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Globe West Sports

O’Keefe brothers share basketball legacy

The O’Keefe brothers: Chris, a sophomore at Lexington High; Dan, a freshman at Bentley; and Bates College senior Jimmy. The O’Keefe brothers: Chris, a sophomore at Lexington High; Dan, a freshman at Bentley; and Bates College senior Jimmy. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / January 17, 2010

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When the Bates College men’s basketball team visited Brandeis University in Waltham for a nonconference matchup Tuesday night, the O’Keefe clan of Lexington gathered for an informal reunion.

Eldest son Jimmy, a 6-foot-6 senior at Bates, started at center for the Bobcats. And up in the stands at Red Auerbach Arena were his younger brothers, Dan, a 6-5 freshman forward on the Bentley University basketball team, and Chris, a 6-foot Lexington High sophomore guard, and their parents, Jim and Heather, who keep track of their sons’ games with the help of a computerized, color-coded sheet posted on the fridge.

“Where there are conflicts I put an H next to the game that Heather will go to, and a J for the ones I will attend,’’ said Jim, who noted that the system was put to work twice last week.

Jimmy, the state’s player of the year in the Gatorade and Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association rankings as a senior at Lexington High, is the top rebounder (averaging 6.1 per game) and third leading scorer (9.7 points) for Bates this season while shooting 58 percent. He also leads the Bobcats with eight blocked shots.

“Jimmy has developed a great back-to-the-basket game,’’ said Bates head coach Jon Furbush, whose team was 6-6 after falling to Brandeis, 81-57. “With his long arms and physical play, he can be very difficult to defend against down low. His will to consistently rebound on both ends of the floor has inspired me as a coach. And his energy, passion, and enthusiasm has inspired his teammates.’’

O’Keefe, who also played on the Bay State Magic’s AAU state championship team in 2005, led Lexington High to a pair of Middlesex League titles in three varsity seasons, but it was his final game he will always remember.

“My brother Dan was a freshman and he was on the bench when we lost to Charlestown in the state Division 1 semifinals,’’ he recalled. “To me it was like passing the torch, which is the same thing Dan has done with Chris.’’ The youngest sibling buried a pair of 3-pointers Wednesday as the Minutemen improved to 7-3 with a win over Melrose.

All three O’Keefes played in high school for Bob Farias, who has been the head coach at Lexington since 1975.

“Jim and Heather raised three great boys,’’ said Farias. “Off the court, they’re nonaggressive kids, but on the court, they put themselves on the line, doing everything that makes them better players. They care about themselves and their teammates. The older brothers come to some of our practices and games, and still support the program.’’

Jimmy O’Keefe said Farias is a stickler for detail who “has high expectations for all his players. I can’t say enough about how he prepared me for the college game.’’

The O’Keefes also honed hoop skills on a backyard half-court installed by their father, who coached them in youth sports.

“It’s been the site of many lively games of horse, 21, and two-on-two, and a lot of shooting practice,’’ said their dad. “There’s been a lot of scrapes and bruises, and while I used to be the best player in the family, I’ve been officially knocked down to No. 4 as of last summer.’’ (It should be noted that all three sons concur with that rating.)

A two-year captain at Lexington who shared Middlesex League MVP honors last season, Dan is slowly getting acclimated to the college game. He went 4-for-4 from the field in Bentley’s victory over the University of Massachusetts Lowell, in his longest stint to date. Bentley was 13-2 overall and ranked 17th nationally in Division 2. They had won eight straight prior to yesterday’s game against Assumption.

“It’s nice being the middle brother,’’ he said. “I’ve had the advantage of getting advice from my older brother, especially about the transition from being ‘the man’ in high school to going up against your college teammates who were also ‘the man.’ And I can talk about my experiences to Chris as he develops.

“We’re three different kinds of players style-wise,’’ added Dan, who was encouraged to attend Bentley by Lew Finnegan, who starred on the court for both Lexington and the Falcons. “But we all share competitiveness and mental toughness. And we’re supportive of one another.’’

Bentley coach Jay Lawson, an assistant under Farias in the early 1980s, said he is impressed with the freshman’s quickness and athleticism.

“Dan should be very productive around the basket with his interior offense and rebounding ability, and as a shot blocker. Physically, he’s college-ready and his defense is coming along,’’ said Lawson. “Dan can be hard on himself, but in a positive way, and that’s what makes him very coachable.’’

Peter Bocchino, who has coached all three O’Keefes in the AAU program, said “they’re all self-driven. They want to be the best they can be. Jimmy is one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever coached, and his senior year in high school was one of the greatest I’ve ever seen. Danny has the toughness of Jimmy and, like him, he could put a team on his shoulders. And Chris has big shoes to fill, but the personality to accept that. He’s going to be fine.’’

Off the court, the siblings have given of themselves as well.

Dan has volunteered the past several summers with a program in Lexington as a mentor to special-needs students. Last year, along with high school teammate Chris Forlenza, whose brother is autistic, he taught basketball at the Nashoba Learning Group in Bedford.

“I loved doing it,’’ said Dan. “It’s made me appreciate what I have.’’

The program, which has continued through the efforts of Chris O’Keefe and Forlenza’s sister, Allie, last fall, was recognized with a community service award from Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts.

“It’s been a special experience and a ton of fun,’’ said Chris, who along with Lexington teammate Chris Lee and eight other 16-year-olds from New England have been chosen to play for the International Colonials team. They will travel to Europe over April vacation to play teams in Vienna, Prague, and Berlin.

Jim O’Keefe, a college math professor, and Heather, a scientist, consider themselves blessed.

“We have three healthy, happy and talented boys,’’ said Jim O’Keefe, who along with his wife recently hosted a dinner for the Lexington High team. “As hectic as our schedule gets, we are grateful to have the opportunity to see them play and share the experience with them.’’

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.