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Reminiscing about Daric Keys, one of Marion's greatest

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GIANT LEGEND: Daric Keys (right), a 1987 Marion graduate, and his son Gage Keys are pictured at a football prospect camp Gage recently attend at Daric's college alma mater Wake Forest. Daric Keys was inducted into the Grant County Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday. Gage is one of the top-50 defensive ends nationally for the class of 2020.
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GIANT LEGEND: Daric Keys (right), a 1987 Marion graduate, and his son Gage Keys are pictured at a football prospect camp Gage recently attend at Daric's college alma mater Wake Forest. Daric Keys was inducted into the Grant County Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday. Gage is one of the top-50 defensive ends nationally for the class of 2020.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

When Daric Keys introduced himself to me, it left quite the impression and it's something etched forever in my memory.

Daric and I were classmates at Allen Elementary and Jones Junior High in our youth. Spent many hours during recess or in after school activities competing together or against each other. Most of that competition came on the basketball court.

And that first memory, one that comes to mind anytime I think about or see Daric, occured on Marion PAL Club court in the winter of 1978. I was 10. Daric was 9. 

Nearly everyone I've met in my adult life makes note of my height, and it's understandable. At 6-foot-7 now, I grew up as the biggest kid in all my classes, pretty much through high school.

In 1978 I was the tallest kid playing PAL Club basketball, though some of my future high school teammates, including Keys, were close.  

I rarely had trouble getting my shot off, at least that I remember, but the memory of Daric Keys blocking my shot for the first time, well that might as well have happened yesterday. I caught the basketball, turned and fired from the left corner of the free throw line. Keys gracefully lifted off the floor extended his right arm and sent said shot sailing back over my head.

It was semi-traumatic as a 10-year old. I think that's why I remember it so vividly.

Once we were high school teammates, the abuse was much, much worse during practice. Pretty sure Daric introduced me to being dunked on somewhere along the line, but by then I was able to bury those memories and move on. Being dunked by Keys was almost a daily thing in practice by the time we were seniors. I didn't like it, but what are you going to do? 

At 6-foot-5 with a vertical jump somewhere north of 30 inches, Keys was simply a spectacular athlete. He needed very little time or space to elevate above the rim and throw down a dunk.

Daric blocked so many shots and dunked on so many people during his playing days, I'm guessing I wasn't the only person he did both to for their first times.

I got to remind Daric about those memories on Sunday after his much deserved induction into the Grant County Sports Hall of Fame.  

He responded with a trademark Keys' grin and laugh.

People that don't really know Daric Keys can't possibly understand the type of athlete he was outside of basketball. Keys was an all-state wide receiver his senior year in football and qualified for the track state finals in high jump in 1986 and 87. After meeting his minimum amount of practices to compete in a track meet his senior season, Daric went out in the first one of the season and high jumped 6 feet 10 inches to set a school record. A record that is now shared with Reggie Nevels but still stands today.

Another memory I have of Keys was from his freshman season at Wake Forest in a game I watched on ESPN. Keys caught a pass on the wing and hit a pull-up three pointer in transition against Virginia like he'd done it every day of his life. We didn't have the three-point line in high school, but I assure you, our legendary coach Bill Green wouldn't have wanted Daric shooting from that range if we did.

Seeing Daric hit that three instantly made me think he was NBA-bound. And I still believe he would have been a pro if not for the debilitating knee injury, and complications he endured following surgery his freshman season. He only played 12 games that year, 13 total in two years at Wake. But he stayed there all four years and got his degree in sociology and has put it to good use.   

I've always treasured any time spent with Daric during our adult lives and I got to spend a couple of hours after the banquet reminiscing with him about old times. We also talked about plans for how to tell the story of a group of kids who grew up together in Marion, being friends and playing basketball, before eventually becoming one of the greatest high school teams Indiana has ever seen.

Keys married his high school sweetheart, Neely Dodson, and they now live in Hilliard, Ohio with their two children, Gage and Macy. Gage is wrapping up his junior year at Hilliard Davidson, where he plays basketball and football. Macy is a freshman at the same school and plays volleyball and basketball.

Not surprisingly, both Keys kids are heading for Division I athletics. Gage is considered one of the top 50 defensive ends in the class of 2020 nationally and already has offers on the table despite missing a big portion of his junior season with a knee injury.

When Daric Keys isn't working his day job, he coaches the freshman at Davidson and is one of the coaches for his son's AAU basketball team. Daric had to leave an AAU tournament in Cincinnati to make it to Marion on Sunday for his Hall of Fame induction. And he arrived alone, as wife and daughter were in Atlanta, Georgia at a national volleyball tourney.

Just another week in the life of one of Marion High School's greatest athletes: Daric Keys.

I'm glad I got to spend some time with my friend and former teammate making another memory.