Ryan Kelly is just like every other senior, high school or college, in that he wants to play in his last home game. The only difference is Kelly has a lot of work ahead of him before he can achieve that goal due to a foot injury he suffered back in early January.
Kelly’s status looked better in Sunday’s win over Boston College as he finally ditched the crutches and was seen wearing just a protective boot on his injured foot. Kelly has been able to take part in free throw shooting and has been running in the pool, both positive signs that he could be on track to play on March 5 against Virginia Tech.
“Obviously, I want to be ready for the Tournament – that’s the biggest thing,” Kelly said after Duke’s win on Sunday. “But it’d certainly be very nice as well to get out there for my Senior Night. I’m working hard every day with the medical staff and my coaches, and I’m feeling really good and I’m progressing. It’s about getting into shape and doing all of the little things necessary to get back on the court full-time.”
Prior to his injury Kelly was playing at the highest level of his career and Duke was ranked No. 1 in the country. With Kelly in the lineup, Duke was widely considered to be the favorite to win the national championship.
Kelly was averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while also doubling as the team’s best defender. With his unique blend of size and athleticism he was able to guard small forwards, power forwards and centers without any noticeable drop in effectiveness.
“The fact is that he’s a very unique guy, that’s what made us a unique team,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “We have to make sure when he does come back that the good things we’re doing now are paid attention to and not just getting him back involved. That’s why it’d be good if somehow he could get back before the NCAA tournament.”
Krzyzewski went on to compare the situation to a similar one with Kyrie Irving in 2011 when Irving came back for the tournament after playing in just 11 games. That team made it to the Sweet 16 but with a bit more time to adapt to having him back in the lineup Duke could have gone much deeper.
If Duke gets Kelly back at even 80 percent of what he was before the energy, the Blue Devils have to be considered the best team in college basketball.