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Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Dick Kelley gives one more assist to BC

By Dana O'Neil


The job is thankless more often than not, a daily grind of duties both assigned and unassigned, of gathering information as fast as it can be gathered, of chasing down athletes for interviews who’d rather not be caught, and most difficult, appeasing the often unappeasable: busy coaches who have no time for the media and aggravated media who want more time with coaches.

The good sports information directors are ghosts in the background, blending in with their school-logoed backdrops, doing their jobs so well and effortlessly you never know they are there.

You always knew Dick Kelley was there. Not because he craved the limelight but because he was just so darned decent and good. He was a caretaker, of players, of coaches, of the curmudgeonly media and most of all, of his beloved Boston College, where he worked since 1983.

Kelley, who died last Thursday, put in one more day of work, it would seem, on Wednesday night, cajoling Saint Peter into lifting Kelley’s forlorn Eagles to the most improbable of scores in a season full of improbabilities:

The Boston College Eagles, they of the two ACC wins, both against fellow basement-dwelling Virginia Tech, 62.

The Syracuse Orange, they of the undefeated record and heart-attack victories, 59.

In the grand scheme of things the loss figures bigger than the win -- it left Wichita State alone on the quest for perfection, and took some, if not all, of the air out of the big Syracuse-Duke rematch on Saturday -- but in the small window of the world that is Boston College, the win meant an awful lot, too.

Kelley was the heart if not the face of the school’s athletic department, universally adored and respected, a man you couldn’t help but like. When he was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, the school went to extraordinary efforts to help him, a story detailed here (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-basketball/news/dick-kelley/#all) by my friend Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated.

But ALS sadly remains undefeated and last week Kelley’s beautiful and brilliant mind finally gave way to the ravages the disease had wrought on his body.

His funeral was held Tuesday.

For a BC basketball team reeling this season, it was easily the most painful blow.

Just how much of an impact did Kelley have on the BC community? When the game ended and ESPN’s LaPhonso Ellis found coach Steve Donahue for a postgame interview, the first thing the BC coach mentioned was Kelley’s passing.

"It’s been an emotional week for us at BC," he said. "We lost one of our colleagues in Dick Kelley and the emotion of this game, I’m just speechless. I’m so happy for our guys."

The former Cornell coach has been searching hard for happy moments since coming to Chestnut Hill, Mass. He took the Boston College job on the wings of the Big Red’s NCAA tournament success, a hot commodity deemed a home run hire for the school.

But success has been hard to come by. BC has struggled in its ACC fit for years and with the league expanding, the job is only getting harder.

This year has been just a continuation of a string of frustrating seasons. The Eagles had managed only six wins before Syracuse. They’ve been close -- seven of their 19 losses decided by five points or fewer -- but that hadn’t done much to placate the fans waiting for Donahue to work his Cornell magic.

The Carrier Dome would seem the least likely place to turn things around, not just because of Syracuse’s run of success in comparison to BC’s line of disappointments, but because the building itself has hardly been kind to Donahue.

Even when his Cornell team was at its best -- in 2009-10 -- the Big Red couldn’t beat their big in-state brothers. Adding insult to injury, it was in the Dome that Cornell’s NCAA run came to an end that year, against Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

And yet there was Lonnie Jackson, a 56 percent free throw shooter, calmly sinking four free throws in the waning seconds of overtime to seal the win, and there was the mini court storming by players and the tiny pocket of faithful fans celebrating in Syracuse.

"Toward the end of the game, it was like, 'We can’t be denied,'" Ryan Anderson said after the game. "DK is looking down on us. He’s got us."

He always did.