To see the way sisters Kayli and Meghan Keough mesh so well now on the court, the way they support each other through tough times as roommates and speak so highly of one another as best friends, you’d have no idea of the battles they used to wage while playing pick-up basketball in their hometown of Land O’ Lakes.
Those knock-down, dragged-out pick-up games were doozies between the much taller Kayli and the much faster Meghan. But in a strange sort of way, those competitive battles helped form the unbreakable bond between the two sisters who currently star for the UCF women’s basketball team.
“I picked on her a lot, especially when we played basketball in the driveway,” remembered Kayli, now a 6-foot-2 power forward for the Knights. “I obviously had my growth spurt before she did, so I was a lot bigger. And then she got really fast, so I had to chase her around and she’d burn me off the dribble. Those were wars. We used to go back and forth, and somebody would get mad and say something or chuck the ball in the bush and run into the house. We’d get really mad at one another.
“But now my sister is my best friend,” Kayli continued. “We get along so well and I always know that she’s going to tell me the truth. It’s good to have that backbone here with me in college.”
The Keough sisters are getting the chance to bond once again and play together at UCF due to a stroke of fate. Meghan, a true freshman guard, committed to UCF first following a stellar high school career where she led Tampa Catholic to two state titles. Kayli, a redshirt junior, originally attended Florida State, but transferred to UCF last year after her sister suggested that she look into UCF’s program.
Now, they are reunited and both are playing well for the Knights (3-4), who host Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday at 7 p.m. at UCF Arena. Kayli moved into the starting lineup over the Thanksgiving holiday and has scored 23 and 13 points in the past two games, respectively, and is fourth on the team in scoring at 9.7 points per game. Meghan has struggled with her jump shot and the faster pace of the college game, but she is still averaging 6.9 points and 2.1 rebounds and has made five starts.
“It’s tough for all freshmen, but Meghan is making the transition,” UCF head coach Joi Williams said. “One thing about her is that she is going to try to do things right. The pace of the game is different, but she’ll learn quickly because she’s very smart. You can tell her something one time and she understands it. And we have a lot of confidence in Kayli to knock down shots, but she has to be confident in herself. She’s shown in the last couple of games that she can do it. She sees that we need her to score. I feel confident about Kayli’s future, and she’s only going to get better and better as time goes by.”
The Keough sisters’ seamless transition to a UCF program that has won two Conference USA titles in the past three years has come about because of the many hours they spent as children honing their basketball skills. When father Michael, a former college football player at Tennessee Tech, wasn’t out in the driveway putting the girls through drills, they were usually going at one another in those heated pick-up games. And the showdowns usually didn’t end until one sister stormed off the court in a huff.
“Kayli was in middle school and was already 5-11, and I was a tiny little thing. I’d go to the basket all of the time and I never learned, and it was block, block, block,” Meghan recalled. “Finally, I got to the age where I could figure it out and make some moves. But usually I’d throw the ball and run inside crying. Really, we’re the complete opposites, but I think that’s why we get along so well.”
Kayli is the shy, more reserved sister, while Meghan is the more self-confident, outgoing personality. They briefly shared a bedroom as kids and would argue over minor details about whether the door should be shut or opened at night. Now that they are roommates once again in college, they can’t possibly imagine going this time in their lives without each other.
“She’s more soft-spoken and I’ll just kind of say it how it is. But we’re good for one another in that way. She calms me down and I get her going,” Meghan said. “Going into college is such a big transition and it can be so hard on freshmen transitioning to school and being on a new team. But having Kayli here, it makes it so easy for me. It’s almost like I’m back at home again. There’s somebody that I can talk to about anything. You have bad freshman days sometimes, but I have someone there for me. She gets on to me and tells me when I really struggled in practice. So we get in the gym together late at night and shoot.”
The only people more excited about Kayli and Meghan getting the opportunity to play together are their parents, Michael and Lisa Keough, and 13-year-old brother Michael. Lisa hasn’t missed a UCF game all season, and the only high school game of Meghan’s that Michael missed was the state title game when his car was hit near the driveway of their family home.
These days, UCF games have turned into somewhat of a Keough family reunion with parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts running through the crowd. And admittedly, it will dawn on the sisters from time to time how lucky they are to be playing basketball with one another yet again. Only now, they are teammates and there’s no bad blood over who fouled whom and which one knocked the ball out of bounds.
“Growing up together, we developed the same type of game. I can tell when I’m feeding the post that I know what Kayli likes and where she wants the ball. That just helps us and it will eventually help the team, as well,” Meghan said. “My parents couldn’t be happier. My grandparents, uncles and aunts can all come over to games now. When we were growing up one parent would always have to split and go with one girl, and the other parent would go with the other one because we were always on different AAU teams. But now they will not miss a single game.”
Added Kayli: “There are times when me and Meghan will get that inkling or catch each other’s eye out on the court and just know what the other one is going to do. When Meghan does something good, I’m just so proud of her because that’s my baby sister. I’m always excited for her. She’s rooting for me and I’m rooting for her.”