Duke's Kelly close to return
No longer using crutches and walking limp free despite wearing a protective boot on his right foot, Ryan Kelly looks and sounds like a player on the verge of returning for Duke.
Speaking in the Cameron Indoor Stadium after the No. 6 Blue Devils stomped Boston College 89-68, Kelly said the time for him to play again is close.
Duke’s March 5 game with Virginia Tech, the team’s final home game which is always when seniors are honored, would be special, he said.
“The (NCAA) tournament, that’s the biggest thing,” Kelly said. “But it certainly would be nice to get out there for my senior night. I’m working hard every day with the medical staff and my coaches. I’m feeling really good. I’m progressing. It’s about getting into shape. I’m doing all the little things necessary to get back on the court full time.”
A 6-11 senior forward, Kelly suffered a right foot injury on Jan. 8 in the first half of Duke’s 68-40 win over Clemson at Cameron. He hasn’t been in uniform for the Blue Devils since that night.
But, over the last week, he was able to quit using crutches and to get back on the court for
some light drills.
“A lot of it is hip work,” Kelly said. “Strengthening my hips. Lat work. Slides. Getting shots up. It can still shoot it, if you were wondering.”
Prior to his injury, Kelly made 52.1 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds. He scored in double figures in 13 of Duke’s first 15 games this season and the Blue Devils have yet to lose a game he’s played this season.
The next big hurdle to cross is for Kelly to practice in addition to the work he’s already doing.
“A lot of basketball things, just nothing live yet,” Kelly said. “That will be the big thing. I have to go out and play again. I’m confident that will happen soon and that will go well.”
Following Sunday’s win, Duke (24-3, 11-3 in the ACC) is off until Thursday night’s game at Virginia (9 p.m., ESPN).
The Blue Devils also have an important game at home with No. 2 Miami on Saturday night (6 p.m., ESPN). The Hurricanes (22-4, 13-1) lead the ACC and beat Duke 90-63 at Coral Gables, Fla., on Jan. 23.
But Kelly said it’s not likely he’ll be ready for either of those two games.
“I haven’t practiced at all, so some amazing things would have to happen for that to happen,” Kelly said. “Every day I’m getting better. Obviously I want to be on the court. I want to get there as soon as possible. Nothing is out of the realm of thought but I wouldn’t count on it.”
When Kelly does return, something Duke will have to deal with is integrating him back into the lineup. Two years ago, the Blue Devils had to do the same thing with Kyrie Irving, who missed three months with a toe injury before returning for the NCAA Tournament.
Nolan Smith took over the point guard duties in Irving’s absence and won ACC player of the year. But Duke, a No. 1 seed, lost in the Sweet 16 to Arizona.
But Duke senior center Mason Plumlee doesn’t see any problems with mixing Kelly back into the team.
“I think it will be a smooth transition,” Plumlee said. “I know everybody is talking about Kyrie and Nolan (Smith). You had one guy who was a point guard and then the other guy came in and played point guard. That position is different than playing the 4 for us. Nolan a lot of his game was having the ball in his hands and making decisions. Then all of the sudden he didn’t have the ball in his hands. I don’t see (Kelly’s) transition coming back being difficult.”
Then Plumlee paused and remembered how well Arizona shot in that NCAA Tournament game when the Wildcats rallied in the second half to win 93-77.
“Really it wasn’t that difficult,” Plumlee said. “Arizona was on fire that night. We’re judging his comeback by one game. He really played well against Hampton and Michigan. Arizona, they were on fire. He had 30. It was a tough loss.”
Kelly is comfortable with the idea of jumping back into the rotation as soon as he’s healthy and practicing again.
“I think my game is pretty easy to play with,” Kelly said. “I think if you asked any of the guys they would say that. I can do the things I do.”