Four months after taking off his UW jersey for the last time, former Badger Mike Kelley added another color to his Wisconsin wardrobe — green.
In an experience the Menomonee Falls, Wis., native called “surreal,” Kelley was one of 12 players chosen to play for the Bucks’ summer team.
Kelley’s journey to the ranks of the NBA began with familiar company, as he was joined by ex-teammates Roy Boone, Maurice Linton, Andy Kowske and Mark Vershaw at a two-day free agent mini camp.
The workouts brought in 24 players, including many exceptional Wisconsin high school and college athletes, to take part in workouts with the Bucks coaching staff at the Cousins Center in St. Francis, Wisc.
At the camp, the coaches told the players that a few would be added to the summer roster. At the time, Kelley reported feeling that he was likely to make the squad, but all the same, he lifted weights and practiced with his former UW teammates in preparation.
After the two-day camp concluded, Kelley was chosen to join Michigan State’s Andre Hutson (the Bucks’ second-round draft pick) and first-year players Jason Hart, Joel Przybilla and Michael Redd for the summer session.
Having played against all four of the players while at Wisconsin, Kelley was in familiar company. Only one thing was different — after wearing number 22 throughout his UW career, Kelley was now issued number 1. Whether or not it was just the smallest jersey, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Kelley was content. After all, Oscar Robertson wore number 1.
The jersey was only the first step in the transition to the NBA summer league. Kelley still had to take the court against a new level of competition. He was told that he would play a limited number of minutes, and he made the most of his time on the court. In the six games Kelley played, he averaged 5.3 minutes, grabbed four rebounds, and tallied four assists and three steals. This is comparable to Kelley’s numbers at UW, where he averaged 2.2 rebounds, two steals and three assists in his senior season.
Kelley’s NBA travels took him to a tournament in Orlando where the Bucks faced the Magic, the Pistons and the Timberwolves, then to Boston, where Milwaukee played the Pacers, the Sonics, the 76ers, the Knicks, the Nets and the Celtics.
With the conclusion of the summer league, Kelley knows that his NBA days could be over. He is open to the possibility of playing in Europe, where the former Badger admits it’s pretty easy to play these days. However, if Kelley’s professional career only lasts as long as his summer with the Bucks, that’s fine with him — he still has the jersey to prove that, at least for a while, he was an NBA player.
–wire reports contributed to this report