Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
First his current team beat No. 1 Texas. Then his former team did.
In the span of six days, Kelly helped Kansas State hand Texas its first loss and then Connecticut gave the Longhorns their second.
“It feels great. It was a great game. It was great win for me and my team. To beat the No. 1 team in the country and to contribute the way I did, I owe it to my teammates and God,” said Kelly, a Bronx, N.Y. native who had 17 points and 8 rebounds in K-State’s 71-62 win Jan. 18 over then-No. 1 Texas.
Kelly added 13 and 7 Saturday when the No. 9 Wildcats lost to Oklahoma State, 73-69. That same day, UConn knocked off the Longhorns, 88-74, in Storrs, Conn.
It was a strange set of circumstances considering Kelly began his career at UConn but transferred after two seasons because he was frustrated with his role.
“It was tough, dealing with the things that I did and not playing was hard but I just kept fighting and working hard,” he said.
Still, he said he thinks UConn coach Jim Calhoun ultimately “gave up on him” because he didn’t work hard enough.
“I think that was on me, that was my fault. It was my mistake. I could never gain Coach Calhoun’s trust and I didn’t work as hard and I just gave up on myself there. I think he gave up on me,” Kelly said.
Ironically, Calhoun wasn’t on the sideline when Kemba Walker, Kelly’s old friend from Manhattan Rice High School, and UConn downed Texas Saturday. Associate head coach George Blaney is running the team while Calhoun takes a medical leave.
“I’m going to pray for him and hope he bounces back,” Kelly said of Calhoun. “I know the coaches over there. They’re going to do a great job. Coach Blaney is going to be fantastic. They’re going to be fine.”
Meanwhile, Kelly has found a second life under K-State head coach Frank Martin.
“Coach Martin believed in me and my players and teammates and my family believed in me. Now I’m at a new place and a new home and and it feels great,” he said.
Though Martin is notoriously tough on his players, Kelly said he appreciates how he worked his way up the ranks from high school coach to Division 1 head coach.
“He coached high school. He just worked all the way up to where he is today and I appreciate that and I admire it. He worked from every step, from assistant coach to working behind [former K-State coach] Bobby ‘Huggs’ [Huggins] and he just moved his way up,” Kelly said.
Kelly has now become a pied piper of sorts, enabling other New York-area players to come to the other Manhattan, Manhattan, Ks.
The current roster features 7-foot freshman Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, a Port Chester, N.Y. native who also played with Kelly at Rice and with the New York Gauchos AAU program.
Next year, current Rice senior guard Shane Southwell comes to K-State.
“I went to high school with Jordan. I know him real well,” Kelly said. “I know Southwell because that’s like my little man. That’s my little brother.”
How different is Manhattan, Kansas from Manhattan, New York?
“It’s pretty quiet out here. It’s a little different. I love the people, I love the fans, I love it out here. People welcome me with open arms. I have my own little family out there and I’m happy,” he said.
With Martin leading the way as a potential national Coach of the Year candidate, K-State has the chance to do some real damage this year. But Kelly said they’re just taking it one day at at time.
“We’re not really worried about the big picture,” he said. “If we do well each game it’s a building process.”
(Photos courtesy K-State Athletics)
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.