Kelley Frustrated With Direction of Season
Earlier in the season, Kelley let loose with criticism that some of his teammates weren't playing hard enough. Now, he says, that problem is no longer an issue. Instead, Kelley points to fatigue, not lack of effort, as a cause for concern, especially in the game against Georgia. The Gamecocks have played the entire season with a short bench, and they may be paying the price now, as players' bodies wear down.
"We're working pretty hard," he said. "We were right there in the first half. Then they went on that run while I was sitting on the bench late in the first half, and it just broke our back and took all the air out of us. In the first half, that run just broke our backs. Brandon was calling for a sub the entire time, and the TV timeout was coming, so Coach didn't call a timeout. They just went on that run, and they hit a lot of threes."
Carolina's lack of depth may be most obvious at the point guard position, where Kelley is the only point guard on the roster. When he sat down Saturday night, the Gamecocks became disorganized, allowing Georgia to make their run. Kelley was asked if he was surprised the team struggled so much with him on the bench.
"A bit surprised," he said after a long pause, trying to be diplomatic. Then he admitted, "But not too surprised, because I'm [usually] out there the entire game, and those guys are used to having me out there at the point to set up the plays. It went awry after I went to the bench. We just didn't get anything done. We missed shots and made turnovers."
"We never got a handle back on the game," he concluded.
The defensive pressure applied by Georgia was also a factor in the fatigue. Bulldogs point guard Sundiata Gaines hounded Kelley all night, trying everything to keep the ball out of the Player of the Year candidate's hands. Kelley talked about how hard the Gamecocks had to work to get into their offense and the trickle down effect it had.
"You have to drive the ball against their defense to create openings," he explained. "Having to do more driving to the basket takes the air out of you, and you get a little tired doing that. Then you have to run back on defense. The pace picks up out there just like any other game, and you have to work so hard to get open and work so hard penetrating the lane." The non-stop pressure only intensifies as players become tired.
The loss dropped the Gamecocks to 2-8 in conference play, guaranteeing them a non-winning record in conference play. However, with six games remaining, they have a mathematical chance to finish .500, and that is what Kelley is focusing on, and stressed that nobody on the team is thinking about packing it in for the rest of the season.
"We've got to continue to play hard," he said. "We've got to play harder and play tougher and start doing it sometime soon. I don't think [packing it in] is ever an option for anybody. I hope that if somebody does actually think about doing that, they need to speak up. That's not an option for anybody, because I'm not [quitting]. I have so much belief that anything can turn around. Whether we win the rest of these games in the SEC and go on and win the SEC Tournament, or lose the rest of these games and win the SEC Tournament. We always have a belief that we have a chance. We still have time to find our way out of this thing and turn it around."
"I'm never a guy that gets comfortable with losing," Kelley said. Then, referring to his younger teammates who will be charged with getting the program back on track in the coming years, Kelley explained, "I have the mentality as a winner, and I just want to pass that along to my teammates. I don't want these guys to get used to losing. My mentality as a winner has to be passed along somehow."
The stretch of losing is taking its toll on Kelley, and he pointed to two things that leave him most frustrated. The way the Gamecocks have been losing, being blown out and never really in the game, is foremost in Kelley's mind.
"I'm used to, if we do lose, being in games," he said. "We're not even in games right now. We take ourselves out of games so much that it doesn't make any sense. I don't want to go through this another game. Even though we may lose another game, we have to work hard and we have to find some way to feel better about ourselves after 40 minutes of a basketball game. We can't come back in here feeling like we're just using up."
Kelley admitted that while the team leaves a game like this feeling useless, they do not think of themselves that way. However, he worries that others around the team think that way.
"I've never been on a basketball team that just feels useless, or the atmosphere's useless. I'm not saying we feel useless as a team, but the atmosphere is definitely that. The atmosphere of our fans, I think they just don't believe in us that we can win a basketball game, and the mindset of some people around us may be the same way. I've never been a part of that before."
As reporters were being ushered away, Kelley made a final, impassioned plea on behalf of his fellow senior, Brandon Wallace. "Brandon has a tremendous mentality as a winner. He's won all of his life. He's from the state, and I know he feels ten times worse than I do. I don't want him to go through that. Forget me. I love the guy and he's a great leader, and he plays hard for 40 minutes. I don't want him to keep going through that; getting tired out there. He's worked his butt off every night. I just don't want him to keep coming back in here after the game feeling the way he does because it takes a lot out of him."
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