Former men’s basketball captain Zach Kelly to play in English league

| Sports Reporter
2010 Washington University graduate Zach Kelly passes the ball in a game against the University of Rochester on Feb. 5. Kelly led the Bears as a captain last year, made three Final Four appearances in four seasons, and was honorable-mention all-University Athletic Association selection in 2009.

2010 Washington University graduate Zach Kelly passes the ball in a game against the University of Rochester on Feb. 5. Kelly led the Bears as a captain last year, made three Final Four appearances in four seasons, and was honorable-mention all-University Athletic Association selection in 2009.

After winning two NCAA Division III National Championships in his four-year tenure with the Washington University men’s basketball team, 2010 graduate Zach Kelly has officially taken the next step in his basketball career: moving to Leeds, England.

Kelly, a captain for the Bears last season, has signed a contract with the Bradford Dragons in the English Basketball League (EBL) and will start the new season this month. Kelly concurrently will pursue a master’s degree in international business from the Bradford College of Management.

For Kelly, who left for the United Kingdom last Wednesday, this chance took him by surprise after graduation; he never expected to extend his career to the semi-professional level after his time at Wash. U.

“This whole opportunity really came about serendipitously more than anything else,” Kelly wrote in an e-mail. “At the end of last school year, I never really had in my mind the idea of still playing competitive basketball.”

Over the summer, Kelly heard that a friend, who had played basketball at Columbia University, was going to play overseas while pursuing a master’s degree. After exploring the idea further, Kelly was put in contact with the Bradford Dragons, who coincidentally were in the market for a power forward. Soon enough, Kelly was offered a spot on the team and a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree.

“I never got to do study abroad at Wash. U. because of basketball, and whether it was volunteering, doing service work or just working abroad, I knew I wanted to do that somehow,” Kelly wrote. “This served my main goal of going abroad with the bonuses of playing basketball and getting a degree.”

Despite Kelly’s immensely successful career with the Bears, in which he compiled a 103-16 record, he emphasized that he plans to use this opportunity to explore other interests beyond basketball, including meeting people in a new part of the world. After being in England for only a week, Kelly has already encountered teammates from Poland, Bulgaria, Latvia, Jamaica, Antigua and the U.K.

“The motivation behind me pursuing this opportunity goes beyond basketball,” Kelly said. “Basketball is the avenue for which I intend to explore a place I’ve never been before and meet new people and hopefully learn something about myself in the process. Basketball is just a bonus.”

As Kelly’s mentor for the past four years, men’s basketball head coach Mark Edwards had only pride and encouraging words for his former center.

“[Kelly] has really enjoyed playing basketball, and to be able to move on to another phase of your life and hold on to the basketball is really super,” Edwards said. “I am really happy for him.”

The last time Edwards had seen a player score a professional contract after playing for the Bears was in 2003, when Chris Jeffries left to play in Brazil post-graduation. He has been there for seven years and is still playing basketball.

As for his future aspirations, Kelly has made the conscious decision to enjoy the experience that has been presented to him and worry about other life choices as they arrive. Playing basketball was not the strongest driving force behind the decision to move to England, and Kelly said that international business was not his strongest academic passion. He graduated from Wash. U. with degrees in psychology and political science.

“I really haven’t decided what my long-term aspirations are yet,” Kelly wrote. “I’m really just going to focus on making the most out of this experience and enjoying it to the fullest, and I’ll see where I am after that.”

For now, Kelly is a model for Division III athletes who have greater athletic aspirations beyond college sports. Through basketball, he has grasped an opportunity to live the international experience he was not able to achieve in college.

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