Typically, Erik Kelly would be preparing right now to play in the Princess Cruises Capital City Classic.
This year, however, has the 2017 4A Alaska boys player of the year gearing up for a different basketball tournament: the Clackamas Community College Holiday Showcase. After graduating this spring from Juneau-Douglas High School, Kelly joined the Peninsula College Pirates of Port Angeles, Washington.
Uprooting from your hometown to play at the next level would come as a challenge to most. But with 11 games under his belt, Kelly is making it look pretty easy, averaging 11 points and six rebounds for the 3-8 Pirates.
Kelly spoke with the Empire on the phone Friday from Shelton, Washington, to talk about the season.
Juneau Empire: You played arguably your best game of the season on Sunday in that win over Yakima Valley, scoring 19 points and having 17 rebounds. Did you do anything differently for that game or what do you think led to that big night?
Erik Kelly: I knew going into the game that they were kind of a smaller team (and) I have my height advantage over most of them so I should have a decent game. I wanted to go in and have a pretty good impact on the rebounding and put up a decent amount of points to help us out.
Empire: You’re only part way through the season, but what have you found to be the most surprising or unexpected part about playing JUCO?
Kelly: It’s a lot harder than I expected. It’s not the big D-1 (Division I) school but people are still big and still really competitive. That’s something that I didn’t expect at first, but now that I know it’s there, I enjoy it, and try to do my best in all of it.
Empire: What’s has been the highlight for you as a freshman?
Kelly: Learning all the new plays. Learning basically a whole new team, going in not knowing anyone and just learning all these new types of people, how their game is, if they’re a shooter (or) whatnot.
Empire: What kind of players do you have the most of on your team?
Kelly: One got a concussion, but we have quite a good amount of bigs. We probably only have maybe three people under 6 foot, so that’s a lot different compared to Alaska. Just a lot more bigger players.
Empire: Your first game of the season was in the middle of last month (Nov. 17), you played on the road against North Idaho. Can you set the scene of that game and what it was like to check in to your first college game?
Kelly: North Idaho was pretty well known for being a really good team and that’s how they ended up being. For me it was exciting, kind of nerve-wracking, probably a little more than high school because it’s a bigger stage and you never know who could be watching because you’re down in the Lower 48. (There’s) a lot more people watching and there could be people from different schools. I was nervous and excited at the same time.
Empire: I’m assuming you do all your travel down there with a bus, is it weird not to have to get on a ferry or plane to go to away games?
Kelly: Yeah, it’s a little different. To me, I’d probably prefer taking the ferry just because there’s a lot more space to move around. But it doesn’t take as long to get to these places. Compared to an eight-hour ferry ride, you got a four-hour drive. It’s a little different, but still the same thing. You get some team bonding time in.
Empire: You guys are 3-8 right now, do you think you can turn the season around?
Kelly: I think after these last two games, we’ve played pretty well. … We can only get better. I see us doing pretty well in this upcoming tournament right after Christmas just because of how we’ve been playing lately.