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With help of his brother, Bonner's Deuce Ketner turns into force in PCL

01/26/2024, 10:45am EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

Touari “Deuce” Ketner didn’t always enjoy the pick-up games with his older brother Tairi.

Every time he tried to score, Tairi knew how to stop him. When he was on defense, he had no chance, getting bullied down low by an older brother with an advantage in the size and strength department.

The backyard lessons weren’t always fun, Deuce giving them up entirely for a stretch, but they stuck with the second Ketner son. They helped create another Ketner basketball star who is now dishing out the punishment he used to take from big bro on the Catholic League. 

Deuce, a 6-foot-7 senior at Bonner-Prendergast, is leading the Friars in scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg) in his final season with Tairi still a major influence on his game .

“I call him literally almost every game, that’s if my mom doesn’t beat me to it,” Deuce said. “She calls him and tells him how I played before the game even ends. He tells me everything. Same thing that I’m going through, he’s going through. The only thing is he’s already been there, so he knows what to do. I have to take it in, listen and apply.”

Bonner senior Deuce Ketner is averaging 18.1 ppg and 8.7 rpg. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)

The Ketner brothers and their younger sister, Triniti, are the children of Lari and Tyshaun Ketner. Tairi explained Triniti, in seventh grade, is a dancer uninterested in following her older brothers onto the hardwood, though she is trying volleyball.

Lari Ketner was a standout at Roman Catholic and UMass before playing in the NBA as a 6-foot-9 power forward for the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers from 1999-2001. He passed away in October 2014 after a year-long battle with colon cancer at age 37. Deuce was 8. Tairi was 13. 

“I felt like I had to be there for him, and really the family,” Tairi said. “Speaking for him, I had to pick up that burden, help him carry it because he was so little. He really didn’t know what was going on and what was going to be next. I was just there for him, talking to him whatever.”

He made sure Deuce still found a way to stay connected to Lari.

“When my dad passed, I kind of didn’t understand,” Deuce said. “I didn’t get to see him a lot because he was always in the hospital. It was just me and my brother and that was about it. He would remind me of my dad. I didn’t really get to see my dad play. He does, so he would find clips and send them to me, ‘So this is how dad used to play.’”

Tairi’s game is more similar to Lari’s. He’s a 6-foot-8, 265-pound bruiser in the post. He was a third team All-Catholic League selection as a senior at Archbishop Carroll. He did a prep year at Woodstock Academy (Mass.), walked-on at Albany and is now back close to home at Holy Family.

Deuce’s game is different. He didn’t have the size to compete inside with Tairi growing up, so he developed a 3-point shot to try and stay competitive in those backyard games. That’s something neither Tairi nor Lari had in their arsenals. Tairi admits Deuce is more athletic, able to sky for a monster jam.

Growing up, Deuce always wore the No. 2 for his nickname as the second son. In middle school — around the time Tairi was finishing his career at Carroll — Deuce hit a growth spurt and had to start wearing the No. 10. Suddenly with some added height, he had the complete package, able to drive to the basket with both hands, shoot from the outside, and battle with the trees inside.

Tairi Ketner, left, plays for Archbishop Carroll in 2020. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL FIle)

“He’s 6-7, long, athletic. He’s strong. He’s like a create-a-player almost,” Bonner second-year coach Billy Cassidy said. “He can guard 1 through 5. He can get to the basket. He can knock down a three. He can slam one like nobody else. He always seems to have a ridiculous block every game, like off the backboard. He’s one of those kids that always seems to do something new every game.”

Deuce saw just 11 minutes of action in two games during a COVID-impacted seven-game season at Bonner as a freshman in 2020-21. Tairi said he started to notice Deuce catching up to him during his sophomore year. Deuce made 10 starts as a sophomore, averaging 10.3 ppg and 4.6 rpg under former coach Kevin Funston in 2021-22.

Cassidy knew the Ketner family name and also knew Deuce from coaching him at a summer camp when he was in eighth grade. Cassidy’s first call he made when he got the Bonner job in April 2022 was to Deuce.

Last season, Deuce took another step forward on a re-worked Bonner roster, averaging 13.0 ppg and 5.4 rpg to go along with a block and a steal per game. He carried that into the summer with K-Low Elite.

“It was just all about confidence,” Deuce said. “If you don’t have confidence in yourself, you’re not going to do it. You’re going to pass up on big shots. Then you’re not scoring, so you’re kind of not playing because you just have no confidence. … That was all just getting confidence and this is what I basically do now. I don’t pass up open shots. I feel like if I’m gonna make it, I’m gonna shoot it 100 percent of the time.”

He’s gone from good to great as a senior, taking over the game for the Friars on both ends. Deuce had three games of 20-or-more points last season, two of them coming in his team’s final two games in playoff losses against O’Hara (22) and Dobbins Tech (20).

He’s eclipsed that feat seven times already this season. Heading into Wednesday, Deuce had gone for 20-plus in four straight, also tallying 13-or-more rebounds and multiple blocks three times during that stretch. He set a new career-high with 30 points in a recent win over Devon Prep, adding in nine rebounds, three steals, three blocks and a couple of highlight dunks. 

“The biggest challenge for him is his maturity, wanting to dominate, because he has that ability in his game to dominate the game unlike any other high school kid on both sides of the floor,” Cassidy said. “He’s been tremendous this year. He’s taken huge strides for us, and we’re going to continue to need him to do even more. I always tell him to never be satisfied and always do more, and he’s always down for the challenge. And he’s one of the best kids, one of the best teammates. He’s so coachable and loves working hard. He’s who you want as a coach.”

Bonner senior Deuce Ketner is still unsure where he will play next season, but teaming with his brother at Holy Family is an option. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)

Tairi and Deuce still work out together in the offseasons. They usually conclude with a best-of-five or best-of-seven series of 1-on-1 games. 

Back closer to home at Holy Family this season, Tairi has had the chance to watch Deuce play at Bonner in person for the first time since he started high school.

“He has a little bit of a post game, but not as good as mine,” Tairi said. “But he makes up for it with his outside shooting. His three ball’s a lot better. He’s more athletic than me, I will say that.”

“He’s gotten extremely better, so much better from when I’ve last seen him. Coming in, he looks a lot more confident, stronger, just overall better. To me, it’s good to see.”

Deuce has had Division I interest throughout the past two seasons, even a handful of schools offering scholarships. Cassidy said Manhattan and Wagner are programs that have reached out as of late. Deuce also has some Division II programs looking at him hard. East Stroudsburg wants to get him on campus. Holy Family offered him a scholarship, opening up the possibility of teaming with Tairi.

The recruiting process can be frustrating nowadays with extra eligibility and the transfer portal complicating roster construction. Deuce has been through it, seeing texts from interested coaches trail off. 

He’s shrugged it off, confident in his ability to play at the next level. Deuce is instead focused on his final games at Bonner, trying to continue an All-Catholic League-type season by carrying the Friars, along with senior Kevin Rucker and others, deeper than last season’s first round PCL exit and state play-in loss. 

“I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible,” Deuce said. “I know there’s coaches calling me, texting me. I’m fine. They always told me that they liked me but they never really offered me. … I just want to enjoy this. I want to go far here. If I think about college, I’m not going to do well here because I’m thinking about it. If I just let it rock and play with my guys, play hard we’re going to get an offer. We’re all going to get to the next level.”

His brother concurs that he will be just fine.

“I think his game will be able to fit in really well with today’s game,” Tairi said. “I feel like a lot of people have that spacing ‘5’ or even spacing ‘4’ who can shoot, put the ball on the floor, defend, rebound at a high level, and I think he does all those things. I think he’ll be able to fit with whatever team is lucky to have him on their team.”

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