Monday, May 12, 2014

Talking to ODU's Shae Kelley about why she left for Minnesota

Leaving Lady Monarch basketball behind was a hard decision for Shae Kelley.

Last year's leading scorer and rebounder from Old Dominion will play out her eligibility at the University of Minnesota, which hired former VCU coach Marlene Stollings on April 8. Former ODU assistant Niki Dawkins is an assistant to Stollings at Minnesota.

Most players who opt to transfer have to sit out a season due to NCAA rules. But although Kelley didn't walk in Saturday's graduation at the Constant Center, she did graduate with her bachelor's in sociology, which will allow her to play immediately for the Gophers.

"It was definitely something I realized my junior year, that I could have the possibility to pursue another school," said Kelley from her Denver home. "Leaving really was an ongoing thought process. I really want to go into social work, and ODU didn't really provide that. That was a big reason for my choice. Of course, it was a tough one because ODU was so welcoming, and I definitely had a great time there my two years."

Kelley, who went to three high schools in four years and graduated from Denver East, initially signed with Colorado. The coaching staff was fired four months after, but the school refused to grant her a release. On the first day of the Buffaloes season opener, Kelley signed with Northwest Florida State, where she earned junior college All-America honors.

The 6-1 forward then had a dynamic career starting in 2012 at ODU, and last season was the undisputed best player on the floor for the Lady Monarchs. But Kelley said she wanted a better fit on the court and in the classroom -- she plans to pursue a master's in social work at Minnesota -- for her final year of college ball.

She received her release from ODU one month ago and has explored colleges ever since. Not surprisingly a bunch showed interest in the All-Conference USA first-teamer, who amassed more than 1,000 points in her two seasons in Norfolk. Her list included Michigan State, Oregon, Florida, Ole Miss  (which she visited) and Indiana. The winner became Minnesota when she went for her visit.

"It's a very experienced coaching staff," Kelley said. "Coach Nik has a heck of a resume. Coach Marlene is really down to earth. I really connected with her during my visit. They know how I play; we played them twice when they were at VCU. She's an uptempo coach. They're running and gunning, and that's my style of play. I really connected with the team on my visit."

Kelley did not know Dawkins from her time at ODU -- Dawkins assisted former ODU coach Wendy Larry for seven seasons -- but spoke to graduated Lady Monarch Shakeva Richards about her style.

Under Stollings, who replaced Pam Borton, fired after the Gophers lost in the first round of the WNIT, Minnesota could be a national contender. In addition to Kelley, the Gophers tout two WBCA All-America honorable mentions in 6-5 center Amanda Zauhi B and Rachel Banham, the most touted duo since the Gophers boasted Janel McCarville and Lindsay Whalen.

"Amanda and Rachel, I really connected with them," Kelley said. "I feel I'm the missing piece and we can really make some noise at Minnesota."

In addition to her major, Minnesota is in a bigger conference (the Big 10), which has its own network -- perks for a player hoping to achieve a professional career.

Kelley said the added exposure at Minnesota played a role in her decision. "Not necessarily the full factor but I do want to go to the WNBA and go overseas. That's a goal of mine. There's a great team bond. None of those girls left. They could have left after they lost their coach. It's team basketball. That's definitely exciting for me -- going to that next level."

The decision to leave was neither easy or quick, Kelley said. "It was a very, very hard decision. It was something I prayed about, thought about, talked to my family. The fans there are very supportive. They love me. I love the fans, the team; we did better than we did the year before. It was definitely a hard decision to make knowing I was the best player on the team. I had that comfort. It took a while to decide what I really wanted to do."

At Minnesota, she wants to improve her mid-range jump shot and further develop her 3-pointer and ball handling skills.

"I left on good terms," Kelley says. "As a transfer coming in, you're always dealing with that -- that chance. I could have stopped playing basketball. They definitely understood. I'm an alum, so I'm always going to be part of the ODU family."

Kelley will leave for Minneapolis in June.

"I've got to get me some coats and North Faces and boots."

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