Like Jacob Pullen did following his three-game suspension, Thursday night it was Curtis Kelly apologizing to his teammates, his coaches, his family and the Kansas State fans for what he termed a “stupid mistake” that resulted in a six-game suspension.
The lone two seniors on this 2010-11 Wildcat basketball team were punished by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits in connection with the purchase of clothing at a Manhattan department store. The length of the two penalties had to do with dollar value of merchandise received.
The 22-year-old Kelly called it a mistake he could have perhaps seen “… two or three years ago, but not now. I don’t know why I made the mistake, but it happened for a reason. I have to learn from it and move on.”
While disappointed with himself for the most recent derailment in his basketball career, Kelly called his days at Connecticut before transferring to K-State a more painful experience than the last month.
“At UConn I tried to help, but no matter how hard I tried, I could do nothing about it,” said Kelly. “This was my own personal mistake. It’s on me this time. Before at UConn, I put out the effort, but couldn’t get on the court.”
Kelly’s senior season has not gone as planned as the 6-foot-8, 245-pounder was benched for the first three games of the season due to lack of focus in practice, and now has missed the last six games when the Wildcats went just 3-3.
In the eight games Kelly has played, he averaged 10.3 points per game on 52 percent shooting, plus controlled 4.0 rebounds per game. Last year, the Bronx, N.Y., native averaged 11.5 points and 6.2 rebounds, in addition to setting a single-season record with his 74 blocked shots.
“He’s going to give us what any fifth-year senior should give you,” said Martin, who added that he wasn’t sure whether he would start Kelly or not Saturday against Texas Tech. “He can give that understanding of approach and what’s necessary to find success.”
As far as what Kelly hopes to give the team, he offered, “I want to produce as much as coach allows me, and the players need me. I’m not motivated by personal goals, but motivated by team goals.”
He then mentioned posting the best possible overall record, making the NCAA Tournament and finishing the Big 12 “… ahead of the pack.
That’s my main focus right now. The other things … the personal things … I’m not concerned about how people feel about me.”
Accepting part of the blame himself, Kelly mentioned the “… situations and drama that different individuals have contributed have affected the overall play of the team.”
In part, that includes Jamar Samuels not playing in the two preseason games and missing one regular-season game; Kelly missing the first three games of the regular season and the last six; Wally Judge being held out of three games and playing less than eight minutes in three others; and, Pullen being suspended three games.
In the 17-game season, only against Gonzaga, Duke and Texas Southern has K-State played with its full lineup in place.
“Talent-wise, we’re still there. Any person in his right mind would know that,” said Kelly. “We’re not getting blown out. We’ve been up by 10, up by 12, and up by 13, so we’ve shown we can dominate teams from Florida, to Oklahoma State, to Colorado, but we can’t seem to get over the hill and put them away. That’s been our problem.”
After being ranked No. 3 in the nation to start the season, Kelly said, “No one has caught the big head. That hasn’t contributed to the drama. I’ve remained humble; Jake’s remained humble. The focus is on the team.”
But the fact is there’s been a lack of focus that has resulted in a 3-4 record in K-State’s last seven games.
Adding to the limbo of Kelly’s return to the lineup was the death on Tuesday of his father’s sister, who took care of him during a portion of his teenage years. As of Thursday evening, the date of the funeral was not certain.
“When we find that out, we’re going to see if we can make that work,” Martin said of Kelly’s possible return to New York City for the funeral.