The same injured foot that dashed Ryan Kelly’s postseason as a junior won’t keep him out of experiencing the Madness in his senior campaign.
The Duke stretch-forward is eyeing a return before the regular season ends — preferably in time for his senior night on March 5 — and Busting Brackets has learned he may even be back this weekend for spot action versus ACC pace-setter Miami.
“My foot is feeling good, and as this week progresses I think I can become more and more a part of practice,” Kelly said after Duke’s 89-68 win over Boston College on Sunday. “Obviously I want to be ready for the (NCAA) Tournament, that’s the biggest thing, but it would certainly be very nice as well to get out there for my senior night.”
Kelly has yet to participate in live practice, but is on schedule to test out his right foot in team activities beginning Tuesday. Duke travels to Charlottesville for a conference clash with Virginia on Thursday before returning home to greet the Hurricanes in a long-awaited rematch on Saturday. While Kelly is unlikely to suit up against the Cavaliers, I’m told there’s a reasonable chance, barring any setbacks, he’ll be ready to see limited floor time (15-20 minutes) as soon as this weekend.
Most of Kelly’s two-week road to recovery thus far has concentrated on pool activity, consistent with the rehab program Kyrie Irving followed two years ago after suffering a mysterious toe injury. The most vocal of the three Duke captains, Kelly has recently been working with team trainers to strengthen his hips and lateral movements on the floor. He has also gotten up shots over the last several days in an effort to rediscover the form that made him college basketball’s most accurate 3-point shooter (52-percent) before he went down.
The 6-foot-11 forward, among the best stretch-4s in the college game, has missed the last 12 games with a cryptic foot injury that’s relegated him to crutches for more than a month. In his absence, Duke’s defensive efficiency numbers have plummeted — through mid-January, Kelly was the nation’s top post defender as measured by field goal percentage against — while Mason Plumlee has had to work harder for his points on the offensive end.
Kelly’s imminent return will bump emerging freshman Burger Boy Amile Jefferson and defensive handyman Josh Hairston, whose offensive game has noticeably improved over the last two weeks, to their customary utility roles off the bench. While Jefferson has flashed promise with his strong rebounding and knack for finishing around the rim, he could get squeezed out of the rotation, as he did earlier this season, when Kelly is back at full strength.
If the latest news out of Durham is on point, that timetable isn’t far off.