July 17, 2013
This feature appeared in the July 17 edition of the K-State Sports Extra. It is the first of a two-part series on former Wildcat basketball player Keith Amerson.
By Mark Janssen
For all-star players, it’s easy to have fond memories of an alma mater. But for that middle of the road player, at times, it’s easy to forget your roots.
Let it be said that Keith Amerson is not one of those players.
A native of Los Angeles and product of Santa Monica Community College, Amerson played at K-State in 1989-90 and 1990-91, when he posted modest career numbers of 5.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
“Kansas State gave me an opportunity,” said Amerson. “I’m so appreciative of my coaches … Lon Kruger, Greg Grensing and Dana Altman. They created an opportunity for me.”
Amerson thinks enough of his former program that he was a substantial donor to the Basketball Training Facility and frequently returns for basketball reunions.
“Sports Extra” recently caught up with Amerson and visited about his days as a Wildcat, and his post K-State life dealing with children who have autism.
SE: Coming from being a lifer in Los Angeles to the Flint Hills of Kansas. Was that a culture shock?
KA: Not at all. It was definitely different, but also exactly what I was looking for. LA was so busy with something always going on, but when I literally stepped off the plane on my recruiting visit and started meeting all the people, I immediately knew this place was different. Everyone was very friendly. They were into family and community, and I knew this was exactly where I wanted to be.
SE: Did you come from a good or bad area of LA?
KA: It was an OK area. There were drive-bys and drugs, but on my particular street it wasn’t as bad. But when we had to walk to the grocery store, or get to the buses, you just knew the way that you could go and should not go.
SE: You come to K-State in coach Kruger’s last year and finished in coach Altman’s first year. What special memories to you have?
KA: I remember the family atmosphere and the closeness of the team. Whether related to practice, eating, and just relaxing, it was a sense of brotherhood. We were all connected. I also knew the open door policy of someone like (K-State President) Jon Wefald. That was the same thing with coaches, academic advisors … we were just all family. To this day I’m still in contact with some of those same people.
SE: A psychology major, were academics always important to you?
KA: Always … even in high school. I’m a type-A personality guy and was always a go-getter. I was pretty much on my own financially through junior college. I would literally go to school, go to practice, and then I would go to work at a grocery store stocking food and eventually became a cashier from 7:30 in the evening until midnight. I’d get home and study for two hours, and then get up and do it again the next day. Here I would remember studying on the plane coming back from road games, so it was always important. To me, I had signed a contract with K-State as a student-athlete. I was expected to give it my all on the court to represent the University, but also take care of things in the classroom.
SE: Today there’s the Keith Amerson Academic Award. What does that mean to you?
KA: Oh my gosh … everything. I’m speechless about it. Coach Altman started that. I was a pretty good student, but took advantage of all the tutoring because, why not, it was offered. I knew the material, but why not really be sure.
By my senior year they changed some of the courses I needed to reach my major and graduate. My last semester here I took either 22 or 24 credits, along with playing basketball, so I could graduate on time. I did it and finished with a 3.3 GPA. There are so many prestigious awards honoring Bob Boozer and Jack Hartman and others, and now there’s a Keith Amerson Academic Award putting me in the ranks with them. The players come and go, and you take memories away, but the tradition … the K-State basketball tradition … lives on. It means a lot that maybe I’ve left something back for the players to come to strive for.
SE: Keith, your message to the young Wildcats of today is what?
KA: Every single player of the team needs to look around at this year’s team. It’s the last year that they will be together in that form. They need to take it all in because next year it will be different. They need to take advantage of this moment. You want to squeeze every single drop out of the season. Life goes so quickly and teams change so quickly. Today the opportunity is there, and tomorrow it can be gone.
SE: You played one year in the United States Basketball League after K-State, and then what?
KA: Well, I got a letter from the Sacramento Kings inviting me to their camp, but I knew they had already drafted guys and the season was going to start in just a few weeks, so I just asked myself, ‘What could I possibly accomplish by going?’ I just decided there were other things to accomplish.