After wrapping up his junior year last month by helping Fairfield Prep win its first state title since 1997, Rich Kelly added another accomplishment to his already impressive scholastic basketball résumé.
The big stage is something that Kelly, a Shelton resident, is accustomed to, as he’s navigated his way through an impressive scholastic basketball odyssey at a young age.
Last year, Kelly was a member of the Montverde Academy (Fla.) basketball team that won the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Boys’ National Tournament. The Eagles topped Oak Hill Academy, 71-62, behind the play of D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons, to cap their undefeated year at 28-0.
Russell, a point guard, went on to star at Ohio State University this winter and is a sure-fire lottery pick in the NBA Draft if and when he makes the decision to declare. Simmons, a 6-foot-10 Australian, returned to Montverde and led the Eagles to another scholastic national title, winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year and signing a Letter of Intent to play at LSU.
Meanwhile, Kelly, a 6-0 guard, came back up north to Shelton, where he transferred to Fairfield Prep after spending his freshman year at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull.
“It was great to be back,” he said, saying the biggest adjustment for him was attending an all-male school after co-ed Montverde. “I was a lot happier.”
In a time when top players in Connecticut are leaving for out-of-state prep schools, Kelly came back home and helped the Jesuits get over the hump after they lost in the Class LL state finals in 2014, 2013 and 2011. His time practicing daily against future NBA players like Russell and Simmons paid dividends, as Kelly averaged 15.8 points per game and sank 46 3-pointers.
“If you make the slightest wrong movement against those guys, they’ll get to the rim on offense or steal the ball from you on defense,” Kelly said. “Being around those guys makes you better understand where you are as a player and how to get to the next level.”
Against Westhill High of Stamford in the Class LL final, Kelly scored 12 points, helping the Jesuits hold off the hard-charging Vikings. Also on the court that night in the championship game for Prep was Kelly’s younger brother, John, a 6-4 freshman forward.
Playing with his sibling and winning a title meant a lot to Rich Kelly.
“It was great. I used to play with him all the time until middle school at St. Lawrence,” he said.
While attending middle school at St. Lawrence, Kelly starred for the varsity boys basketball team that won the New England CYO Basketball Championship in 2012.
Kelly’s teammates on that squad, which finished the season 32-0, included area basketball standouts Matt Terrasi and Jeff Stockmal of Shelton High and Mike Sulik of St. Joseph, and was coached by Rich’s father, Dennis Kelly, who played at Nazareth High School in Brooklyn and Siena College.
Terrasi, Stockmal and Rich Kelly faced off on the court during the season in Southern Connecticut Conference action, with Prep winning a narrow 73-71 decision on Dec. 19 at Alumni Hall and 95-79 at Murray Gymnasium on Feb. 4.
“I hope we get to play them again next year,” Kelly said of the resurgent Gaels, who won 10 games for the first time since 2005-06.
During the offseason, Kelly will continue fine tuning his game as he prepares to step into a bigger leadership role. Prep graduates seven seniors from its title team.
“The biggest change is leadership,” he said. “We hope to fill it and other guys are always ready to step up. We showed that this year.”