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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

An architect of Hooptown USA, former G-Prep and WSU standout Terry Kelly takes place in area basketball HoF

Terry Kelly, a tax attorney who advises on various aspects of the Washington State University Foundation, was once a star player leading the WSU basketball team to the NCAA Tournament in 1980 while playing for coach George Raveling. He is photographed June 13 on the campus of WSU Spokane near the new cougar statue.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Dave Boling The Spokesman-Review

Hooptown USA is not a recognized geographical area.

The closest official name reported by the U.S. Census Bureau is Hooktown, Kentucky, and given the fixation on basketball in that region, there might be similarities. And there’s a Hooper, Colorado, but with a population of 81, it’s barely a Hoop hamlet.

To be clear, Hooptown USA has no city limits or zoning restrictions, being a vague sphere of collective passion for basketball.

So, it doesn’t need a mythical mayor. But how about some recognition of a founder, the pioneer who first proved that basketball was a valuable resource that could be mined in the area?

Any fair debate on that topic would include Terry Kelly.

Spokane and surrounding communities were largely ignored by college recruiters until Kelly began drawing attention as a 1976 first-team all-stater at Gonzaga Prep who led the state in scoring with more than 26 points a game.

Kelly signed with coach George Raveling at Washington State and was captain of the 1980 team, the first group of Cougars to make it to the NCAA Tournament in 39 years.

“Terry opened things up in Spokane,” the 86-year-old Raveling said by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “A lot of times in life we need an example of something before we become true believers. Terry was the validation that, yes, there are kids in Spokane who can play in the big time.”

Terry Kelly was a standout basketball player for Gonzaga Prep in the mid-1970s.  (Bart Rayniak/The Spokesman-Review)
Terry Kelly was a standout basketball player for Gonzaga Prep in the mid-1970s. (Bart Rayniak/The Spokesman-Review)

Kelly’s ability to play at the Pacific-8/10 Conference level was more than a validation to recruiters, it also inspired a generation of young players who suddenly had a paradigm to emulate.

Spokane author Jess Walter, a friend of Kelly’s and a lifelong citizen of what would become Hooptown, recalled the influence Kelly had on the courts and playgrounds across the area: “Growing up in Spokane, we all tried to shoot that perfect Terry Kelly jump shot.”

After his playing days, Kelly was a member of the founding board of Hoopfest, the world’s largest 3-on-3 outdoor tournament. For these reasons, Kelly will be inducted this week into the Hooptown USA Hall of Fame. As further evidence of Kelly’s multigenerational influence, his son, Parker, a former Eastern Washington player, is a five-time Elite Division Hoopfest champion.

Terry Kelly, now 66 and the general counsel for Washington State University Foundation, was a child prodigy. In the eighth grade at Our Lady of Fatima Elementary, Kelly scored a miraculous 51 of his team’s 56 points in a game with 6-minute quarters.

He went on to lead the Gonzaga Prep Bullpups to third place in the State AAA Tournament.

“When I was at Gonzaga Prep, nobody cared about basketball; it was a football school,” Kelly said. “But by my senior year, everybody cared about basketball.”

Kelly was offered a ride at Gonzaga, but he liked Raveling, and the challenge of playing against powerhouses like UCLA lured him to Pullman.

“The people of the Palouse, I remember it so vividly, how much they appreciated that we were winning,” Kelly said. “They loved the idea that they had a Spokane guy playing a prominent role on that team.”

With Donald Collins as the 1980 Pac-10 Player of the Year, Raveling’s Cougars were filling Beasley Coliseum with newly energized fans. And on a weekend in late January, the Cougs swept the L.A. schools (77-57 over USC, and 80-64 over UCLA).

The win over the Bruins snapped a streak of 27 consecutive losses to them, and lifted the Cougars to their first national ranking since 1950.

Yes, Collins scored 31 in that win, but Kelly also hit 6 of 9 shots for 19 points.

Finishing 22-6, the Cougars were rewarded with a No. 5 NCAA seed and appeared heavily favored against 10th-seeded Penn. They owned a 10-point lead in the second half, but Collins fouled out late and the Quakers rallied for the upset.

Kelly was team captain and started 80 straight games, but said he still recalls a late shot that he missed in that Penn game.

Terry Kelly shows off his textbook jump shot in a 1979 game for Washington State.   (The Spokesman-Review photo archive)
Terry Kelly shows off his textbook jump shot in a 1979 game for Washington State.  (The Spokesman-Review photo archive)

“We had an extremely disappointing ending in the loss … that’s been difficult to look past,” Kelly said. “But people never forgot what we were able to accomplish.”

If the as-yet unrecognized region of Hooptown needed the perfect paradigm for subsequent hoopers, it was the multidimensional Kelly.

“Terry was the essence of the student-athlete,” Raveling said. “I’ve coached a lot of athletes, but I’ve only coached one or two who embodied all the characteristics of a student-athlete, which encompasses the classroom, the community, the games, their behavior. He might be my favorite student-athlete ever.”

Raveling, a hall of fame coach and two-time U.S. Olympic staff assistant, coached or influenced players around the world – even after coaching, serving as director of international basketball for Nike.

In those capacities, he’s been close to many of the great players in basketball history. But when he was announced as a winner of the Lapchick Character Award in 2013, Raveling selected Kelly to introduce him at the award ceremony.

The coach and player, bonded by a powerful mutual respect, have stayed in touch through the decades.

“There was nobody like him,” Raveling said. “And that’s phenomenal to say because I’ve coached guys like Michael Jordan on down, and ended up being life-long friends with Michael to this day, but there are people in your life where there’s nobody else in your relationship circle like them … and that was Terry Kelly.”

Kelly objected to those who claimed Raveling was successful more as a recruiter than basketball tactician.

“He was what a first-class person is all about; his work ethic, his passion and enthusiasm he brought to whatever he was doing,” Kelly said of Raveling. “He made it so much fun.”

The legacy Kelly passed on to Hooptown successors was sometimes, actually, physically passed along.

Throughout his playing career at WSU, Kelly used to return to work the Gonzaga Prep basketball camp in the summers. The first year, a somewhat frail but feisty freshman approached Kelly with an unprecedented request. He wanted to take on Kelly in a 1-on-1 game. Kelly acceded. Each summer thereafter, the young player challenged him again.

“By the senior year, he was making me work,” Kelly said.

The aspirational – audacious – young guard was John Stockton.

“He was a late bloomer, but his improvement was significant,” Kelly said. “Nobody had ever done that with me, but you could see that he was measuring where he needed to be.”

Kelly has heard Stockton cite him as an early influence, “which means a great deal, to have a player of his stature saying that.”

Kelly was initially skeptical about the idea of the Hoopfest event, which has taken over the summer streets of Spokane with as many as 6,000 teams entered.

“I said, ‘I don’t know how much Spokane will support this, but I’m all in because I love basketball and I think it would be great.’ And then I was on the board for 26 years,” he said.

In 1980, Terry Kelly led Washington State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 39 years.  (The Spokesman-Review photo archive)
In 1980, Terry Kelly led Washington State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 39 years. (The Spokesman-Review photo archive)

Kelly excelled in everything, with a near-perfect GPA and an honors law degree; a successful legal career, and a low golf handicap.

Yet, when mentioning Kelly to half a dozen potential sources, the first thing they all had to say was something along these lines: “What a great guy, such a nice man.”

Mark Rypien, MVP of Super Bowl XXVI , recalled listening to games and watching Kelly at Prep. “He would get a step or two over halfcourt and start shooting jump shots,” Rypien said. “Seeing him play was something special.”

Now long-time friends and golf buddies, Rypien called Kelly, “an amazing guy, and more importantly, a good human. He’s got a great moral compass, and is a treasure for Spokane and our community.”

Kelly’s character surely boosted his professional career.

“I think that’s a lot of folks just being kind,” Kelly said when told of the praise he’d drawn from sources. “I think clients recognized that I was honest and authentic with them, that I would go to bat for them, and they could sense that as a strength.”

He wondered if having to cope with athletic successes and failures along the way was crucial in shaping his personality. “I think I remember the losses and misses more than anything else, but that builds a compassion and empathy that I wouldn’t have.”

Maybe the Spokane area would have become the USA’s nominal Hooptown without Kelly’s pioneering influence, but from the perspective of college basketball recruiters, he unquestionably put it on the map.