The Final Chapter: Keilan Dobish Reflects on his Six-Year Career at NAIT

For NAIT Ooks forward Keilan Dobish, the 2021-22 season is the final chapter in what has turned into a six-year, five-season career for the native of St. Albert, Alberta. (Photo retrieved from NAIT Athletics)

EDMONTON, Alta. – I’m capable of doing a lot more than I gave myself credit for before coming to NAIT.

Those were the words of NAIT Ooks forward Keilan Dobish as he reflected back on his collegiate career. The St. Albert, Alberta native has spent the last five and a half years as a member of his ‘hometown’ school, a career that has been unexpectedly extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For those keeping track, St. Albert is only 22 minutes from the NAIT Campus on Google Maps, so we’re counting it as his hometown school.

The 2021-22 season is the final chapter in a collegiate career for Dobish that has been anything but conventional. From limited interest out of high school to playing five years in the ACAC, and from playing for three different head coaches to having his career interrupted by a global pandemic, Dobish has seen a little bit of everything over his time in an Ooks uniform.

Despite everything that he has had to endure over his career, Dobish learned a lot about himself and he wouldn’t trade the life lessons he’s learned, the friendships he’s gained, or the experiences he has enjoyed for anything.

Dobish committed to the Ooks back in 2016 after a conversation with then-NAIT Head Coach Mike Connolly, who is now the Head Coach of the MacEwan Griffins Men’s Basketball program in the Canada West.

“I didn’t have a ton of interest from schools as a young high school player,” said Dobish. “I wasn’t a top-level prospect in the city that coaches were talking to.”

“I was someone that kind of slid under the radar a little bit, and ended up having a conversation with Mike Connolly to the point where I ended up committing to his program.”

That decision sent Dobish on a six-year, five-season journey with the Ooks that has been filled with its share of ups and downs, highs and lows, and has presented him with plenty of life lessons and learning experiences along the way.

(Photo retrieved from the NAIT Ooks Flickr account)

Dobish has played for three different Head Coaches and more than 10 Assistant Coaches. He’s worked with three different skills trainers. In terms of teammates, he’s played with dozens over the years. Academically, Dobish has completed the Personal Fitness Trainer program at NAIT, and he is completing his second year of Open Studies. 

In short, he’s been there awhile and seen a lot along the way.

“It’s been five and a half years, soon to be six years of my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” said Dobish. “I look at everything that has happened over the years and I see how it has kind of led me to where I am right now and everything that I’ve been able to do and accomplish because of all of those changes that happened over the years ultimately led me to where I am right now.”

“As someone who has had to fight really hard to carve out a role for myself in this league, I think the constant change and staying on the edge has made me work that much harder for everything that I’ve accomplished over my time at NAIT.”

The role that Dobish has ultimately carved out for himself can be described as being a glue guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to put his team in the best position to win each time out.

Coming in as a rookie in 2016, the first couple of seasons with the Ooks were conventional when it comes to newcomers joining a program. Dobish put in the work in practice while making sure he did the little things to keep himself ready on the bench whenever his number was called. 

Dobish appeared in 23 games as a rookie. His regular season debut came on October 29th,  2016 at home against the GPRC Wolves. He scored his first ACAC points three games later, finishing with two points in 11 minutes of action against the Lakeland College Rustlers.

It wasn’t until his third season where he found himself in a position to play more frequently. But, it was also a situation that almost didn’t present itself.

“By the time I had got to my third year, in the first semester I had a really bad training camp and was in a tough spot,” admitted Dobish. “You know, usually in your third year you’re in a spot to get ready to try and contribute.”

That wasn’t the case for Dobish, at least for the first half of the season. He saw the floor in just three games during the Fall Semester, playing a total of nine minutes. Over the Christmas Break, he averaged 11 minutes over two exhibition games, and that was a sign of things to come in the second half.

“When the second semester came around, we started going on a bad losing streak and a lot of guys started to check out mentally,” continued Dobish. “I realized that this was an opportunity for me to come in and play.”

Dobish played in nine of the team’s 12 games in the second half, showing you that it’s not how you start, but how you finish. The tough training camp could’ve derailed any hopes that Dobish had of playing in his third season, but that turned into motivation and he was ready when an opportunity presented itself.

Shortly after the 2018-19 season came to a close, Mike Connolly was named the next Head Coach at MacEwan University, leading to the first coaching change of Dobish’s collegiate career. Enter Slav Kornik, who played for the Ooks and ranks sixth all-time in ACAC scoring with 1,432 career points to his name in four seasons. 

It was another fresh opportunity for Dobish to carve out a role for himself, and he took full advantage of that.

“When Slav came in, I think I really saw a fresh opportunity to where everybody was going to be on a level playing field,” said Dobish. “I was like, ‘ok, if I can come in and do enough to where I can carve out a rotation role for myself, then we can go from there’.”

“That ended up happening, and I was able to enjoy some success and built some good chemistry with Hugo Cluysen and we played some big minutes together.”

It may have taken him until his fourth season, but Dobish was an impact player right out of the gates for the Ooks. In the 2019-20 season opener against GPRC, Dobish played a career-high 20 minutes in a 20-point win for NAIT. Two games later, he set a new career-high with 23 minutes in another win against Lakeland. 

Against the Rustlers, Dobish pulled down 13 rebounds, 10 of which came on the defensive end, both of which are still career-highs to this day.

In the second semester, Dobish would encounter another hurdle when it came to his role with the team. As injured players were expected to return, his minutes were set to take a hit. Instead of taking an issue to his individual role, Dobish showed just why he is that glue guy for the Ooks.

He embraced it.

“Slav and I had a conversation where he says that Markus (Taylor-Knighten) is going to need to play a good amount in the regular season in order to get ready for the postseason,” said Dobish. “I was like, ‘yeah that’s fine, we need to get him up to speed because he gives our team the best chance to win’.”

“For me, it was about just staying ready for when your number is called to come in, whether that’s for a minute or 10, just contributing wherever you can.”

Dobish didn’t miss a game during the 2019-20 season. He saw double-digit minutes in 10 of the team’s first 14 games during the Fall Semester. He was a key piece to the puzzle for the Ooks, who finished the year with a 14-10 record and advanced to the ACAC Playoffs as the fourth-seed in the North Division.

The Ooks would go on to knock off the Lethbridge Kodiaks, the top team in the South Division, in the quarterfinals and finish fourth at the 2020 ACAC Men’s Basketball Championships.

“It means everything to be back on the court,” said Dobish. “I’ve invested so much of my life and so much of my time into this game, and to have it ripped away last year was very, very tough.”

“It was tough on me, it was tough on our team, and I’m sure it was tough on everybody else across the country and anybody else in the World who couldn’t play.”

Dobish and the Ooks returned to action this season after more than 18 months away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire 2021-22 season was canceled due to the pandemic, which first impacted Canada back on March 13th, 2020.

During the lost season, the Ooks underwent several changes on the coaching staff and in terms of player personnel. After spending the last four seasons as the Lead Assistant Coach for the Alberta Golden Bears, Jordan Baker was hired as the next Head Coach of the Ooks back in April.

On top of the coaching changes, the Ooks saw several players transfer in and out of the program during the year. It was a transition year for the Ooks despite not having played a game in ACAC action.

Like many others across Canada, the 2020-21 season was supposed to be the culmination of a five-year collegiate career for Dobish. Given everything that he had been through during his career, it was supposed to serve as one final run at a championship.

Instead, he was left waiting to see what would happen due to the pandemic, but Dobish again found himself in a similar situation that he’s been in on more than one occasion during his collegiate career.

Staying ready.

Without knowing when, or if, they would be allowed in the gym again, Dobish and his teammates did whatever they could to stay ready. Under the guidance of Baker, that also meant getting whoever was available together for outdoor workouts whenever they could throughout the summer.

Dobish (12) has made a point of learning as much as he can from Head Coach Jordan Baker during the 2021-22 season. (Photo retrieved from the NAIT Ooks Flickr account)

The opportunity to play for someone with Baker’s resume has Dobish excited for what’s ahead, not only in 2021-22 but for the program as a whole going forward past this season.

“Once the news came out that Jordan was going to be hired as our Head Coach, I was just excited to start picking his brain and learning from him,” added Dobish. “I’ve only got a few months left at the most in my career, so I want to keep picking his brain and learn as much as I can from him, and just take in every moment that I have left here because there won’t be a ton left.”

“I’ve probably learnt something from him every single day that I’ve been around him.”

Now, as the Ooks prepare for the second half of the 2021-22 season, Dobish is looking to play a similar role for the rest of the team that Baker has played for him this season as his career comes to a close.

The mentor role.

As the only fifth-year player on the roster this season, it’s possible that the Ooks could return everyone else from this year’s group in 2022-23. Things may change along the way between now and then, but the potential for this group to remain intact minus Dobish bodes well for the future of the program.

Dobish has begun doing what he can to set up the next group of leaders for the program. That was one of his goals for the season.

“As far as on a personal level, the number one thing that I want to do is set up the next group of leaders for our program,” said Dobish. “Jordan and I have already had a conversation about that, to where he’s trying to push the leadership in the direction of the returnees.”

“My number one goal is to do as much as I can to set those guys up for success.”

That’s on top of his team goals of winning a championship, something that has eluded Dobish during his career. He joined a NAIT team in 2016 that was coming off a CCAA National Championship win the season prior, but they haven’t been able to replicate that success yet in the years since.

For himself as an individual, he wants to make sure there’s no question that he gave it his all when his career does finally come to a close.

“For myself, the thing that I want to make sure that I can do at the end of the year is know that I gave everything that I had left in me to the program, regardless of whether it was in a practice, workout, lift, or a game,” added Dobish. “Again, it comes down to just doing whatever I can to make sure our team is performing at as high of a level we possibly can.”

“It may sound kind of selfish, but I’m trying to take it all in this year to really enjoy and appreciate my last year of playing,” said Dobish. “Who knows if I’ll ever play competitive basketball ever again.”

For Dobish, the last six years have been a ride filled with more ups, downs, and twists than you would find on your favourite rollercoaster. From coaching changes to roster turnover, and from injuries to an ever-changing role, Dobish has remained one of the few constants for a NAIT program that’s seen its share of changes over the years.

Despite the changes and shake ups, Dobish has remained the glue guy for a program that’s seen its share of movement, keeping things together and helping to bridge the gap when things start to shift.

That’s what glue does. It binds things together.

As Dobish prepares for his final semester of collegiate basketball, which will culminate on February 20th at his Senior Night in the regular season finale, he took a minute to reflect back on what his career has meant to him.

“It’s been one hell of a ride,” added Dobish. “The biggest thing that I wanted to do, and that I think I have done, is prove to people that I could be part of a program and that I could contribute.”

“Obviously, I haven’t contributed on the court as much as most people probably do over the course of their careers, but I think that with my contributions in some of the other ways that I have, whether it’s in the locker room, the athletic department, or just within the program, that’s enough for me.”

(Photo retrieved from the NAIT Ooks Athletics Website)

Over his career, Dobish has proven to be an integral part of the Ooks program. While he was ready whenever his number was called, his impact won’t necessarily show up on box scores or in post-game recaps. Instead, it will be felt for years to come within the culture of the program, as he’s been able to positively impact his teammates, the coaching staff, and the NAIT community throughout his six years.

However, and maybe most importantly, the biggest impact he had over his career was on himself.

“Lasting in a program for six years and playing for five is a tough thing to do,” concluded Dobish. “I’ve proven to myself that I’m capable of doing a lot more than I think I gave myself credit for before coming to NAIT.”

“There were a lot of ups and downs over the years, but something that I’ve tried to do, and something that I think that I’ve learned about myself, is to never get too high on the highs or too low on the lows; just try to stay neutral with everything.”

As he gets set to enter the next chapter of his life post-NAIT, Dobish wants to remain involved with basketball in some capacity, whether that’s as an Assistant Coach at any level in the Edmonton area or as a skills trainer. He also has his own passions that he wants to explore away from the game of basketball, which could take him across the province or across the country.

Regardless of what transpires in the coming months during the remainder of the season or in the weeks to follow, you can bet on one thing for certain.

Dobish will remain ready for whenever his opportunity presents itself.

  • T. Bennett

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