Oct. 21, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Tre' Kelley has played basketball all over the world, and now the former South Carolina guard hopes to be spending more time playing at home. Kelley recently signed a free-agent contract with the NBA’s Miami Heat. While he’s enjoyed a successful career playing overseas, Kelley’s difficult past helped him persevere in chasing his NBA dreams.
“My mom was murdered when I was 11 years old,” Kelley said. “It was a brutal tragedy for me and for my family. If anybody knows me, they know that giving up is not a part of me. You have to make decisions based on what’s best for you. I’ve had to persevere through a lot more than not just making a team. I’ve gone through a lot in my life, but God has put his hands on me. There has been tragedy with a lot of things around my family. When you go through things like that, coming to work every day to play basketball isn’t a piece of cake, but you know you can fight through it.”
Kelley endured other tragedies while growing up in the Washington, D.C., area as one of his best friends was murdered when he was in the ninth grade, and as a child, he had an uncle who was also murdered. Kelley’s father passed away in 2013, but for whatever tragedies or disappointments Kelley has endured, the 30 year old finds a way to turn the negative into something that builds his character.
“My father was the best guy I ever knew,” Kelley said. “I cried every day for about a month, but at the same time I started to understand who I was. God put me in these situations for a reason. He gave those hardships to the right person. I’m able to teach kids behind me about my experiences in my life, and that you don’t have to just fold.
“So now, I look at it that when you’re on the other side of the world, and you’re enjoying something that you love every single day, you have to cherish that. I would be the worst person in the world if I didn’t cherish what I do have in my life right now.”
After a stellar career at Dunbar High School along with numerous scholarship offers from major universities, Kelley chose South Carolina and never looked back.
“By the time I got to South Carolina, I felt like I had already made it,” Kelley said. “I knew I still had work to do, but I succeeded in getting out of northeast D.C., which was a very tough thing. I just had to build on that.”
Kelley did just that and helped the Gamecocks win back to back National Invitation Tournament titles in 2005 and 2006. He earned First Team All-SEC honors as a senior in 2007 after averaging 18.9 points and 5.1 assists per game. He ranks 10th in school history in career scoring and is third in career assists and three point field goals. He earned the 2007 Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award which is presented to the nation's most outstanding senior who is six feet tall or shorter.
I'm just trying to work as hard as I can to get on that roster, but if it doesn't happen, life is not over for me.
“My best memories are of course the two NITs,” Kelley said. “They’re the only two post season championships that the (basketball program) has. Our junior year, we were only two points away from making the NCAA Tournament after we lost to Florida (49-47) in the SEC Championship. I think we would have made a lot of noise in the NCAA Tournament. I loved all of my teammates, Coach (Dave) Odom and all the coaches, and the university itself. I really enjoyed my time there.”
He was not selected in the 2007 NBA draft following his senior season. After signing a non-guaranteed contract with the Miami Heat in 2008, he was waived and played professionally overseas. He has had professional stints in Croatia, Greece, Israel, China, Lebanon, Venezuela, Italy, Puerto Rico, and Turkey.
“I had a great experience playing in the Euroleauge,” Kelley said. “I had a lot of exposure there and played pretty well and gained some notoriety. Istanbul was probably my favorite place. I played with a lot of young guys there, so I was able to lead. The city is great, and I really enjoyed it.”
While he enjoyed his various stops, it’s not always easy to play in different systems.
“I just try to go and play basketball,” Kelley said. “I still love the game, and I love what the game has done for me. I’ve changed a lot about myself in regards to the game. I was a little bigger in college. I was around 185 pounds in college, and I had quickness and speed, but it was more deception. I do all the same things now, but I’ve added a lot to my arsenal. I shoot the ball much better than I did in college, and that comes from working on your game anyway, so that should happen. I’m much quicker now as I’ve trimmed down a little bit. That’s helped my game a lot, and it’s helped my longevity.”
Kelley has also appeared in 103 NBA Development League games and averaged 14.3 points and 4.8 assists, while shooting 46 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Kelley split his time last year playing in Turkey and Italy, averaging 15.9 points and 5.4 assists per game.
“Coming back to the D-league after playing so many years in Europe was a great thing for me,” Kelley said. “Playing back in the states fits my style more. When I came back to play in the D-league, I was in heaven. I played with a lot of athletic guys, and we ran a lot of pick and rolls. That was home for me. I loved it.”
Kelley is enjoying camp with the Miami Heat, and he hopes to earn a spot on the final roster for the upcoming season. No matter what happens, you can count on Tre' Kelley to give it his best shot.
“Opportunity is everything to me,” Kelley said. “If I make it, I’ll probably cry like a baby. It would mean so much. I'm just trying to work as hard as I can to get on that roster, but if it doesn't happen, life is not over for me.”
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