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BOGACZYK: Kelly Anything but Green as Talented Transfer

July 3, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When Justin Edmonds started 24 games and averaged 9.8 points last season, he made a significant contribution to Marshall basketball in Year 1 under Coach Dan D’Antoni.

It turns out that the 6-foot-4 Edmonds was more productive than his stats line shows.

He played a significant role in landing big man James Kelly, the Miami (Fla.) transfer who will play his final collegiate season for the Herd in 2015-16.

The 6-7, 240-pound Kelly and Edmonds – both Michiganders -- were teammates and classmates for two seasons at Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio. And while Kelly had big success as a junior college sophomore, Edmonds suffered a serious setback surgery before moving to Marshall.

Edmonds sat out the 2013-14 season at Marshall doing rehab, while Kelly averaged 6.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 17.9 minutes per game with 11 starts for the Hurricanes. Then, Kelly sat out here last season due to NCAA Division I transfer guidelines after leaving the ACC program.

“Justin, we played together for two years in junior college, and I talked to him and he said I’d like it here,” Kelly said earlier this week, taking a break from the Herd’s youth basketball camp. “I was real comfortable with the coaches, and they made me feel really welcome.”

It helped the Herd that Kelly knew Marshall assistant coach Mark Cline from his trips to recruit Edmonds. Another aid was the fact that Kelly understood from Edmonds that the Herd needed players with Kelly’s experience and skill set in D’Antoni’s spread-the-floor, quick ball-movement attack.

“I love this style of play because it lets me use my whole game,” said Kelly, who was a Division II junior college All-American in his final season (2012-13) at Owens, when he led the Ohio Community college Athletic Conference with 21.1 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. “At Miami, I was really a back-to-the-basket kind of guy, playing 4 and 5.

 

 

“I couldn’t handle the ball like I can now. I was sort of limited in that there, but here now I kind of have an open feel to see what I can do.”

Kelly still will be a post man in the Marshall offense, but everyone has the freedom to roam in this Herd.

“In Dan’s system, James fits really well,” said Cline, who works with the Marshall big men. “He can stretch the floor, shoots it really well, has NBA range. He can put it on the floor, can attack off the dribble … extremely athletic.

“Defensively, I think he can guard a center in (Conference USA) and at the other end of the floor create some mismatches. He does anticipate passing lanes well and chases the ball pretty good, especially with Coach trying to press.

“He has very, very good anticipation skills. He’s an extremely gifted all-around athlete, he really is. He has the capability of having a big-time year.”

Kelly said his main focus isn’t numbers, unless you’re talking about the Herd won-loss record.

“I want to help change the program,” Kelly said. “That’s the main thing. I want this program to win, get more wins than we did the past two years (11-22 and 11-21 records).

“Two years ago, I wasn’t here, but I know what the record was. I feel like if we all come in here and dedicate ourselves and work hard, play our game in Coach D’Antoni’s system, we can turn this around.”

An honorable mention Michigan All-State pick at Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School in 2010-11, Kelly sees this season as a bounce-back opportunity for him. During his junior season at Miami, Kelly endured a three-game suspension for a team rules violation, then came back to play late in the regular season in in the ACC Tournament.

Kelly announced his transfer in mid-April 2014, and within two months he had moved to Marshall.

“We support the decision James has made to continue his academic and athletic career closer to family,” Miami Coach Jim Larranaga said when Kelly announced his exit from the program. “We wish him nothing but the best.”

Kelly said his Miami year was a good experience.

“What I learned most playing at Miami is about my motor,” Kelly said. “You always have to go hard every second. You can’t take any plays off. Sometimes it gets kind of rough in there, and you can get kind of tired, and you’re down and then you get down on yourself.

“You’ve just got to fight through it. If you don’t play hard, you’re not helping your team out. At Miami what helped was I learned to play hard, be physical, do what you have to do to win.”

Kelly, 21, has been a quick study at the game. He never played organized basketball until his junior year in high school, following a four-inch growth spurt. Some of his push to success hangs on a chain around his neck that holds two rings.

“Those were my grandfather’s, my mom’s father,” Kelly said. “He gave them to her and she gave them to me after he passed away. His name was Leo Isom. He played basketball in Benton Harbor in Michigan.

“He talked to me about a lot of things, and every time I went home, he’d ask me about basketball. He’d say, ‘Are you playing hard? If you’re not, then you’re not playing at all.’ He helped me a lot.”

Last season in Herd practices, Kelly joined two other MU transfers who were sitting out – Stevie Browning and Jon Elmore – to make life difficult in scrimmages for D’Antoni’s regulars. Now, Kelly and Edmonds are the lone Herd seniors.

They’re part of a team with 12 scholarship players on which forward Ryan Taylor and guard Austin Loop – both juniors – are the only ones who played for former coach Tom Herrion two seasons ago. Seven of the 12 grant-in-aid players never have played in a Marshall game, including Kelly.

“It does help that I came in and it was pretty much a new team,” Kelly said. “It helps because you want all of your teammates to be on the same page and learn together. You want to be able to play together, have good team chemistry. We’ve got a couple of veterans, with lots of new guys blending in. I think we’ll be much better than last year.

“Last year, I just went into every practice trying to learn the system and help make the team better. Since I couldn’t play, I had to compete and be the scout (team) guy for those who could play. The guys who were sitting out, we just went out and played hard.”

Kelly said whatever he accomplishes on the floor, his most important moment for the Herd will come in December. “Graduation,” the health professions major said. “I’ll be the first in my family to graduate from college. That’s big for me. In basketball, with this specific program and this team, I want to be a team player. I want us to win; I’d rather have more wins than high numbers.

“The coaches have made it easy. They’ve welcomed me. They just told me what I needed to do, what I had to do, and I’m doing it. Knowing where I came from, my teammates wanted to make me understand what I have to do here and how to do it. That’s been really good.”

Cline said the Herd has landed a good talent for Kelly’s “one-and-done.”

“He can be an impact player in our league,” the veteran Marshall assistant coach said. “James has those capabilities. It’s going to be up to James as to whether he maxes out everything he has, but he does have the ability to be a big-time guy in our league – a major impact guy.”

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