Aug. 16, 2007
Columbia, SC - Last season's Gamecock basketball MVP and All-SEC first team point guard Tre' Kelley has announced he has signed a two-year contract to play for Cibona Zagreb in the suburb of Belgrade, Croatia. Kelley will depart for Europe on Friday.
Kelley led the Gamecock basketball team with 18.9 ppg and led the league with 21.1 ppg in 2006-07. He finished his career with 1,488 points - No. 8 all-time. He was named first-team All-SEC by both the SEC Coaches and the Associated Press in 2007 and was the winner of the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award - given to the top player six foot and under nationally.
Cibona, the producer of a number of NBA players, including Toni Kukoc (NBA Sixth Man of the Year, 1996, Chicago Bulls) and Hall of Famer Dra?en Petrović, is considered one of the top teams in Europe who play a schedule all over Europe. They have won the following honors: 1 Korać Cup, 2 Saporta Cups, 2 European championships, 3 Championships of Yugoslavia, 5 Croatian Cups, 8 Yugoslav Cups and 12 Championships of Croatia
"My agent and I discussed all the options that I had as far as playing someplace and he thought playing for this team would give me the best opportunity to come back to the states and play in he NBA with a good contract," said Kelley. "I have never been to Europe and I imagine it will be different, but I will just deal with whatever is given to me and make the best of it."
"I am really pleased that Tre' will have the opportunity to play at the highest level in professional basketball in all of Europe and most likely start," said USC Head Coach Dave Odom, who has been to Cibona's gym in the past and says the coach there is one of the top coaches in all of Europe. "Cibona as a professional club is well-known and highly respected by NBA clubs and thus Tre's development as a professional player will be closely monitored by the league and its scouts Tre' has earned this chance to prove his medal at the professional level. He is highly deserving and I am very proud of him and wish him well. Tre' finished his Gamecock career with an outstanding legacy, one that will be revered and talked about by Gamecock fans for years to come."
On playing in Croatia "It will be different and there will be things I have never seen, I will visit places I never imagine - I am excited to have this opportunity," said Kelley.
On this being the best situation for Kelley "It's the best situation for me - like I said - I wanted to be in the NBA next year, but this maybe better for me the next year or two and then make it to the NBA - I will take whatever comes to me and make it the best place possible," continued Kelley.
"I am a guy who stays hungry and plays with determination to be great and to win," said Kelley. "From that standpoint it won't change now that I am playing Europe. But it will be turned up - I really expected to make the NBA and I think I will turn it up a couple notches and work even harder."
Kelley knows he will miss wingman and best friend former Gamecock forward Brandon Wallace, who will stay behind in the USA as Wallace has signed a contract with the NBA's Boston Celtics. "Of course I will miss him," said Kelley. "Since the first day of college our freshmen year we have been together all the time for the last four years and for me to be there and him to be here - it will be strange. I want to be near him, he's my best friend. It hasn't hit me yet, but I guess it will hit me once we start playing or start practicing."
Kelley gushed when asked about the support he has received from Gamecock fans - including each time he comes back to Columbia since he finished in March. "The times I come back to Columbia I am embarrassed by fans who have followed the program for many many years and how many times they approach me and say how much they appreciate everything I did for the program."
Any special memories from last year: "There was a lot of pressure put on me by the guys who left going into my senior year and also playing with the injury," said Kelley. "When they talk about what I did last season, they talk about how I did it and how I was injured most of the time and still played my heart out every night. The coaching staff and my teammates saw me put in the work I needed to even though I was injured. Even though I was injured, I still contributed to the basketball team and tried as hard as I could to help the team win."
Kelley finished the interview by sending the following message to his former team --
"I am not being bigger than the program or South Carolina, but I played injured last year. To the team this year - there is no excuse for you not to give it your best (each player) each time you are on the court. You have worked hard in the weight room, in practice. The team will be young, but it doesn't mean they won't be good. They still can still be the hardest working group in America. They can be the best group - they have the potential. There is no excuse now - them being transfers or young -- don't say we are young. They can work hard, they can work harder than anybody else and they can be better than anyone else."
Lastly, Kelley said he will be allowed to come back to D.C. (his hometown) once in awhile during the season and hopes to return to see the Gamecocks play this next season at least once. "This team, this year - they can be winner if they work hard."
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