Duke junior forward Ryan Kelly has enjoyed bartering in the market and cruising down the Huang Pu River in the seemingly endless city of Shanghai, whose population numbers about 23 million.
On the Blue Devils’ exhibition trip to China, Kelly also has established himself as one of the most improved players on the team in wins over the Chinese Olympic team.
Kelly scored 14 points with 13 rebounds Wednesday in Kunshan and led Duke with 20 points and added eight rebounds Thursday in Shanghai.
“I think that’s the big thing is playing with confidence,” Kelly said in a teleconference with reporters from North Carolina newspapers this morning. “I’ve had a long summer to work on a lot of areas of my game, and I’ve really taken advantage of the opportunity to be at Duke all summer.”
A returning starter, Kelly averaged 6.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for Duke last season. The former Ravenscroft player has improved his game to fill a void for the Blue Devils, who have lost senior stalwarts Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler plus No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Kyrie Irving.
The focus for Kelly this summer has been improving his jump shot, quickness and lateral movement so he could create more shots for himself and others. That has paid off to the tune of 15-for-20 shooting from the field over Duke’s first two exhibition games.
“I knew I had to grow as a knock-down shooter and become more confident in my jump shot,” Kelly said, “and with that also make more plays off the dribble and not only create for myself and other players on the court.”
After playing games on back-to-back days, Duke is preparing to leave Saturday for Beijing. The Blue Devils will go to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City on Sunday and play the Chinese Olympic Team on Monday.
Duke will visit the Great Wall of China on Tuesday.
“Seeing the different cultures is a great experience,” Kelly said, “but we’re also here to play basketball.”
The trip has had its challenges for Duke. The charter flight that was supposed to leave from Raleigh-Durham International Airport was delayed by a day. In two games, the Chinese Olympic Team has shot 72 free throws to 25 for Duke.
But the Blue Devils have persevered, and they’ve avoided the controversy that surrounded another U.S. college team, Georgetown, in China. On Thursday, a brawl broke out between Georgetown and a Chinese team in an exhibition, causing an immediate end to the game in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously it’s an unfortunate situation, and when tempers are flaring you never know what’s going to happen,” Kelly said. “We’re certainly hoping nothing like that would happen to us.”
So far, only good things have happened to Kelly on this trip. He said the exhibition games have been helpful to the team, too, as the Duke coaching staff tries to figure out what roles players will be ready to assume on a team with significant personnel losses.
“Especially our freshmen have an opportunity to play against a high level talent,” Kelly said. “. . .It’s just an incredible opportunity for us to grow as individuals and as a team.”
David Scott has been with the Observer for 28 years and has written about ACC, SEC and other college sports in the Charlotte region. He covers Wake Forest, South Carolina and college soccer for the Observer and (Raleigh) News & Observer.
J.P. Giglio covers the ACC for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1997, and the Observer.
Andrew Carter covers the North Carolina Tar Heels for the Observer and News & Observer.
Laura Keeley covers the Duke Blue Devils for the Observer and News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter.
Chip Alexander covers the Carolina Hurricanes and college football for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1979, and the Observer.
Luke DeCock has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist for the Observer and News & Observer in August 2008.
Tim Crothers is an author and former senior writer at Sports Illustrated who is joining the sports staff to write a regular column during the rest of the college basketball season.