It was March, 2004. South Carolina had just fallen to Memphis in the first round of the tournament. And Kelley, just a freshman at the time, slumped into his chair in the Gamecocks' locker room in Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo.
The Gamecocks' defense had been remarkable, suffocating the Tigers into a 31-percent shooting performance. But their offense had been pathetic, failing to convert a field goal for 13 straight minutes in the second half. Kelley still hasn't forgotten the agony.
"It was the worst feeling in the world," Kelley said. "I felt like I couldn't move. I just want to get back there and win a game. That's all. We've done some great things since then, but I just want to win in the tournament."
The great things South Carolina have done since that tournament appearance may have distracted Kelley from that awful spring day three years ago. The Gamecocks have claimed back-to-back championships in the National Invitation Tournament, succeeding in consecutive trips to New York City's Madison Square Garden.
But Kelley, a senior guard, has had enough of the "other tournament," as he and South Carolina coach Dave Odom call it.
The task won't be easy, not with the Gamecocks losing four of their top six scorers from a team that flirted with the NCAA Tournament last season. South Carolina stormed all the way to the SEC Tournament championship game before losing to eventual national champion Florida by two points.
"We got so close last year," said Odom, entering his sixth season in Columbia. "Now, it might be a little tougher this year. But I'm confident in our talent."
Senior forward Brandon Wallace will provide an imposing presence in the interior, and three newcomer guards should help Kelley in the scoring department.
"We have lots of new guys this year so me and Tre' being two seniors, we really need to step up and be verbal leaders for this team," Wallace said. "We almost have to sell our system to these new guys so that they will buy into it and hopefully be successful for South Carolina down the road, even after (we are) gone."
No More NIT
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