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ISU's Kelly following NBA dream

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive ||

June 6, 2011

As Jake Kelly took the court for his first pre-draft workout for an NBA team, he glanced over to the sideline and saw Larry Bird.

Kelly's thought at that moment?

"OK" he said, "this is real."

Having dreamed of the NBA for years, Kelly now has the chance to make it happen.

Most of the other prospects, including UCLA's Malcolm Lee, Georgia Tech's Iman Shumpert and Kentucky's DeAndre Liggins, are relative veterans of the workout circuit. They are on the NBA's draft radar, although as second-round prospects.

Kelly's journey is just beginning and he has a long road to travel, but it couldn't have started at a better place.

The former Indiana State guard, a native of Terre Haute who played part of his high school career at Carmel in suburban Indianapolis, Kelly grew up a Pacers fan and of course played at the same college as Bird and Carl Nicks, the Pacers' scout who is helping run the workouts.

"It's awesome," Kelly said. "Reggie Miller's my favorite player. I've got 1,000 of his cards and jerseys at home and it's just cool to be in this building in front of guys like Larry Bird and Carl Nicks and just be working out with this group of guys.

"Larry's always been great to me. He called me when my mom passed away, he's always stayed in touch."

Kelly's life was forever changed when his mother Julia was killed in a plane crash in Florida in 2008. An honorable mention All-Big 10 selection after leading Iowa in scoring (11.6) that sophomore season, Kelly transferred to Indiana State in order to be closer to friends and relatives.

"It hasn't been hard to focus on basketball," he said. "That's been my escape. It's all I've wanted to do. If anything, it's helped."

Hurdles just kept presenting themselves. A torn left knee ligament shortened his junior season to 12 games. Mononucleosis and a stress reaction in his foot cut his senior season down to 21 games. But he was on the court when the Sycamores won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to clinch the school's first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991. They lost to Syracuse in the first round.

A combination of factors -- the injuries that limited his productivity, Indiana State's equal opportunity offense and the school's relatively low national profile -- all have mitigated against Kelly's stock as an NBA prospect.

"There's definitely more to me than met the eye the last two years," Kelly said. "I tore my ACL my junior year and I was sick basically all of last year. It's just one of those things, it's tough timing with things but the way I played at Iowa and the things I can do now I think will show. …

"I think (scouts) need to see everything. The last two years I haven't been able to show what I can do and I just want to prove everything I can do on the court -- my ballhandling, my shooting, the way I play unselfishly and all that."

Though he hasn't had any workouts until now, he has been working. After finishing Ed Schilling's program at Champions Academy locally, he spent eight weeks training in Phoenix.

"Just been getting in shape, getting healthy and working on my game," Kelly said. "I'm 22 years old, I've played four years of college ball and I'm ready to move onto the next level."

He will have more workouts, in which he hopes to play himself onto the NBA's draft radar. He knows the odds are stacked but he's made something of a habit of overcoming adversity.

Though grounded in reality, he will not relinquish his dream.

"That would mean everything to me, that would make it all worthwhile, all my hard work and everything I've been through," he said. "I just think that would be a dream come true, for sure."

Purdue's Moore, Butler's Howard due in Tuesday

There will be even more local flavor to the Pacers' workouts on Tuesday.

Purdue guard E'Twaun Moore and Butler forward Matt Howard are scheduled to be among the six players to take the court for the Pacers' scouting staff and front office.

The others are Marshon Brooks (Providence), Jon Leuer (Wisconsin), Klay Thompson (Washington State) and Andrew Warren (Bradley).