Texas is a sports state, and Keller is a sports town.
Numerous athletes from Keller schools have made it to the college ranks and even the pros, so we decided to spotlight some of the more recent players in the area to hit the big time.
Joel Bolomboy, Luke Wakamatsu, Zack Sanchez and Shea Langeliers each have different motivations and backgrounds, but they all have two things in common: they work hard to achieve their goals, and they never give up.
Joel Bolomboy, Keller Central High Selected by the Utah Jazz in the 2016 NBA draft
Joel Bolomboy was born in the Ukraine. His family moved to North Texas in 1998 when Joel was in kindergarten. His mother, Tatyana, wanted him to be a “great doctor or surgeon.”
“You want the best for your kids, especially coming from another country,” she says. “But he said, ‘I want to be a basketball player.’”
“I grew up playing football,” Joel says, “but I didn’t like the Texas heat and all the pads and equipment. Plus, there were too many players on the team. It just wasn’t for me.”
Joel began playing basketball in middle school but didn’t “get serious” about the sport until high school.
“I was always in the gym,” he says. “I watched videos, college games and the NBA. I was in the weight room a lot, trying to get stronger. It was all about getting better every day, keeping the ultimate goal in mind. I stayed in, making sure I got enough sleep, while other kids were out partying. I didn’t need a lot of attention.”
“He was very quiet and nice,” Tatyana adds. “He was a good student. He helped me with my English, helped with cleaning and vacuuming. He’s a great, great kid.”
The 2012 Central graduate also earned Big Sky MVP honors his senior year at Utah’s Weber State. He said he is looking forward to the NBA season, which begins Oct. 25, but he’s not sure if he’ll be a starter or how much playing time he’ll get.
“It’s too early to tell,” he says. “I don’t think the coaches even know yet.”
Tatyana is confident her son is a crucial addition to the team.
“Joel did a great job in the summer league,” she says. “Playing in the NBA is his dream come true.”
In addition to hard work, Tatyana believes love is the key to Joel’s success.
“When you love something, you do it from the heart,” she says.
Zack Sanchez, Keller Central High Selected by the Carolina Panthers in the 2016 NFL Draft
During his senior year of high school, Zack Sanchez intercepted nine passes, spurring the interest of college recruiters.
The standout cornerback, who some said was too small to play the position beyond the high school level, originally committed to Baylor but ultimately decided on the University of Oklahoma, meaning he had some tough phone calls to make.
“That’s one thing my pops told me: ‘You’ve got to be a man about it and let them know,’” Sanchez told newsok.com in 2013. “I let them know. Obviously they were upset about it, but I felt like it was the best decision for me.”
Rudy Sanchez encouraged his son to play football from an early age, but it wasn’t immediately clear which sport Zack would pursue.
“He could have gone pro in baseball or football,” Rudy says. “It’s all about dedication and knowing he can do it. If you tell him he can’t do something, he’ll do it. I’ve always told him he can do anything he puts his mind to.”
Bart Helsley, who was the 2012 graduate’s coach at Keller Central, is confident Zack has everything it takes to make it in the NFL.
“He has God-given ability,” Helsley says. “But he also has an instinct for the game. He’s a student of the game.”
Helsley describes Zack as “not big but fast” and “strong for his size,” but says physical gifts and overcoming his relatively small frame are only part of the equation.
“Zach’s isn’t afraid to take chances,” he says. “He doesn’t get discouraged when things don’t go right. He always plays with the idea that he has something to prove. He refuses to lose.”
Luke Wakamatsu, Keller High Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 2015 MLB draft; plays for their farm team, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers
Luke Wakamatsu is bonkers about baseball, and he’s been that way since he was very young.
His mother, Laura, remembers waking up on school mornings to the sound of something strange.
“I would hear him in the garage hitting the ball from a tee into a net we had set up,” she says. “He was self-motivated and energetic. He always had a passion for baseball. He loved it.”
“I’ve been into baseball ever since I could remember, especially since my dad was a coach,” Luke says.
Don Wakamatsu is an assistant coach for the Kansas City Royals. From 2003 to 2007, he was with the Texas Rangers, but he lost in his bid to become manager to none other than Ron Washington.
“That’s the baseball life,” Laura says.
The “baseball life” is a busy one as Luke spent his formative years traveling all over the country playing in tournaments.
“I spent summers playing baseball,” Luke says. “I missed family vacations, but it’s been well worth it.”
The 2015 Keller High grad says the secret to his success is being “crazy about the game” and “not being distracted by other things.”
Of course, talent doesn’t hurt.
“We’ve always felt he had a smooth, natural ability, the way he swung the bat and threw the ball,” Laura says.
Shea Langeliers, Keller High Drafted by Toronto in 2016 MLB draft, but chose to go to Baylor
At Keller High, catcher Shea Langeliers was one of the top prospects in the country, but he bypassed the Major Leagues, at least for now, in favor of furthering his education. Langeliers will play for the Baylor Bears while working toward his degree, and is expected to go pro after college.
“He wanted to go to college and get a degree,” says Shea’s dad, Steve. “One of his dreams is to play in the college World Series, so he pulled himself out of the draft.”
Shea, a computer science major, has been interested in baseball “since he could walk.”
“He had one of those little wooden bats you get at a game,” Steve says. “I would throw him those little plastic balls from McDonalds, and he would hit them.”
Described by his dad as a “laid back, non-judgmental, easy going” kid who “enjoys hanging out with his friends,” Shea is anything but laid back when it comes to baseball — he’s a fierce competitor.
When informed by the coaching staff during his freshman year at Keller that he wouldn’t be a catcher, Shea dug his cleats in and became just that.
“He was a small kid, late to develop” Steve says. “He was told he wouldn’t be able to do certain things. He refused to let anyone tell him what he couldn’t do.”
Steve is confident his son’s attitude will carry him through college, the pros and beyond.
“Shea’s philosophy is to get a little better every day,” he says. “Nothing can stop him from going to the Majors if he keeps working. His motto is, ‘Hard work will beat talent if talent doesn’t work hard.”
Other athletes from Keller schools to keep an eye on:
• Zach “Chachi” Mathers
Keller High, 2012
Plays for the Seattle Sounders FC2 of the United Soccer League
• Ike Schlabach
Timber Creek, 2015
Plays for the Pittsburg Pirates’ farm team, the Bristol Pirates
• Sheldon Neuse
Fossil Ridge, 2013
Plays for the Washington