Former MSU player Thomas Kelley found his niche in Europe

August 6, 2012 in Cover Story, Professional

Former Michigan State player Thomas Kelley has had an impressive professional career.

By Patrick Hayes

Consistency on a daily basis is a pretty simple philosophy, but it has worked out for former Ottawa Hills and Michigan State player Thomas Kelley.

Kelley, who had a solid career at MSU and played on the 1999 Final Four team, has carved out a productive career for himself overseas over the last decade, and his approach to the offseason and preparation is a major reason why.

“First of all, being blessed to play this game is a big part,” Kelley said. “And then it’s just consistency, discipline and just simple hard work.  For the most part in my career, I’ve been put in some great situations, won a championship, been a part of some good teams. What I tell all the young guys, first of all, winning keeps jobs. But also, when you come home, don’t get too content, don’t get heavy, don’t get out of shape. Especially when you get older, getting out of shape is easy and getting back into shape gets harder. When you get back off that plane (after the offseason), you want your team to look at you and say, ‘Kelley looks good.’ They invest in you, so invest in yourself by putting the time in to work on your craft.”

Kelley appeared in 115 games at Michigan State, averaging 5.3 points per game for his career, including a career-best 8.1 points per game during the 1996-97 season. He played with several great guards at MSU, so he settled in and filled roles in the backcourt on some very good teams, but his career blossomed as a professional.

“Growing up, I never thought I’d be in Turkey, Israel, Austria, Amsterdam, Hungary, like this,” Kelley said. “The NBA is everyone’s dream. Going through college, I had a lot of injuries. But I knew once I got healthy, I would play basketball. I was kind of able to reinvent myself in Europe. I was back to doing what I do, playing the point, scoring a little bit, passing. Europe fit my game better. I just found my niche.”

Kelley has played the past seven seasons in Hungary. Last season, he averaged 11 points and 4 assists per game while shooting 52 percent. Kelley has won several EuroBasket awards during his career, been an All-Star and played on highly successful teams. He plans to continue playing next season, but hasn’t decided where that will be yet.

“I can always go back to Hungary. I’ve been in Hungary about seven years. I wouldn’t mind trying to look at some other places too,” Kelley said.

In the meantime, Kelley has kept busy this summer, doing individual workouts as well as playing in several summer leagues.

“I’m always playing. I play in the Courthouse league in Grand Rapids, I play in a league in Muskegon and I play in this (Moneyball Pro-Am) on the weekends,” he said. “Then during the week, I do a lot of individual work with a lot of college and high school kids. Coming out here, I just try to be solid. There are some good players and I don’t want to look bad.”

Although Kelley plays all over the state when he’s home, he said that he will always play in and support the Moneyball Pro-Am because of his friendship with the organizer, Desmond Ferguson.

“Des is one of my best friends,” Kelley said. “We started in Europe together. Sam Vincent coached us in Amsterdam. I’ve seen his vision for Moneyball and remember him talking about it back then and to see it now, I’m just so proud of him. As long as I’m playing basketball, I’m always going to be a part of this.”