ALBANY — The positive attitude that Lari Ketner, who played for three different NBA teams, possessed as he battled throughout the final year of his life is something that will always stick with Tairi Ketner.
A walk-on freshman with the UAlbany men’s basketball team, Tairi Ketner said that memory motivates him each day.
“As a little kid, you don’t really understand the impact that cancer has,” Tairi Ketner said. “But I just remember him fighting it every day.”
Lari Ketner died of colon cancer in October 2014 at age 37, a day shy of Tairi Ketner’s 13th birthday. The seventh anniversary of Lari Ketner’s death will take place less than a week after this year’s Coaches vs. Cancer Basket Ball, an annual event co-hosted by the men’s basketball head coaches of UAlbany and Siena, and their respective wives, that benefits the American Cancer Society.
This year’s event takes place 6 p.m. Monday at Albany Capital Center, and will involve Dwayne Killings, hired in mid-March as UAlbany’s new coach, for the first time. Killings counted Lari Ketner as a friend. They first met when Lari Ketner was a star at UMass and Killings was a standout at Amherst Regional High School, and later became closer friends when Killings was working at Temple in Philadelphia, where Lari Ketner once starred at Roman Catholic High School.
“He was a gentle giant. He had such a big heart and cared about people,” Killings said of Lari Ketner, a 6-foot-9, 277-pound forward who made appearances for the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers from 1999 to 2001. “His son is a lot like him.”
Tairi Ketner — who often goes by “Huss,” a nickname his grandmother gave him as a youngster — grew up in South Philadelphia and played his high school basketball at Archbishop Carroll in the Philadelphia Catholic League before spending the 2020-21 season at Woodstock Academy in Connecticut, a prep school. A 6-foot-7 forward, Tairi Ketner mostly had Division II programs interested in him, but Killings offered him a walk-on spot with the UAlbany program. With a solid freshman year, the 19-year-old could earn a scholarship for 2022-23 and beyond.
“He’s got a shot,” Killings said. “He gives me a lot of confidence in the culture we’re building here.”
When Tairi Ketner committed to UAlbany, one of his top priorities was to get in better shape. His weight had neared 300 pounds during his prep season, and he pushed past that mark as he recovered after testing positive for COVID-19 last spring.
Since the spring? Tairi Ketner has lost approximately 60 pounds, and his weight is right around 250.
“He’s been working so hard and it’s really showing,” said UAlbany freshman Justin Neely, who is Tairi Ketner’s roommate.
“He’s becoming a man,” Killings said, “and his play has been great.”
Throughout his basketball career, Tairi Ketner said there has been pressure related to being the son of someone who made it to the NBA. Especially growing up, his father’s name was brought up to him in nearly every gymnasium he entered.
He doesn’t necessarily mind that.
“For me,” Tairi Ketner said, “when times get tough or pressure is on me, that’s when I shine the most.”
His father, Tairi Ketner said, was his best friend, and “the first thing I think of [about him] is being in car rides with him, talking about life and basketball.”
In both life and basketball, Tairi Ketner wants to spend his time at UAlbany accomplishing one of his goals.
“I want to make my dad proud,” Tairi Ketner said.
This year’s Coaches vs. Cancer Basket Ball will honor three special guests.
Jon Scheyer, head coach in waiting for Duke men’s basketball, will receive the “Champion of Hope” award; Jenna Meier, of Guilderland, will receive the “Mary Ann Raymond Donnelly Fighting Spirit Award” at the event; and, Jim Hart, founder of the Albany City Rocks AAU organization, will receive the “Inspiration Award.”
Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello played for Hart with the City Rocks, and later worked with the AAU program. Maciariello referred to Hart as a “second father figure” in his life.
“Jim’s believed in me since Day 1, as an unheard of JV basketball player at Shenendehowa,” said Maciariello, who graduated from the high school in Clifton Park in 1996. “Jim was the first guy to really believe in me.”