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2021-22 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #40 Keeyan Itejere

We keep things moving on to the biggest project amongst the three freshmen who came to Marquette with Shaka Smart from Texas.

Seton Hall v Marquette Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The 2021-22 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let’s get into the Marquette Golden Eagles basketball roster and take a look at what to expect from each player this season. We’ll be going through the players one by one: First MU’s freshmen in alphabetical order, then the two underclassmen transfers, then the two super-seniors on their extra year of eligibility, and then finally the three returning players, going in order of average minutes per game last season from lowest to highest.

We’re going to organize our thoughts about the upcoming season as it relates to each player into categories, as we always do:

  • Reasonable Expectations
  • Why You Should Get Excited
  • Potential Pitfalls

With that out of the way, it’s time to talk about the freshman who might be the furthest away from making an immediate impact for the Golden Eagles......

Keeyan Itejere

Freshman - #40 - Forward - 6’9” - 205 pounds - Knightdale, North Carolina

Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Here’s how to pronounce Keeyan Itejere phonetically, taken straight from the official Marquette roster page: KEE-en eh-TEE-zher-ay. If that’s not coming together for you, I highly recommend that you head over to the roster page because you can actually listen to Itejere pronounce his own name so you can get it right.

Itejere is one of three freshmen to arrive at Marquette after originally committing to play for Shaka Smart when MU’s new head coach was still at Texas. He committed to the Longhorns in June of 2020 and signed his letter of intent the following November. Just as was the case with Emarion Ellis like we talked about yesterday, Itejere did not need much convincing to ask for his release from UT and move along to Marquette, as he was fully on board with the Golden Eagles within three weeks of MU announcing Smart.

As of today, Itejere is ranked #202 in the 247 Sports Composite system, which makes him a three-star prospect. He’s ranked as the #39 power forward prospect in the country and the eighth best guy in his class coming from the state of North Carolina. It looks like 247’s internal setup likes Itejere just a liiiittle bit more, putting him as the #38 power forward. Rivals only ranks him by position, and they say he’s the #23 center as a three-star prospect. There’s an argument to be made that ESPN likes Itejere the most, since they mark him as a four-star prospect. The Worldwide Leader says he’s the #23 center in the Class of 2021 and the sixth best prospect coming out of NC.

Here’s the biggest thing that you have to know about Itejere before we talk about this upcoming season: He didn’t start playing competitive basketball until his freshman year of high school. Given that he committed to Texas and Smart before the start of his senior year, you can get an idea of exactly how much the Marquette coaching staff likes his upside.... but he might be mostly upside at this point. 9.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game as a senior is decent, especially if there’s a certain amount of “just scratching the surface” there. If the stats listed in his official MU bio are his full and actual senior year stats — 11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.0 assists per game — well, that’s even better.

Reasonable Expectations

Friend Of The Show Alan Bykowski was recently at the practice that Marquette opened up to season ticket holders, and Shaka Smart talked to the gathered group afterwards. He passed along a note on Itejere on what happened to be his 19th birthday:

I should point out at this juncture that 247 Sports lists Itejere at 190 pounds while Marquette has him weighed in at 205 pounds. I’m not entirely sure when exactly either measurement would have been taken, but the fact is he’s already bigger than “expected” when he committed to play for the Golden Eagles. The most important thing that Itejere can do this season is get his body ready to play in the Big East. If he doesn’t get much court time this year, well, that’s the way it goes, but if he can’t hang physically, then he can’t be of much use to the coaching staff.

With that said.... it’s not like Marquette has a clear and obvious dominant post presence on the roster. Between the 4 and the 5, Justin Lewis and Kur Kuath are likely to get all the minutes that they can absorb.... but MU is really thin behind them. Can 6’7” David Joplin defend or score in the post? What about 6’8” Olivier-Maxence Prosper or 6’9” Oso Ighodaro? Joplin is a big guy but he’s not an exceptionally tall guy. Prosper and Ighodaro are tall, but they’re slender-framed, just like Kuath and Itejere.

Someone has to play inside minutes for Marquette. Roles are not clearly settled, and if Itejere can compete and/or provide something that the Golden Eagles aren’t otherwise getting, then there’s a clear path for him to grab a prominent spot as a role player on this team.

Why You Should Get Excited

Shaka Smart wants Marquette to play with enthusiasm and athleticism. Here’s a little bit of an example of what Itejere can do:

Now imagine that’s Marquette’s center doing that.

Sure, I can’t tell you much about the level of competition involved here for him, but he is wildly athletic and looks comfortable with the ball in his hands. If the Golden Eagles are going to be aiming at 32+ deflections a game this season, that’s an awful lot of possible runouts for dunks. The athletic department’s social media team has repeatedly shown highlight clips of the team constantly looking for alleyoops in a halfcourt offense. A terrifically springy Itejere making use of good hands in traffic could lead to a lot of alleyoops. Can all of that translate to mixing it up for rebounds and putback jams, too? Definitely seems possible.

There’s a lot to like here, and you can see a pretty clear path to Fan Favorite Keeyan Itejere by the end of the season if things work out well.

Potential Pitfalls

We have to be honest here: There’s a real chance that Itejere just can’t do anything for Marquette this season. There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s just a real possibility. Most prospects outside the top 200 don’t usually do much for high major teams as freshmen. T-Rank doesn’t even expect him to be a contributor worth mentioning in the preseason projection for Marquette.

Like I said earlier, the biggest thing for him is to use this year to get himself physically right to contribute. With Kur Kuath only around for one year and Marquette not exactly bursting at the seams with incoming big men in the 2022 recruiting class, Itejere is going to need to contribute for sure next year. If that means spending this year playing spot minutes and working hard in the weight room to be ready in November 2022, then that’s the way it goes.