When Ryan Kelly came to Duke, he was the least heralded recruit in that class. Mason Plumlee was seen as the gem. Andre Dawkins was another extremely required addition because Duke was short on guards.
No one knew what to make of Kelly. He can shoot but seemed slow. His size was welcomed though. The scouting report on ESPN described him as having "a European type game as a skilled face-up 4-man."
No one likes a big man who relies on a face up game; not in college basketball. As a 6'10", 210-pound recruit he was expected to bulk up and work on his inside game.
As a freshman, he won a championship, but he barely played. As a sophomore, he had flashes of brilliance as a starter, but there were some games that were awful.
In the first two games against rivals North Carolina, Kelly went 2-of-14 on field goal attempts. However, he redeemed himself by hitting some big shots in the ACC Championship Game, going 4-of-7 for nine points.
But in that game he came off the bench as by that time had lost the starter's job. His best game in the NCAA tournament was 11 points in 23 minutes against Michigan in the second round.
In the Arizona loss, the next game, he did not even score in 14 minutes off the bench.
Now going into his junior season, Kelly is a chiseled 230 pounds and at 6'11" he should cause some matchup nightmares.
"He was our best player on the trip—and was pretty consistent in practice, too," Jeff Capel said to CBS Sports, "His body has changed, he's more mature and his confidence continues to increase. This trip should provide him with even more confidence heading into the season."
Without Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, Duke was looking to freshmen like Austin Rivers to carry the load on offense. However, Kelly has shown that he can also help in this instance.
Some players were born to lead from the front. Maybe Kelly is that kind of guy. Dan Wieder had this to say about him after Duke's summer trip to Dubai and China:
Kelly showed impressive versatility. He scored on open mid-range jumpers, on transition run-outs and on offensive rebound dunks. And on one sequence, he even snaked into the lane from the right wing, finishing with a left-handed baby hook that seemed lifted right out of Julius Erving's 1976 highlight reel.
Danny Ferry anyone? He was one of Duke's all-time versatile big men. Not saying Kelly is a reincarnation, but he looks the part.
Like Ferry, Kelly has been named a co-captain and was very please with his selection.
"It's a huge honor to be voted to this position by my teammates and the coaching staff," Kelly said. "It's something I aspired to be when I came to Duke. I'm going to use it to help my team and do whatever I can to lead."
"We're obviously going to ask for leadership from all the players on the team, but I look to be somebody who all of my teammates can look to and say 'He's always playing his hardest, and we can always count on him."
If Kelly wants to be taken very seriously he has to rebound better. Coach Krzyzewski told The Journal Gazette, "Miles, Mason and Ryan Kelly. Those three kids were really the strength of our team.”
That was after the China trip, but rebounding was seen as one of the weakness of Duke. Hopefully, Kelly will live up to expectations next season.