Former Norwalk star Kelley getting a different view on the sidelines
NEW CANAAN — The way Evan Kelley saw things playing out, he’d keep playing basketball for money until he was approaching his mid-30s and then he’d walk off to the sidelines and start to coach.
A funny thing happened on the way to the next basketball payday, however.
And now Kelley — the former Norwalk High standout who shined at Sacred Heart University — finds himself on the sidelines a little earlier than he expected as an assistant coach at St. Luke’s School.
“My original plan was to play until I was 33, 34, then work my way up the coaching ranks in college,” Kelley said. “Since I’ve got this twist in my path, though, it made me think about giving back.”
For as long as Kelley can remember, he’s been involved in the sport of basketball.
He scored 1,202 points in his high school career, including averaging 25.6 points per game as a senior.
He also scored 1,194 points in college, playing in 117 games over five years. He redshirted his junior season due to a knee injury.
After graduating from Sacred Heart, Kelley played in the Latvia Basketball League last season.
“I didn’t have any many offers coming into the season and I was kind of behind because I switched agents,” Kelley explained. “I figured why not (start coaching). If I’m not going to go overseas, I can try. I can learn a lot and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to see the game in a different way.”
Kelley knows St. Luke’s third-year coach Drew Gladstone, and also knew that Chris Evans, his former teammate at Sacred Heart, who was an assistant coach last season, wasn’t planning on coming back for the new winter season.
With the stars lined up perfectly, opportunity knocked.
“It was a good chance for him to test the waters and it’s been a good fit,” Gladstone said. “We’re happy to have him here.”
Kelley is still looking to play overseas and is currently in negotiations with a club in Malta.
That means the first chapter of his coaching career might be cut short if the opportunity arises.
Just seven games into the Storm’s undefeated season, though, Kelley knows the coaching bug has bitten him.
“I’ve watched Drew, and how he approaches certain things and how he handles situations and I’ve tried to pattern myself after that,” Kelley said. “This is my first experience being on a staff, though. So whatever Drew wants my input with, I try to give it to him with the best of my abilities.”
Gladstone is pleased to have found somebody who can coach and is not just hanging out at the gym with his players while waiting for the next call.
“I know a lot of guys who coach and just hang out and sometimes run (play) with the kids, but Evan’s a student of the game,” Gladstone said. “He comes up with suggestions and ideas, which is what I want because I’m still a young coach myself. He’s actually going to be a great coach. He’s fresh off playing, and people don’t realize it’s easy to do something, but it’s really hard to explain to somebody how to do it or when to do it, and he’s got a great knack for that.”
The fact that Kelley also comes in as a voice of experience for those players looking to play in college is an added boon to the Storm program.
“For us to have somebody that young — who is a living, breathing example of what a lot of these kids want to be — that’s been a tremendous help,” Gladstone said. “We have three kids who have a chance to walk in his footsteps (as a Division I player) so for them to interact with somebody who has been through it all, it’s a great luxury. I don’t know if they understand it yet.”
In Norwalk, Kelley is a legend — one of the city’s greats.
On the rural campus of St. Luke’s, though, he’s a figure for the Storm players to look up to, as well.
“I don’t think they really know who I am or what I’ve done, and that’s OK,” Kelley said. “When we get to work in here, I can give them a taste of what I can do. I see basketball differently than a lot of people. A lot of young guys here, there’s a lot of talented kids that have chance to do something special in this game, whether it’s Division I, Division II, or Division III. Why not help them?
“I don’t want it to be about me,” Kelley added. “If I sound like I know what I’m talking about as their coach, all that other stuff doesn’t matter. I can earn their respect that way.”