to know about him.

Before Dekeeba “Keeba” Battee-Aston entered grade school in Australia, movies with a legal or crime theme enthralled him.

“And my mom always told me that I’d be a lawyer,” said Findlay College Prep’s new power forward, “because I love to argue.”

With law, or maybe medicine, in his future plans, Battee-Aston, 16, is in the proper place at Findlay, whose players attend the prestigious Henderson International School.

His mother, Joanne Aston, has designs on him attending an Ivy League college. Basketball, however, just might offer the 6-foot-8, 230-pound sophomore another sterling option.

Twenty seconds after getting in Wednesday night’s scrimmage against former NBA player Jerome Williams’s Junk Yard Dogs squad, with UNLV coach Lon Kruger watching the action, Battee-Aston pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back in.

Later, he hit a 3-point shot. He finished with seven points.

After the Pilots’ 89-80 victory against grown men, Williams tracked down Battee-Aston, gave him a high-five and they hugged.

Stints on the Australian junior national team and spending last season in Texas might have taught Battee-Aston about competition.

But he is about to receive an advanced hoops education at defending ESPN national champion Findlay.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “In only 10 weeks or so, I’ve probably advanced more in basketball and as a person than I ever have in a year. I’ve never trained this hard. I’ve never had coaches that really, really want to make sure I get better.

“They see the big picture. They see the long-term goal … They’re a great group of blokes.”

They are Pilots coach Mike Peck, associate head coach Todd Simon, and assistants Brett Price and Andy Johnson.

Peck wasn’t too happy when Battee-Aston showed up in August in poor shape after a few months of obvious leisure at home in Brisbane, Australia.

Peck, however, cut him some slack. If that happened next year, after Battee-Aston had a season under the rigorous Findlay regimen and knowing exactly what would be demanded of him, there would be a problem.

“We’d have issues,” Peck said.

Battee-Aston has learned about Peck’s expectations.

“You could tell he didn’t do anything this summer,” Peck said. “That hurt him to a certain extent. It put him behind a little. Nonetheless, the way we do things forces you to quickly get to a certain level.”

It’s just what Don Battee, who played at Wichita State before embarking on a professional career in Europe and Australia, had been seeking for his son.

Battee played high school ball at Carter High in Dallas, so when Keeba agreed to further his hoop skills in America his father enabled him to spend his freshman year at Richland High in Fort Worth.

Battee, now in the film industry, met Joanne Aston when he played Down Under. Keeba was born in Cairns, near the Great Barrier Reef, and moved to Brisbane when he was 4.

Brisbane, where best friend C.J. Coupe always rebounded for him – even at 4 in the morning – is his sanctuary.

“My happy place,” Battee-Aston said. “It’s everything to me. Being home for the summer was the best gift I could ask for.”

Between his sixth and seventh grades, he sprouted six inches to 6 feet and started playing basketball. He wears size 17 basketball shoes, and he might have the best hair in basketball.

When an official tried calling a foul on him Wednesday night, he couldn’t catch the number on the back of Battee-Aston’s jersey. So the official just looked at the scorer’s table with his hands high, on each side of his head.

“The one,” the official said, “with the hair.”

No. 21 might be the jersey for the Pilot with the wildest hair, since Carlos Lopez, now at UNLV, wore it last season and required bands to keep his long locks tidy.

Battee-Aston said taming his mane isn’t a chore.

“It’s easy to manage,” he said. “My hair is a little different than most, it’s looser. It’s been this length for more than a year.”

This season, which starts Nov. 13 against National College Prep of California, Battee-Aston will ease into the Findlay lineup by spelling seniors Tristan Thompson and Godwin Okonji.

By the time he’s a senior, Peck figures, he’ll be as polished, as a player and a leader, as Okonji, who has been in the Findlay system for three years.

Peck has been so impressed by Battee-Aston’s relentlessness that he compared his new young talent to Rocky Balboa, who kept getting tagged by Apollo Creed in “Rocky” but kept rising from the canvas.

“He’s impressed me and earned my respect,” Peck said. “He’s a fighter. He battles. When you’ve got guys like Tristan and Godwin banging on you in practice, that’s toughness.

“Rocky took every one of Apollo’s shots and kept getting up, saying, ‘Give me more!’ That’s what Keeba does. He’s taken all their shots and physical punishment, and he keeps getting up and fighting back.”

Easy offseasons might be a thing of the past, too, for Battee-Aston, since playing on the summer tournament circuit will be critical next year.

“That will be a key time during the evaluation period,” Peck said. “And when next fall picks up, (collegiate recruiters) will be contacting and sniffing around … ”

When fans watch him play for Findlay this season, the 16-year-old Pilot with the wild hair wants them to know just a few things about him.

“Just who I am and where I come from,” Battee-Aston said. “I’m mainly here to represent Australia and my family, the name on the back of the jersey. It they just know that, I’m happy.”

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