After long journey, Shae Kelley joins Gophers

The versatile forward is at her fourth college.

Senior Shae Kelley poses for a portrait inside of Bierman Field Athletic Building on June 27.

Holly Peterson

Senior Shae Kelley poses for a portrait inside of Bierman Field Athletic Building on June 27.

Jack Satzinger

Shae Kelley is a little bit of everything on the court.

“She is athletic. She is a competitor; she can put the ball on the floor and get to the hole. She’s versatile, can go inside or outside,” assistant coach Fred Chmiel said of the Gophers forward who recently transferred from Old Dominion.

But off the court, there’s one thing Kelley isn’t: homesick.

The Denver native has bounced around to four schools in as many years, but Kelley said she hasn’t had trouble adjusting to new places.

Kelley enrolled at the University of Colorado in the fall of 2010 but only stayed briefly because the head coach who recruited her, Kathy McConnell-Miller, had been fired just months earlier.

The 6-foot-1-inch forward then took her talents to the Florida panhandle to play at Northwest Florida State College, more than 1,500 miles from her hometown. Kelley redshirted the 2010-11 season but earned junior college All-America honors the next year.

From there, she ventured to Old Dominion in Virginia to play Division I basketball. During her sophomore season, Kelley started every game. And by her junior year, Kelley’s 17.8 points per game were about twice as many as anyone else on the team. She also averaged 9.7 rebounds per game, a team high.

Those are the kind of numbers WNBA players put up while in college — and Kelley has aspirations of going professional.

Playing for a team in a mid-major conference could have hampered her from doing so.

“I know that I was getting looked at a little bit,” Kelley said of her time at Old Dominion. “But I just thought that the best thing for me was to leave and go to a bigger school.”

The move will help her “get more exposure and just get seen a little bit more,” she said.

Kelley should be seen plenty at Minnesota in 2014-15, her final year of eligibility. Not only is Kelley arguably one of the
Gophers’ top three players, but she’s advertised as an athlete who will thrive in new head coach Marlene Stollings’ up-tempo system.

“She’s got a game that fits Coach Stollings’ style to a tee, and you couldn’t ask for more in transition,” assistant coach John Motherwell said. “She’s up and down the court, extremely athletic and can score.”

Last season, Minnesota’s role players struggled to produce. Aside from having the Big Ten’s top scorer in Rachel Banham and its top rebounder in Amanda Zahui B., the Gophers were about as consistent as Chris “Birdman” Anderson’s hairstyles.

Kelley has the potential to bridge the gap between Minnesota’s role players and its stars. Stollings said she could play either forward position — providing Chris Bosh-like versatility that’s valuable for teams looking to exploit mismatches.

Then there’s the incumbent star in Banham, who scores at a rate reminiscent of a vintage Dwyane Wade.

Zahui B. plays a different position than LeBron James, but she exudes a similar combination of strength and skill around the basket, which makes her difficult to defend.

Banham, Kelley and Zahui B. make up Minnesota’s own “Big Three,” like that of the NBA’s Miami Heat.

Kelley agreed with the comparison and thinks the newly formed trio will be a handful for teams next season.

“I think we’re going to make a lot of noise this year. That was kind of a reason I was attracted to this school,” she said. “I think that’s going to be tough for a lot of teams, having that third person coming in.”