Dewain Keel 50

In 1968 and 1969, the Morgan County High graduate was a two-time All-State and All-Morgan County basketball selection. The 6-foot-6 Keel, who was nicknamed “Stick, “dominated on the inside for the Tigers while averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds as a junior and 18 points and 14 rebounds as a senior. In 1968, Keel helped the Tigers claim the Morgan County Tournament championship. Also in that season he set a school record with 51 points in the Tigers’ 102-90 victory over Union Hill.  Hartselle head coach, Jackie Coulter, called Keel “the finest basketball player I’ve ever coached.”

Hartselle scoring machine

Nearly unstoppable Dewain Keel was a two-time All-State selection

By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

Back in the day the Pettey Center was home to Hartselle High basketball.

The history of the arena that is now a part of Hartselle Junior High is filled with great basketball teams, players and coaches who carried the program to the highest levels of success.

One of those players was the late Dewain Keel. The 6-foot-6 post player and 1969 graduate was a two-time All-State selection when the school was known as Morgan County High School.

“Dewain was an outstanding basketball player,” his coach Jackie Coulter said. “He was a hard worker and a team player. He was No. 1 in my book as far as I am concerned.”

On Jan. 26, 1968, Keel wore jersey No. 51 while scoring 51 points in Hartselle’s 102-90 win at Union Hill. Both marks were school records.

“I remember leaving the gym that night and hearing someone say they were glad he didn’t wear No. 80,” Keel’s younger brother Doug said.

Keel joins the Morgan County Sports Hall Fame on May 4. The induction banquet takes place at the Priceville Event Center.

One of Keel’s biggest basketball rivals was Cotaco’s 6-5 Gary Couey. The two big men battled all the way through junior high and then high school.

“Dewain was a big-time player who was almost unstoppable,” Couey said. “He could always take it to the basket and he had a really good jump shot. I had to work extra hard to try and play at his level.

“It was a battle, but it was a good battle. I loved playing against him. I loved playing at Hartselle because their gym was big and we would always have a great crowd cheering for both teams.”

Keel grew up in the New Center community east of Hartselle. The son of Howard and Bertie Keel attended what was then Plainview School and eventually became Sparkman School for eight years.

Somewhere along the way the slender Keel, who was the oldest of five, picked up the nickname “Stick.”
“Being tall runs in the family. Supposedly one of our great grandfathers was nearly 7 feet tall,” Keel’s sister Teresa Lackey said.

Early in his sophomore season in 1966-67, Keel was playing on Hartselle’s B-team. Players who stand 6-6 and can score in a variety of ways don’t usually stay on the B-team long. Coulter moved him up just before a critical two-game stretch with rivals Decatur and Austin.

Keel’s first varsity experience was a loss to the Red Raiders. His second varsity game went much better. He sparked the Tigers to a 50-40 win at Austin. Keel scored 11 points and claimed 13 rebounds.

“We were too small to compete under the boards so we brought up Keel,” Coulter said after the Austin victory. “He got roughed up against Decatur’s big boys, but he learned a few things. Tonight against Austin he put some new life in our team.”

The next two seasons were two of the best for a program that at the time was seeking its first ever state championship.

In Keel’s junior season in 1967-1968, the Tigers posted a 19-8 record that included a Morgan County Tournament championship with a 75-69 win over West Morgan. The season ended with a loss in the area tournament finals to Fairview.

Keel’s scoring average of 25 points a game earned him All-State honors from the Birmingham Post-Herald and All-Morgan County honors from The Daily.

The 1967-1968 All-Morgan County team was loaded with talent. Leading the way was Bud Stallworth of Morgan County Training, who later starred at Kansas and in the NBA. Rounding out the squad were Decatur’s Tony Julian, Ryan’s Leon Mooney and West Morgan’s Ronnie Smith.

Expectations were high for Hartselle in the 1968-1969 season. The Tigers returned eight lettermen, including some height with Keel, 6-5 Charles “Boonie” Russell and 6-4 Johnny Hampton.

The Tigers opened the season with Keel scoring 23 points in a 65-43 win over Falkville. A major test came on Dec. 3 when Hartselle traveled to Decatur. The Red Raiders won 69-57 despite Keel’s 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Later that season, Hartselle got some revenge with a 61-52 win over Decatur at the Pettey Center. Keel scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

The playoff format for basketball 55 years ago had teams playing in area tournaments. Two area tournament winners would then meet for the district championship. Eight district winners would then advance to the state tournament in Tuscaloosa.

Hartselle finally got through the area tournament obstacle with wins over Hanceville, Holly Pond and Decatur’s Lakeside. That set up a district championship game at the Pettey Center vs. rival Austin.

The showdown between the Tigers and Black Bears was a classic. Hartselle led 35-31 after three quarters, but Austin rallied. The Black Bears made four free throws in the final 37 seconds to win 54-50.

The trip to Tuscaloosa resulted in Austin’s first state championship. The Black Bears won in Tuscaloosa by margins of 15, 12 and 11.

Keel averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds in his senior season. He was a repeat All-State and All-Morgan County selection. Joining him on the All-Morgan team were Decatur’s Julian, Falkville’s Ray Humphrey, Priceville’s Chris Davis and Ryan’s Robert Whisenant.

Keel’s total points scored of 1,128 set a school record that has since been passed by Brody Peebles (3,049) and “Boonie” Russell (1,189).

After two great high school seasons, Keel seemed like a sure bet for stardom at the college level, but it wasn’t meant to be.

“He had a bunch of colleges that were interested in him because I saw all the letters he got,” Doug Keel said. “He just wasn’t interested in them.”

Shortly after graduating from Hartselle, Keel married his long-time girlfriend Sandra. He went to work as a lineman for Hartselle Utilities and then Joe Wheeler EMC.

“I was nine years younger than Dewain and when he was in high school it seemed like he was always busy doing something,” Lackey said. “He liked to hunt and fish. He liked working with our father.

“I think basketball was just something else he liked to do. He was good at it, but going to college to play basketball didn’t interest him.”

Later in life, Dewain became a basketball fan when his granddaughter, Chelsea Smith, played at Hartselle and then Falkville.

“He came to most all of our games, but he would get so nervous he couldn’t sit still,” Smith said.

Keel passed away in 2020 at age 71.

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