One Transfer Is Plenty For Jake Kelly

Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter sends Jake Kelly (32) into the game during the first half at Drake. Nobody really had much fun that day. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

For those not keeping up on the FanPosts, we got some strange news yesterday originating from Hawkeye Nation--that Jake Kelly was strongly considering a return to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

While players leaving a school, then transferring back isn't unheard of, it's just about always done with a junior college, and for academic reasons (Amari Spievey, Shonn Greene, hello). Rarer than a mooing steak, however, is the transfer from one D-I school to another, then back to the first a year later.

But then, nothing about Kelly's college experience has been usual as of late, his career firmly lodged in the dourest of minor keys for the last year and a half. Just a recap:

  • Lost his mother in a plane crash
  • Had to play for the 2008-2009 Hawkeyes
  • Transferred to Indiana State
  • Shredded his ACL 12 games into the season
  • Realized, outside of basketball, how much worse Indiana State is than Iowa

Not good. Hence, the rumors. Now, there was an immediacy to it all; transfer restrictions and Iowa's academic schedule meant that Kelly had to decide on Thursday whether he'd be moving back; he eventually said no and reaffirmed that his move to Indiana State was the right one. So it goes.

We don't think, by the way, that Jon Miller's reporting wasn't factual or a misrepresentation; we're sure that, at the time, there was a real sense that Kelly could return and that the reporting had begun before Kelly had made up his mind. We do wonder if word getting out to the press--whose natural instinct it is to poke and prod for answers--before Kelly's mind was made up had anything to do with his eventual decision. It likely wasn't a determining factor in his decision (and even if it were, he sure wouldn't admit it), but for someone with so many fresh scars on his personal life, it probably didn't help.

A completely separate issue with Hawkeye Nation's handling of the story was the behavior of the fans in the thread. While they're even less likely to be a factor in Kelly's decision to return--it's not like he said, "tough decision; I'd better check Hawkeye Internet Tough Guy Central first, they have the good advice"--it was dismaying to see such a wide gap in opinion on Kelly's possible return. Most of the static came from two main factors:

  1. He sucks at sports/he's of no help to the team
  2. HE TURNED HIS BACK ON THIS GREAT AND PROUD TEAM

While 1 is a semi-valid criticism (recall, Kelly's recovering from a serious knee injury), it's not as if Kelly would be buried behind John Lickliter on the depth chart or anything when he'd have regained eligibility. He was starting for a, ahem, better Iowa team in 2008, and performing at as a high level as anyone on the team. Further, his experience with the Lickliter offense would have been a major plus; we've already seen what happens when true freshmen are pressed into duty at the point, after all. It ends badly.

More troubling was #2, the notion that Iowa wouldn't--or, rather, shouldn't welcome him back. Several posters openly and explicitly wished that members of the team would shun Kelly if he wanted to come back. And that struck us as odd, because it's not at all shared by, y'know, actual members of the team:

"I still have a lot of friends back there," [Kelly] said. "I suppose that's where the talk comes from."

Kelly, who denied initial rumors that he was leaving Iowa last year, has not spoken with Iowa coach Todd Lickliter since his departure. However, he has talked in recent weeks with former teammates Matt Gatens and Jarryd Cole.

Gatens said he spoke with Kelly last week, talking to him primarily about his injury.

"I wanted to let him know I was hoping for the best for him," Gatens said. "He is a great player, a good friend and a good teammate. It would be great to have him back. I've heard the same rumors you guys have heard, but I don't think he's made a decision or anything like that."

Cole, who suffered an ACL injury two years ago, said his discussion with Kelly centered around their common injury and the rehabilitation Cole went through on his way back to the court.

"We didn't talk about a transfer, but if he would come back, great. If not, we'll still be the Hawkeyes," Cole said.

So, there's two possibilities here with Internet Tough Guys taking the concept of Hawkeye loyalty more seriously than the actual Hawkeyes:

1) Iowa does not have a satisfactory sense of team pride or commitment to the program. If that's your position, then you're effectively calling Gatens and Cole--the team's best player and one of the two team captains--treasonous little weasels. Nothing at all they've done on or off the court otherwise would support that case. It's stupid and awful.

2) More likely, these people have nothing better to do than to dramatically overstate the importance of Hawkeye sports in their lives and the world as a whole. Seriously, Kelly lost his mother--who had just moved from Indiana to Solon to be close to him--and needed to be closer to his family, and you wouldn't let him back on your favorite team after a year of whatever he's going through? Then you, sirs, need to be bitten by a brown recluse directly on your genitals, because that's an awful stance to take--especially against someone who's clearly looking for a way to turn around a college career that has been caked in metric tons of pain (both emotional and physical) so far.

We don't know if Kelly would have been happier back here than at Indiana State. We do know that the kid deserves an ounce of happiness in his senior season, because nobody deserves his last 18 months. Maybe not even happiness. Just peace. Hope he finds it somewhere soon.

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