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Kelly Travels 'Long Winding Road'

Writer's Note: A Beatle-ologist, I am not, but the tune "Long Winding Road" came to mind after chatting with Kansas State's Curtis Kelly when preparing for his senior story. While Paul McCartney authored his words on stretches of the east coast of Scotland, Kelly's travels went from the projects of the Bronx in New York City, to the University of Connecticut campus, and finally to the Flint Hills of Kansas and Kansas State University. In reading about McCartney's poetry set to music, it's sad, searching and longing for love of others. The words seem defined only by one's imagination ... and to a degree, Curtis Kelly's life.

By Mark Janssen
    
"... The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear"


Curtis Ezell Kelly grew up in the projects of the Bronx living with his mother, Tamatha Kelly, or aunt, in everything from a shelter to low-income housing.

"I wasn't a bad kid, but I got into trouble because I hung around trouble makers," reflected Kelly, who was the New York City Player of the Year as a senior at Rice High School in 2005-06. "Where would I be without basketball ... (long pause) ... I don't know. I wonder."

Kelly's basketball path took him from hero-status on the NYC playgrounds, to an end-of-the-bencher at UConn where he never felt at home in a program directed by Jim Calhoun, and then to Kansas State to complete his final two competitive NCAA seasons.

As a Wildcat, the soon-to-be 23-year-old has averaged 10 points and five-plus rebounds in his 58 career games with 44 of those ending up in the victory column. The 6-foot-8 talent set a school record with his 74 blocked shots for a single season last year, and has added another 30 this season with that total of 104 ranking third on the career charts only behind Manny Dies (121) and Shawn Rhodes (120).

Kelly's play was so brilliant down the stretch of last year's Elite Eight Wildcat season - a 15 point, 6 rebound, 3 blocked shot four-game average in the NCAA Tournament - that the league coaches projected him as a preseason first-team All-Big 12 performer.

Kelly's play this season - 9.8 points, 5.0 rebounds - will leave him short of that accomplishment, but he's coming off his top Big 12 outing of 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots in a 75-70 win over No. 7 Texas.

"I don't feel like I failed, but the year just wasn't what it was supposed to be, or I wanted," said Kelly, who will play in his final Bramlage Coliseum game on Saturday in a 12:30 p.m. tipoff against Iowa State.

But there have been significant accomplishments, and an inner-peace realized since winding his way to the doors of Kansas State University.

"I like the quiet. It can be slow at times, but there's a peace. It was never quiet where I came from," Kelly said. "I like living safe. I'm healthy and around people that I'm in love with in my teammates and my coaches. No matter how much went bad, there's good that came out of it. I have always felt the love and the trust in my teammates, and there's the going to bed each night knowing you'll wake up alive."

And, there's this fact.

Last August, through the multiple doors of K-State classrooms, Kelly completed the hours to compete his degree in sociology.

"I'm not the first to play at K-State. I'm not the first to score a point at K-State. I'm not the first to block a shot at K-State. I'm just on a list somewhere," Kelly said. "But I am the only one in my family to graduate. My family doesn't look at me as the 'chosen one,' but I am the one who went the farthest. I'm proud of that; they are proud of that."

"Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way?"

Kelly's over-sized sneakers have faced challenges throughout his footprint of life. Multiple times he felt he had been left alone ... standing here and not always knowing the way.

He's currently close to his father, Curtis Tartt, but when only seven years of age, dad Curtis walked away from the family.

"It's something you don't understand at the time, but he had his own struggles," said son Curtis. "But he came back when I was 14 or 15 when I needed a father. I was a cocky high school All-American and in a rebellious phase of my life. He helped keep me in line."

When Kelly faced a turnover on his decision to attend UConn, he says, "I was depressed with life. Basketball had been my savior ... something to always fall back on, a way to have fun and travel, but it was taken away. I thought about going back to the Bronx. I felt alone."

Frank Martin's connection with Kelly's former AAU coach put the two in touch, with Kelly's winding road next leading his Chevrolet Trailblazer Sport SS west on a variety of Interstate trails, and eventually north on Bill Snyder Family Highway into Manhattan.

"It was K-State that had faith in me, and that allowed me to have faith in myself," said Kelly. "K-State gave me that love for basketball back."

With cheers for a hero accepted on the court, this year Kelly has been faced with his share of struggles and difficulties.

Openly, Kelly says, "I made mistakes that I'm not proud of, and will not be made again. They are my mistakes, but with the help of my teammates, I've worked through them."

Pausing, and with a bit of a mist in his eyes, Kelly said, "I hope K-State fans will remember me as a good person. I want K-Staters to know that K-State did more for me than just put a jersey on my back and allow me to play basketball.

"They've saved my life in a lot of ways. I've received an education, and I've graduated; I've been surrounded by wonderful people; I wake up every morning not worried about anything. I wasn't used to that before Manhattan. So to K-State, and the fans, thank you for accepting me, and thank you for helping save my life."

"Many times I've been alone
And many times I've cried
Anyway, you'll never know
The many ways I've tried."



We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen at mjanssen7@cox.net, or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou at klannou@kstatesports.com. For those who would like to share Sports Extra with a friend or family member, or change your current email address, click here.