Kansas State University

Kelly's huge upside has KSU excited

MANHATTAN — Forget his height, size and listed position. Deep down, Curtis Kelly likes playing point guard.

The 6-foot-8, 235-pound junior forward drew some chuckles when he made that announcement Thursday at Kansas State's basketball media day, but Kelly insists his ball-handling skills are nothing to laugh at.

And even though his low-post game is what K-State coach Frank Martin — and Wildcat fans — are eager to see once the season begins, the Connecticut transfer says he won't hesitate to bring the ball up the court after grabbing a rebound.

So, are speedy guards Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen upset by that? No, they both say, because every good basketball player who grew up in New York — like Kelly — is that way.

And besides, they say, Kelly is pretty good.

Kelly said the first time he took ball-handling duties away from Pullen in a pickup game, he put a big smile on Pullen's face by bouncing a pass to him between his legs, which Pullen turned into an assist by making a three.

"I've got a large skill set," Kelly said. "I don't know if it's going to show that much this year, but I'm ready to do whatever Coach Martin wants me to do. If that's bang inside, I'll do it. If he wants me to take it outside and run the point, I'll do it.

"I'm like a chameleon. I could be part of any team."

K-State coaches say they don't intend to encourage Kelly's hope of earning playing time at point guard, but they won't complain if he occasionally handles the ball in transition, either.

As long as he does what is asked of him around the basket, Kelly's other talents will be viewed as a bonus.

"Curtis is a very talented player," Martin said. "He has an unbelievable ability to make plays with his back to the basket. There are not too many guys that can do that. He can score with either hand, he can pass the basketball and has a tremendous vision and mind for the next play offensively."

But, first things first — Kelly needs to figure out what it takes to play in the Big 12 after taking a year off because of transfer rules.

"It is on him to shake off that rust from sitting out," Martin said. "His second year at UConn he dislocated an elbow, so he couldn't even practice for a long period of time. He just has to continue to grow. The thing that he has got to learn is consistency. That is the place where he has to show the most growth early in the year."

Kelly says he is already well on his way in that department. After going to UConn as a possible one-and-done player but suffering an elbow injury and averaging two points a game while there, he thinks he finally understands what coaches mean when they ask him to work hard.

"It was a learning process," Kelly said. "I didn't learn as fast, didn't catch on as fast (as needed) and that buried me. That hurt me a lot. I'm more focused on the court and off the court now. I'm more determined. I finally work hard, get in the gym and start working hard. That makes me a better player."

During Kansas State's only open practice, it was easy to see Kelly's effort. He appeared to be in much better shape than he was upon his arrival in Manhattan, and he led all scorers with 10 points.

It was clear, when he wanted to score or snare a rebound, he was probably going to make the play.

Pullen loves it when Kelly shows that kind of tenacity.

"I've seen flashes and glimpses of him being amazing," Pullen said. "Something that could be a lottery draft pick."

He doesn't play that hard all the time yet, Pullen said, but when he figures out how to put it all together he thinks "you're going to see a monster."

A monster that can dribble.