ALBANY — In making a couple recent additions to his program’s roster, UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Dwayne Killings brought in two players looking to prove themselves at the Division I level.
Both Luke Fizulich and Tairi Ketner know Killings well, too, and were eager to jump at the opportunity to join the Great Danes as walk-ons. Fizulich, a 6-foot-2 guard, was a walk-on last season at Marquette, where Killings was an associate head coach, while the 6-foot-8 Ketner has known Killings for years since the first-year UAlbany head coach knew Ketner’s father — former NBA player Lari Ketner — from both playing in college for Bruiser Flint at UMass.
Fizulich said it was a “natural fit” for him to follow the 40-year-old Killings to UAlbany, especially once Steve Wojciechowski was fired in March as the head coach at Marquette. A graduate of Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, Fizulich said he first connected with Killings when the coach was recruiting his high school teammate RJ Davis, a Mr. New York Basketball who ended up heading to play for North Carolina.
“So I was around [Killings] a lot because of that,” Fizulich said. “He’d come to a lot of our games, practices, open gyms — and I was playing well.”
So Fizulich ended up at Marquette for his freshman 2020-21 season. Fizulich appeared in only one game — he recorded a steal and a turnover in a minute against Butler — but said the time at Marquette represented a “really good year” for the player from Harrington Park, New Jersey, who would have otherwise spent the year at a prep school. Instead, Fizulich said the 2020-21 season became “almost like a prep year on steroids” for him since he got the chance to practice and work out with the Big East Conference program.
“The biggest thing I took was understanding that I could play against those guys,” Fizulich said. “That gave me a lot of confidence.”
Meanwhile, Tairi Ketner spent the 2020-21 basketball season playing for Woodstock Academy in Connecticut, a prep school, after previously playing at Archbishop Carroll in the Philadelphia Catholic League. A developing prospect, Ketner said most of his interest in the last year was from Division II programs.
“I’m just excited to get a taste of college basketball,” Ketner said.
In advance of making his way to UAlbany’s campus in early July, Ketner said he’s working to lose weight. At one point, Ketner said he weighed a little more than 300 pounds, and he’s already down to 280 with a goal to lose another 20 pounds.
As a non-scholarship player, Ketner said he wants to prove he belongs at the Division I level.
“And when my back is against the wall,” Ketner said, “that’s when I shine the brightest.”
The additions of Ketner and Fizulich, which were formally announced last week by UAlbany, bring the total number of new players to the program since Killings’ mid-March hire to nine. Ketner is one of four players joining the program who has not previously played college basketball, while Fizulich is the fifth incoming transfer for the Great Danes.
After spending last season with Killings, Fizulich said he’s excited to keep playing for UAlbany’s new head coach.
“I can tell you that he’s going to give it his all. I know that, for sure,” Fizulich said. “He’s one of the smartest guys I know, one of the most-connected guys I know, and he’s super smart.”