Shoes squeak and players hustle as Kylor Kelley roams the court at Gill Coliseum. But on this summer morning, the Oregon State University senior has no shots to block or rebounds to grab.
Instead, Kelley is helping lead a basketball camp, running kids through dribbling and shooting drills while offering encouragement and advice.
Oregon State senior Tres Tinkle said the Beavers count on Kelley to contribute that same kind of leadership during the upcoming season.
“People are going to look up to him because he’s had success at this level,” Tinkle said. “He is a quiet person, but he’s getting that confidence and maturity to take the step forward.”
For Kelley, 21, stepping forward means setting new goals for his final year at Oregon State. The 7-foot center said he wants to be a more vocal leader and hopes to set himself up for a run at the NBA.
“I just need to realize that I’m one of the only big men on the team and I’ve got to show that I can be better than other bigs in this league,” Kelley said.
Though Kelley dreamed of playing for the Beavers since attending games at Gill as a boy, he took an indirect path to Oregon State.
Kelley had to overcome academic challenges at Gervais High School and early in college to keep his basketball career alive. Kelley said his grades have improved to mostly As and Bs at Oregon State.
“Probably my best grades since being in college,” he said.
Both of Kelley’s parents played basketball, so he came to the sport naturally. He moved from Utah to Oregon with his mother and older brother when he was 7, and he remembers them shuttling him to countless sports practices and tournaments. Kelley shot up from 6-foot to 6-foot-5 the summer after his freshman year of high school, and kept growing as he became a star at Gervais.
He attended Northwest Christian University in Eugene and then nearby Lane Community College before he finally arrived at Oregon State.
Kelley quickly made an impact for the Beavers. Kerry Rupp, associate head coach, remembers a game early in the 2018-19 season when Kelley’s shot-blocking skills were on full display.
“We’re at a game where somebody drove it into the paint, and (Kelley) came off the weak side and blocked his shot and knocked it out,” Rupp said. “And the next guy caught it and drove it, and he goes over and blocks the next shot.”
During a game against Utah in February, Kelley broke Eric Moreland’s single-season blocks record of 73 that had stood at Oregon State since 2012-13.
“We had like half the season left and he was 15 blocks away, and that’s when it really kind of hit us like, ‘You’re not just going to break it, you’re going to destroy it,’” Tinkle said.
Kelley finished second in the nation with 3.35 blocks per game, finishing the year with 104 total blocks.
He also averaged 7.7 points and five rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game and earned a spot on the Pac-12 all-defensive team.
Off the court, Tinkle noticed Kelley always made efforts to meet and mingle with his teammates.
“When we’re on the road, we’ll go get breakfast and he’ll sit with one group of guys,” Tinkle said. “When it’s lunch, he’s with another group of guys. He just doesn’t close any doors. I think he wants to build that chemistry and that bond that’s beyond basketball.”
Kelley said he expects to keep up the shot blocking next season, but this summer he is working to improve his shooting and lateral quickness, catching hard passes and defending smaller, faster players. Rupp said he wants Kelley to develop into a double-double threat in scoring and rebounding. Kelley also has work to do in the weight room, he said.
“I’d like to see him put on 15 more pounds before the season starts,” Rupp said. “You’re going against big, strong, physical guys. If you’re really thin, you take a beating in there.”
The Beavers return three starters — Tinkle, Kelley and Ethan Thompson — along with two other players with significant starting experience. Kelley said the veteran group’s goals include winning the Pac-12 and making the NCAA Tournament.
Kelley hopes to extend his basketball career beyond Oregon State. And Rupp, who has coached NBA stars Karl Malone and Andrew Bogut, said Kelley could one day be an NBA-level big man.
“He’s not there yet,” Rupp said, “but he’s definitely on the road there.”
— Savannah Mogray, St. Helens High School