Feb. 22, 2010
Charlie Taylor, 404 413 4031
GSU Sports Information
Georgia State basketball fans can be thankful that Danyiell McKeller is a twin.
It was her twin brother, Daniel, who first molded his sister, the Lady Panther's basketball team's senior leader and top scorer, into the athlete she would become.
"My mother kept my brother and me together in everything we did, including sports, and my brother took me along and made me a part of whatever he did," McKeller said.
It's no wonder that she plays basketball with a football player's mentality - because she did, indeed, play football growing up. At age 10, McKeller donned full football pads and played on the same Recreation League team as her brother in their hometown of Fayetteville, N.C. She was the only girl in the league, but she was just as tough as any of the boys. Football runs in the McKeller family - her older brother, Ira, played collegiately at Wake Forest.
"[Daniel] and I pushed each other, and we would go off by ourselves and do push-ups and sit-ups and find heavy things to pick up even if we couldn't get into a weight room," McKeller said. "We weren't lazy and we wanted to be the best, so we worked to be bigger and stronger."
The first time McKeller actually played basketball with girls was in middle school.
"I didn't like that at first," she said. "I was used to playing rough and tough and most of them didn't really want to compete real hard and physical."
It was in middle school when McKeller's life changed dramatically. When she was just 13 years old, her mother, Betty, died as a result of complications from diabetes.
When McKeller took the court for the first time at Westover High, she wore the number 42 in memory of her mother, who was 42 years old when McKeller was born. Then, she set out to make a name for herself as a basketball player.
McKellar went on to become the best player her high school had ever seen. She was team captain as a junior and senior, and led those teams to a 51-9 record as she earned first-team All-State honors. She was a four-time all-conference star who set Westover's records with 1,585 points, while leading the league in scoring her final two years.
Recruiters came calling, including GSU Coach Lea Henry.
"We saw her athleticism on tape and then kind of developed a respect and a relationship on her visit," Henry said.
McKeller had interest from Wake Forest, as well as nearby UNC Charlotte. Colonial Athletic Association schools like VCU and UNC Wilmington also pursued her. But when she made her visit to Atlanta and GSU, McKeller committed to a National Letter of Intent in the spring of 2006.
"I just saw myself fitting in well here, and I liked Coach Henry and the school," she said.
Her twin brother, Daniel, earned a baseball scholarship to St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C., and joined the Army ROTC there.
"Daniel is still the one who is the hardest on me," she said. "He always tells me I could have done better or pushes me to become better in certain areas. He knows me better than anyone."
As soon as she stepped on the court as a college player, she made an instant impact. Against Big East Conference foe Miami, in her very first game, she scored 17 points. She then went on to score in double figures in her first six games.
As a sophomore, McKeller was second on the team and 20th in the CAA in scoring.
Her junior season saw her charge out of the blocks with 24 points and 11 rebounds in a season-opening win at Clemson. She scored in double figures in 10 of the first 12 games, despite playing limited minutes with knee pain. Twice she was honored as the CAA Player of the Week.
Then, in January, with the team sitting at 9-4, McKeller sat out for more than a month and treated her ailing knees. She tried to gut out the final eight games, playing in seven and scoring in double-figures in four games, but she wasn't quite herself. The team went just 3-13 without her playing or with her playing with limited ability.
During the summer, McKeller put in extra hours of rehabilitation exercises, and the work has paid off.
For her senior campaign, she has been in the top 20 in the NCAA in scoring for most of the season, and after back-to-back 26 and 25-point road games, she was named CAA Player of the Week Dec. 21, marking her third time she has received the honor.
Even as teams try to stop her with double teams and box-and-one defenses, McKeller simply uses many of those spin moves and quick jumpers that she learned from playing with the guys as a kid.
Her toughness and team spirit are evident every game as she leads the defense in steals on a team that ranks in the top 25 in the NCAA in fewest points allowed - and that's in a league with five of the top 20 scorers in the nation.
As her college career winds down, her career totals rise up. She has passed 1,200 career points and 600 career rebounds and will finish as one of the top 10 scorers in school history.
"Danyiell has gotten better each and every year at Georgia State," Henry said. "You can count on her day-in, day-out, game-in, game-out. She has learned to be a leader. She is so versatile and able to do a lot of things that help you win. I respect her toughness and I am proud of her. I consider her one of the best basketball players we have ever had at Georgia State."
Her most immediate goals are to graduate with a degree in psychology this spring and then, perhaps, play professional basketball. Most likely, one day she'll come back to Georgia State when the school hangs her 42 jersey from the rafters in recognition. Hopefully, Daniel will also be there. Mom would have really liked that.