By: Danny Holdsman | @DHoldsman

“I’m a believer; I can’t do anything but believe given all that I’ve been able to accomplish while going through so much.” - Tre Kelley

In the summer of 1996, 11-year-old Tre Kelleys mother visited him while he was staying at his grandmother’s house. This was the last time he would ever see her.

Monica Kelley had been attempting to leave the man with whom she was romantically involved. Her two prior attempts ended with brutal beatings; the third ended with death.

This August marks 22 years since Kelley’s mother was taken from his life. In that period of time he has compiled a distinguished basketball resumé, which includes two NIT titles, a First Team All-SEC selection, a Venezuelan first division championship, and a spot on the G-League All Star team. He hopes to add a #TBT2018 Championship with D.C. On Point to that list.

Kelley credits the game of basketball for getting him through a horror that no child should ever have to experience.

“Going through all of the things I’ve gone through in my lifetime, especially in my childhood, basketball is not only my coping mechanism, but it is something that saved my life,” said Kelley. “It helped to clear my mind; it helped me set goals that I could accomplish in life; it gave me a vision for the future. It allowed me to get through the tragedies I’ve dealt with in my life and kept me away from the trouble in the Washington D.C. streets and the drugs and violence that plagued my neighborhood.”

Monica Kelley was not the only person taken from Tre due to the harsh nature of the Northeast Washington D.C. streets. His uncle was murdered, his cousin was shot, and he lost several other friends and family as a result of drugs and violence.

The one man who had been with Kelley through it all was his father, Alfrie. That was until 2013 when Alfrie passed away from heart issues.

“Losing my father had a great impact on my career,” said Kelley. “Just like when my mom passed away when I was a kid, basketball gave me something to make them proud of me. It made me work that much harder and push myself that much further. I just kept pushing to accomplish my short-term and long-term goals. My dad and I used to talk about the game all the time. He just wanted me to be successful.”

Kelley has seemingly accomplished almost all of his goals thus far in life. However, the one that ranks higher than all is still yet to be checked off the list.


“The hardest part of my career has been making the NBA,” said Kelley. “It’s every kid’s dream who picks up a basketball, no matter what. That dream never leaves; I don’t care what anyone says.”

Kelley, now 33-years-old, has worked towards an NBA contract throughout his entire playing career. The closest he has come to the league is two appearances for the Miami Heat in the 2015 preseason. While a 6-foot tall, 33-year-old rookie is likely not at the top of any front office wishlist, Kelley refuses to give up on his ultimate goal.

“I take it year by year,” said Kelley. “I never really took my focus off the NBA or my pursuit away from it. I just haven’t come across any valid opportunities to [play in the NBA]. I’ve played some great basketball throughout my career and thought I set myself up to have an opportunity in the NBA, but it just didn’t come. There’s basketball to be played all around the world. If an opportunity presents itself now to make an NBA roster, even at my age, I’ll take it. I never took my eyes off of that prize.”

If Kelley wants to flip through the history books to find someone like himself, he does not have to turn far. This past April the Los Angeles Lakers gave 32-year-old Andre Ingram his first opportunity in an NBA game; and he did not disappoint. Ingram averaged 12 points in the two regular season games he played with LA. Kelley knows that he can produce similar results if provided with the chance.

“Throughout the course of my life, I’ve been able to overcome any challenge in my way,” said Kelley. “That is just something that I haven’t been able to crack yet. All it takes is one opportunity.”

Even if Kelley’s hopes of an NBA contract are never realized, he is well-aware of his triumphs on the court. Kelley could have easily given up on his dreams and succumbed to a life on the Washington D.C. streets. His resilience and dedication to basketball have kept him on the right path, and while he is still working to achieve more, he is reflective about his past and grateful for his blessings.

“I’m going into my 12th year as a professional basketball player,” said Kelley. “If you had asked me when I was 11 if I would be playing that many years as a professional basketball player, I couldn’t have believed that. Going through everything I’ve been through; losing my mom; losing some of my friends; not coming from great stability at home and not having much of anything financially, it’s hard to have pictured getting to where I am today. Playing 11 seasons as a pro and getting to travel the world and see all these places is magical for me.”

Although he does not have intentions to retire from basketball anytime soon, Kelley has a couple of ideas in mind for his post-playing career. He plans to either become a basketball coach, a motivational speaker, or some combination of the two. Kelley has discussed coaching opportunities with South Carolina (his alma mater), as well as in Turkey, the country he has spent the previous four years playing professionally.

He is passionate about teaching the game and knows he could do it well, but it is the other field of work for which he has an even stronger desire.

“Motivational speaking is something that I have the most passion about,” said Kelley. “I want to get people to believe in themselves and believe in their stories. I want to convey what life is all about in regards to struggle and tragedy and how to be triumphant. I’m able to speak so naturally about overcoming my struggles and problems. I’ve been through it all. I don’t have to write any of it down because I’ve lived it.”

As for now, Kelley lives each and every day knowing that any obstacle in his way is meant to be overcome. It has been nearly 22 years since he experienced unimaginable pain, and he is a living example of the power of internal fortitude. He plans to spend the remainder of his career striving towards his unmet goals before eventually heading into retirement with a wealth of knowledge and insight to pass on to younger generations.

“Losing your mom at a young age is the worst thing that can happen to you,” said Kelley. “Period. I know it sounds crazy, but in a sense you can feel good knowing that if you can get through something like that, then you can get through anything else life has to throw you. I had a vision for myself, and I wanted to see that vision become a reality. I’m living that vision every single day, and there’s still so much more to go. I can’t wait to see what’s still out there for me.”

Regardless of what happens in TBT, the rest of his playing career, or the rest of his life, one thing is certain, Tre Kelley will not give up.

“I’m a believer; I can’t do anything but believe given all that I’ve been able to accomplish while going through so much. It’s been a great journey for me so far.”




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