Jan. 11, 2007
By Matt BrendichAssistant Director of Media Relations
Northern Illinois freshman forward Bristan Kelley was a two-sport star in high school, playing both basketball and football and could have done both at the collegiate level.
Upon graduation from Lee's Summit North High School, Kelley was faced with the difficult decision of playing just basketball or football at the Division I level, or compete in both sports at the Division II level.
Kelley, however, knew that roundball was his bread and butter and felt that Northern Illinois was the best fit for him and his family.
"It was real difficult because you had to pick one [sport] and you had to decide which team you felt best with," Kelley said. "My parents and I sat down, talked about it and they said `Wherever you feel is what you want to do, we'll be right behind you.'
"That helped me a lot with my decision."
Not only did Kelley feel that NIU was the best fit for his family, Huskie head coach Rob Judson echoed his sentiments.
"Bristan had a high interest in our program from the start and I really enjoyed his personality and his attitude during the recruiting process," Judson said. "It was always rewarding to watch him compete with his high school or his AAU team."
Kelley was introduced to the game of basketball by his older brother Jibran, as he helped Bristan develop his game at an early age. Jibran played basketball for Southern Methodist University from 1999-2003 and currently resides in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"[Basketball and football] always equal as far as first loves go, but I'm a little more in touch with basketball because my brother [Jibran] played it," Kelley said. "He's always been my role model and tried to learn things from him."
Kelley had ample time to learn from him as Jibran is seven years elder than the freshman.
"My brother and I would always go at it at home playing one-on-one," Kelley said. "He's left-handed so he taught me how to use my left better.
"I'd go and watch him in high school and watch him play, his technique and what he did on the court," Kelley continued. "His all-around game helped me a lot."
Kelley is a hard-worker and upon his arrival in DeKalb, he knew that he had to get it done on both the court and in the classroom.
"My friends and I would wake up early and just go shoot around to prepare for the season," Kelley said. "With classes, my parents had me prepared and working hard with classes, so that helped out a lot."
As a freshman, Kelley knows that there is a lot to be learned about the college basketball game and isn't afraid to make himself a better player.
"Being around the game a lot, I ask all the older guys a lot of questions and kind of bug them," Kelley said. "When we played pick-up ball back home, I would always run the point guard because I always thought I had better vision on the court."
Kelley went through some growing pains early on in the season, but has averaged 15.8 minutes in his last four games and 4.8 points and 4.3 rebounds-per-contest.
Judson knew that Kelley could be a force on the block for the Huskies.
"Bristan has added a physical post-presence to our basketball team," Judson said. "He is a pleasure to coach every day and has a wonderful attitude towards his teammates which has gone a long way with our team.
"He continues to improve with his ability to score and has been a big plus for us in the rebounding department."
Kelley has been labeled a `smart' basketball player and that is not lost on Judson.
"Bristan has excellent court awareness," Judson said. "He's a good student off the court and on the court has a very strong awareness for being a post player.
"You expect that out of perimeter players," Judson continued. "But when a post player has that awareness, it's a plus."
Kelley knew that collegiate basketball would not be easy, but felt he could adapt to the style of play.
"I knew the guys would be faster and stronger, but just getting up and down the floor was important," Kelley said. "I just had to get my conditioning a little better than it actually was. I had to keep focused and just wanted to go in there and try and contribute the best that I can."
If the past few games are any indication of the future, then Kelley will be making contributions for years to come with the Huskies.