Kelly focused on moving DePaul forward

CHICAGO -- DePaul junior guard Jeremiah Kelly’s basketball career had been about as stable as a toddler’s first steps heading into this season.

Kelly first put himself on the basketball scene as a rising sophomore star at Julian High School on Chicago’s South Side in 2004. That season, Kelly and company handed Derrick Rose two of the 11 losses he suffered in high school.

A year later, Kelly reclassified himself as a 2008 recruit and transferred to Boys to Men Academy in Chicago to remain with former Julian coach Loren Jackson. When Boys to Men Academy closed following the 2006-07 season, Kelly was on the move again. He landed at American Christian in Pennsylvania to finish his prep career.

Kelly was hopeful his arrival at DePaul in 2008 would provide him some permanence. That wouldn’t be the case, though, as Jerry Wainwright, the coach who recruited Kelly, was fired last season, and assistant Tracy Webster had a short stint as the interim coach.

Now with Oliver Purnell in place as head coach and Kelly having no intentions of taking his game anywhere else, he finally feels as if his career has found solid ground. With it, Kelly and the Blue Demons are hopeful he will flourish in his final two seasons.

“Jeremiah has given us good leadership,” Purnell said. “He’s given us some stability out there. He’s an experienced guy. He’s played a lot of basketball. He understands what we’re trying to do out there.”

Kelly’s journey to where he is now has been a long one, but he has no regrets. Each change in life provided him another useful lesson, and ultimately he’s been playing the game he loves -- just in different places and under different coaches.

“It’s been a little crazy, but at the same time it’s been a lot of experiences for me,” Kelly said. “I love to play basketball. I’m just going out and doing what I do and having fun.”

Fun isn’t a word that Kelly would associate with his past two years at DePaul. As a freshman, the Blue Demons went through a 0-18 Big East season. Last year, they were 8-23 overall and 1-17 in conference.

But even through the rough times, Kelly tried to grab whatever positives he could.

“It was just painful, embarrassing,” Kelly said. “I knew we had the talent, but just didn’t show it. It’s frustrating, but in life sometimes you got to go through hell to get to heaven. I learned that they hate you when you lose and love you when you win.”

Kelly is confident the love will soon reappear in Lincoln Park under Purnell. Kelly has especially enjoyed playing in Purnell’s up-tempo offensive and defensive system. It’s the type of game Kelly grew up playing in Chicago.

“Last year, we spent a lot of time playing on our heels,” Kelly said. “This year we’re on our toes. We’re going to put pressure on people as well as they do us.”

Kelly’s role this season has been to play more of the shooting guard after spending a lot of time at the point last year. Through six games, Kelly has averaged 6.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.3 steals while playing 32.3 minutes.

Aside from shooting the ball more and having to cover larger guards, Kelly has also been asked to take freshman point guard Brandon Young under his wing.

Having been around the block a few times, Kelly has plenty to share with his apprentice.

“He has a big influence on me,” Young said. “He helps me become a better leader, and he makes me more comfortable on the court. He lets me know his past experiences and lets me know what to look for on the court. He tells me to stay calm on the court, be patient, and let the game come to me.”

With Young as his backcourt mate, Purnell as his coach and the Blue Demons beginning to click, Kelly is optimistic for the future.

“I think every day we’re improving,” he said. “We want to get better every day as a team. We’re not an individual team. We don’t have a superstar. We’re more of a team.”