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Q&A and Podcast: Saint Francis basketball great Keith Braxton discusses career, preparing for TBT

Photo by Saint Francis Athletics: Keith Braxton

Keith Braxton scored more than 2,000 points and grabbed more than 1,000 rebounds during his illustrious career at Saint Francis, putting him in rare company as one of only 120 Division I players ever to reach both milestones.

Braxton will be taking part in the $1 million event The Basketball Tournament this summer, playing for a new team called America’s Dream. One of the biggest names on the squad is former Pitt standout Ashton Gibbs, while another is Baylee Steele from Duquesne, and there are other players with PA ties.

Braxton said the team name is “just representing the struggles that we go through today and how we’re working to promote those problems and those issues.

“Just to be able to represent a team like that on the court will mean a lot to me,” he added.

The Basketball Tournament has grown significantly in popularity in recent years. Last year, Sideline Cancer, a team based out of Hollidaysburg and sponsored by the Griffith Family Foundation, reached the championship game before losing.

“The prize has grown, the field has grown, the names of the players has grown,” Braxton said of TBT.

“Just to be able to have a tournament like this happening, it’s good to have great basketball around at a great time.”

LISTEN BELOW: Hear Keith Braxton’s entire interview on “Sports Central with Cory Giger” on WRTA in Altoona

 

Braxton is not playing professionally right now, in part because of more limited opportunities with COVID around the world. But he is still hoping to get professional opportunities and is staying in shape in case something comes his way.

Braxton had only one other Division I scholarship offer coming out of high school — from New Hampshire. How did he go from that to a star at Saint Francis?

“At the end of the day, it just comes down to self belief and self discipline and just putting yourself around great people,” he said. “I always believed I was a Division I player, always believed I could get to that level. And I disciplined myself, I never let myself cut corners, I never cheated myself. I always worked hard, always put the extra work in.”

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Braxton not only had great individual success at SFU — he was Northeast Conference Player of the Year as a junior — the Red Flash also enjoyed great team success during his career. Saint Francis reached the NEC Tournament championship game three times in his four years, including as a freshman in 2017 when Braxton hit a wild 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Wagner in the semifinals.

“It means a lot to me, just to be part of an era that was so important and synonymous with winning,” Braxton said. “The guys I came in with, we all had the same mission, and that was just wanting to win. Once we all got on that same page, we pushed each other the whole time, we communicated a lot. I think the big thing that really helped us was we were really cool off the court. As soon as we got on the court it was strictly business, but off the court we were best friends.”

The transfer portal has blown up this offseason, with more than 1,7600 players looking to transfer. Not a single one of those players in the portal is from Saint Francis.

While most other mid- and small-major programs have seen a lot of players transfer in recent years, the Red Flash program just has not had to deal with that issue very often. It’s a testament, Braxton said, to the closeness of everyone in the program, including coach Rob Krimmel and the assistant coaches.

“I really think it’s the organization and the coaches really caring for the players. … Just the relationships that we built at Saint Francis are life changing. The coaches want the best for you on and off the court,” Braxton said.

“Also I think the location helps a lot, as well. You’re in Loretto, Pa., the only thing you can really focus on is basketball and academics. Just to be at a spot where you can really lock in and be around great people in a setting like that, a lot of people just want to have four years of that and be around those people and that culture.”

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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