It’s usually in a gymnasium, after a game. That’s when strangers approach Tairi Ketner and talk to him about his father.
“All the time,” Ketner said.
A senior at Archbishop Carroll, Ketner is used to hearing the tales. This one about the game his father played that day for Roman Catholic against St. Joseph’s Prep. Or that one about his dad’s performance that night against North Catholic.
“People come up to me and say, ‘I watched your dad play. You remind me of your dad,’ ” Ketner said. “Or they tell me stories about my father and how he played.”
Ketner, a burly left-hander with classic back-to-the-basket moves, proudly carries his late father’s name. He even has most of the legendary Lari Ketner’s game.
With one exception.
“He had a nice jump shot,” Ketner said with a smile. “I’m still working on mine.”
Ketner said his father’s fame in Philadelphia Catholic League basketball circles is a source of pride and a daily source of inspiration. He said he strives every day to be the player, and the person, that his dad wanted him to be.
Ketner has spent his senior season making his own name. He has averaged 14.1 points as a dominant presence in the paint for a team that reached the league quarterfinals before dropping a 72-68 overtime decision to top-seeded Archbishop Wood on Friday night.
Ketner led the Patriots to the brink of the upset, scoring a game-high 26 points.
“He’s been amazing,” Archbishop Carroll junior swingman John Camden said. “If they double him, he’ll kick it out. If they don’t, he’ll punish whoever is inside the paint.”
Ketner scored 15 points Wednesday night in a 74-66 victory over St. Joseph’s Prep in the first round of the playoffs. When the visiting Hawks took their last lead at 60-59 with a little more than four minutes to play, Ketner muscled inside for back-to-back layups while fouled, scoring five straight points to push the Patriots back in command.
“That was phenomenal,” Archbishop Carroll coach Francis Bowe said of Ketner’s late-game heroics.
Bowe said Ketner, who averaged around 10 points as a junior, has taken a major step forward in his final season for the Patriots.
“He wanted to work on his game,” Bowe said. “As a post player, how do you do that? Nuances. When the double comes. How to split the double. Feeling it, going the opposite way.
“If you count how many offensive fouls he had last year to now, it’s astronomically lower.
“He has poise. He has touch. It was the mind part that he worked on.”
The 6-foot-6 Ketner, a Bryant University recruit, said most of his improvement from last season has involved his feel for the game.
“Learning what I can and can’t do,” Ketner said. “I know I’m going to get double-teamed and triple-teamed, so I have to make counter moves.
“It’s patience. Just learning more about the game from a mental perspective.”
Lari Ketner was one of the more heralded players in Philadelphia Catholic League history, a 6-9 athlete who led Roman Catholic in the early 1990s. At UMass, Ketner was a star player under coach Bruiser Flint, another Philadelphia basketball guy.
Lari Ketner played parts of three NBA seasons for the Bulls, Cavaliers, and Pacers. He died of colon cancer in October 2014 at age 37. His oldest son, Tairi, was 13 at the time.
“I had to take a step away from basketball," Ketner said of his reaction to his father’s death. "I basically had to take a step away from life.
“I had to talk with my mom, talk with my grandfather. They helped me get back on my feet."
Ketner doesn’t regard his father’s legacy as a burden. He said he embraces the challenge that comes with playing the same sport as an accomplished parent.
“My job is to carry his last name,” Ketner said. “It means a lot to me. It inspires me because I know I had big shoes to fill. It’s very inspiring that my dad was able to be one of the legends of Philly.”
Bowe said he has been amazed at Ketner’s ability to handle the complications of being the basketball-playing son of a Philadelphia basketball legend.
“We go against Montverde [Fla.] and their assistant coach goes, ‘Ketner’s son is fantastic; his dad was fantastic.’ ” Bowe said. “I’m thinking, ‘That’s Montverde, Florida.’ When your name is carried that far along the way, how can a young man deal with that, live up to that?
“He does. He does every day in school. He does every day in practice.”
Ketner said he tries to serve as a role model for his brother, Touari, a.k.a. Deuce, who is 13, and his sister, Triniti, who is 7.
“I’m still learning how to be the man of the house now,” Ketner said.
Ketner knows people look at him and compare him to his father as a basketball player. He has watched video of his father during his days at UMass and noticed the similarities.
“We both like to bang down low,” Ketner said.
But Ketner said his father’s final words to him weren’t about basketball.