In Memoriam: Michael Kelly

Tom Schreier offers a tribute to a man that played basketball with and, without a doubt, had a positive impact on his life.

I knew Michael Kelly as Mike. He always had a radiant smile and laughter was always in the background of his dialogue. I met him when he was a freshman while I was playing pickup basketball as a junior at Santa Clara.

Talented freshmen like Mike usually come in and play one of two ways: Either they try to take over the game, hoisting up shots they shouldn’t take and trying to beat guys off the dribble that are faster and stronger than them or they are defer to other players to often and pass up open shots.

Mike found the perfect balance right away. Everyone knew he was quick and could hit an open shot, but he usually took the ball up and passed it right away. Within weeks he was pointing at guys and saying, “Atta boy!” or “Keep taking that shot!”

It was unusual for a younger player to be so vocal. Usually that was the role of the older players. Many of us had played together for two or three years, knew each other’s game and wanted to get the underclassmen involved (or, in some cases, get them to pass the ball).

Mike learned everyone’s game so quickly and therefore become a loquacious player on the court because he was there every day, Monday through Friday, at 4:00 pm. Many of the younger players would dabble in the pickup scene, beginning with a couple games here and there before getting comfortable enough to play every day. Not these guys. They were there. Every. Single. Day.

The main reason I feel that Mike was able to blend in right away was because he had his best friend, Alex Williams, by his side. The two were inseparable.

Alex was a scorer. He was quick, could make contested shots and had a beautiful layup that kissed the glass and dropped through the hoop without moving the netting.

The two had a sublime connection on the court. While Mike often directed his teammates, telling them to look for the ball or take a shot, he said nothing to Alex. And when Alex was open, Mike knew it, as though a synapse had fired in both of their heads. He always told us, “Alex has got this, Alex has got this,” and it didn’t take long before we all agreed with him.

Within weeks, it didn’t seem like those guys were underclassmen. Obviously they were incredibly athletic and in great shape so they could play against anyone in the gym, but they were incredibly supportive of everyone else. Some of the best conversations I had took place when I was sitting by those guys, waiting for the game to end. Mike’s contagious laughter was always there even after he lost. No matter how bad you felt after costing your team the game—and, trust me, I did that once or twice—he would say something, anything, and that subtle laughter in his voice would cheer you up instantly.

Alex and Mike seemed to have an ongoing inside joke. There were times where everyone was sitting on the bench in silence, looking at the floor or keeping track of the score of the contest in front of them and Alex and Mike were sitting there snickering. Every time I’d turn and look at them, I felt a burst of joy.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, that played pickup with Mike is going to miss him. He’s the kind of person that leaves an impression on you. I almost took it for granted that I would play with him again. I kind of assumed that my friends and I would get together for a game at the Malley Center someday and he’d be sitting there with Alex, joking about who knows what, ready to play again.

I know Alex is going to have a hard time with this. Not only has he lost his best friend, but he also lost him at a trying time. It is during junior year that you’re thinking about the future: What’s next after college? How will I find a job in this economy? When will I be able to afford to be completely independent?

At age 21, homeownership and marriage might not be that far away, but the first night in the dorm rooms and the first week of college parties seemed like just last week.

Alex will have people to help him thorough this. No doubt he will build strong friendships with the guys he met in class and, of course, on the basketball court, I know I have, but my thoughts and prayers are with him now.

It’s always hard to hear that someone has died so young, but the way I think about, life is an opportunity. It is our chance to leave a lasting impression on the people that we meet and Mike certainly did that. The fact that he touched my life says a lot. I was two years older than him and only knew him through basketball. How you act on the court says a lot about who you are as a person, though, and he was an incredibly guy.

I know my life is better because I knew him, even in a limited capacity, and I know that I’m not the only one that feels that way.

Rest in peace.

Tom Schreier writes for TheFanManifesto. He can followed on Twitter at @tschreier3. Email him at tschreier3@gmail.com.

The entire FanMan team can be followed on Twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or liked on Facebook by clicking here.

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