Originally a preferred walk-on out of Governor Livingston High School, Kelley received a spot on the scholarship roster from new coach Eddie Jordan and is raising the bar with his personal expectations.
"Last year, I was just trying to contribute as a practice guy," said Kelley, who has been one of the most consistent scorers of the Jersey Shore Basketball League. "After everything that has occurred and my new role with the team, I've really been attacking it on the court and in personal workout. I have a good scorer's mentality and I want to do the little things to get better."
Kelley had multiple small-school offers out of high school, including Wagner, LIU and St. Peter's, but chose to walk on and try to earn a scholarship at Rutgers. After less than a year in the program, Kelley accomplished his goal under Jordan.
"Coming out of high school, it happened with a lot of small schools, me getting an offer from the coach," Kelley said. "I always wanted to be on the big stage. That's my mindset. When he [told me], I felt like I was 17 again, back in high school getting a dream offer. I called my mom and I told her. I love coach Jordan to death. He's like another father and he's great."
Kelley is the all-time leading scorer in Governor Livingston history, with 1,324 points to his name. The 6-foot-2 combo guard played in just three games as a freshman and did not take a shot.
Moving into his sophomore year, those numbers are expected to skyrocket as one of four scholarship guards on the roster.
"It always was the goal to be on scholarship," Kelley said. "Coming out of high school, I believed I was the best player in Jersey. A lot of people probably wouldn't agree with that, but I always had high expectations for myself. Why not? I think everybody can do something like this when they put their mind to it. I have a long way to go, but I'm just trying to do the best I can."
Kelley was one of four players that spoke on behalf of the team April 23 when Jordan became head coach. Standing alongside Kadeem Jack, Myles Mack and Wally Judge, Kelley was an instant Jordan supporter and time with him this summer only made him feel better about his new coach.
"I'm a big guy on first impressions," Kelley said. "When I met him for the first time, he pulled me in for a hug. He knew everything about me – my high school, my parents' names. I'm from Cleveland, most people don't know that, but he knew everything about me. I was really excited. From then on, he hasn't disappointed one bit. Great guy."