As the layup line commenced and the cheers enveloped the arena, Amile Jefferson slapped Kelly's chest and yelled, "Let's go!"
Kelly only nodded.
That stoic pregame demeanor contained the anxious persona of man who could no longer sit on the sideline. He hadn't played in nearly two months.
After Friday's practice, however, Kelly told coaches and trainers that it was time.
In his first game back, he did not display the signs of a man ailing from a foot injury that had kept him off the floor for 13 games.
By end of the first half, the 6-foot-11 forward had scored 20 of his career-high 36 points. He'd nearly reached his previous career high (23 points) before halftime.
Many expected Kelly's return as the rumors intensified about a possible comeback. But who knew he'd return as Larry Bird?
"I wouldn't say a dream, but I was just trying to win and do whatever it took to win," he said. "Today it was making shots and they were going in. And even if they weren't, I wanted to play my hardest to win."
Every shot that flew off Kelly's fingertips seemed to find the rim. It did not take long to realize that the Hurricanes -- and even the Blue Devils -- had not prepared for the uncanny performance.
"Me saying spectacular or whatever doesn't do his performance justice," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game. Added Miami counterpart Jim Larranaga: "He was sensational from start to finish. He scored 36 points on 14 shots. That's … outrageous."
In 40 minutes of entertainment, the college basketball world recognized the tools and skills the Blue Devils lacked when Kelly missed those 13 games. It took 40 minutes for Duke to prove that it is the best college basketball team in America when it's healthy. And it only took 40 minutes for Kelly to prove that he's back and ready to help this squad make a run to Atlanta.
For Myron Medcalf's full story, click here.