On the Miami HEAT roster, both Tre Kelley and Justise Winslow are looking forward to their rookie NBA seasons. Each of them are trying to establish their place on the team in training camp and learn the system in anticipation of playing in their first game.
The difference between these newcomers: Winslow is 19, Kelley is 30.
For nearly 10 years, Kelley has been determined to make an NBA roster. Undrafted out of the University of South Carolina in 2007, he has made a career playing overseas with D-League game, Summer League competition and training camp appearances in between.
Last month he was signed to the HEAT’s training camp roster. Kelley has familiarity with the organization from years back. They were the first team he worked out with before his draft and he went to training camp with them that year as well. He also played for their D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
After playing last season in Italy in Turkey, Kelley considered signing with a team in China this season. He couldn’t pass up on a shot in playing in the league, however. Even though the roster is tight and his contract is non-guaranteed, going to camp with the HEAT was worth taking a chance.
“I would hate to have had a real opportunity and have given it up to go to China or somewhere else and have it on my mind that maybe I could have made my ultimate goal,” Kelley told Basketball Insiders.
Kelley’s fierce resolve to make a roster goes beyond childhood dreams of being a professional basketball player. Kelley lost his mother to violence at the age of 11. As a child growing up in Washington, D.C., he faced no other option than pushing through obstacles. By learning how to be resilient through adversity, he now finds pushing himself to come naturally.
“It’s just not a part of me,” he said of giving up.
Kelley carries that mindset on to the court. He sees these characteristics translating into the game.
“I’m a guy who finds a way to get it done,” he said. “My quickness and decision making will make it tough for a lot of guards to defend. I’ve always found my way to score with the ball and make plays for my teammates everywhere that I’ve been. I’m a professional that works on every facet of my game.”
After a few weeks with the HEAT, Kelley believes he is a fit for their tempo and pushing the pace while facilitating in the backcourt. While learning the system, he is paying close attention to the veteran leaders around him. Kelley emphatically spoke of how much he has gained already from Chris Bosh.
“It’s tough to compare his passion with anyone else in the league,” Kelley said. “His passion for the game is unbelievable, his leadership is incredible. … He’s a big man and you can pick up things from him as a point guard. I think he’s the most skilled player I’ve seen in a long time.”
As for Dwyane Wade, Kelly commented, “You can’t say enough about him. Everything he does just looks good, looks professional. … He’s unguardable and he still plays with that fire like he did his first season.”
Kelley also compared fellow point guard Goran Dragic to Steve Nash and described him as one of the most “crafty” players.
Turning a training camp invite into a roster spot is a battle. Kelley understands making it to the regular season is a long road and he is only at the beginning of it. He doesn’t get caught up in the fact of where he is here and now, instead staying focused on the bigger picture of earning a guaranteed contract.
“Right now (wearing a HEAT jersey) looks good, but you also have the thought in your mind that I’m not where I want to be yet, I still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I haven’t gotten too excited about this because I’ve been through this process before and it takes more work. I have to get through these games and try to be one of the those guys who’s left.
“If I look in the mirror and have that same uniform on November the first, my entire life will probably flash through my mind. Everything I’ve been through, every obstacle I’ve climbed to get to this point, it would mean so much just for this to happen … It means much, much more than basketball itself.”
Kelley believes making the roster at his age would be a positive example of perseverance. One day, he tells himself, he will play in the NBA. Today, he tells himself, he can’t stop pushing.
“I don’t care if I’m 40 (when it happens),” he said. “It would mean the world to me.”
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