DePaul junior Kelsey Smith has played in exactly one of the three previous basketball seasons – and none of those were for the Blue Demons.
The 6-foot-4 forward was a highly ranked college prospect after a successful prep career at St. Charles North that ended in 2009. She enrolled at Michigan State and spent the 2009-10 season as a redshirt freshman.
“I did really like the school and I made a lot of friends there,” Smith says, but after playing for the Spartans in 2010-11, she decided she wanted to be closer to her family.
She transferred to DePaul and had to sit out the 2011-12 season and the first four games of this season.
“I think things are going great,” Smith says. “It’s definitely been kind of a long time coming.”
DePaul was one of the schools Smith considered before committing to Michigan State.
“I just really remembered coach [Doug] Bruno [DePaul’s head coach] and how good he and his staff were to me during the recruiting process,” she notes. “So I thought that would be the best move.”
So far, she’s happy with her decision.
“I feel great about it. The coaches have been really helpful in getting me acclimated,” Smith says. “I really enjoy being around my teammates.”
She likes getting to see her family more often and her parents are able to attend more games.
While the desire to be closer to home was the chief reason for the move, Smith acknowledges some dissatisfaction with the Michigan State program as she watched her playing time decrease. After a successful debut for the Spartans in a game against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (10 points, five rebounds, five assists, three blocks in 20 minutes), Smith wound up averaging just 5.8 minutes a game.
“I really didn’t see myself fitting into the system quite as much as I originally had,” she said.
Smith said “it was definitely hard,” sitting out all of last season.
“When you’re practicing, the reward for all that practicing is playing in the games,” she said, but added that she used the time to get stronger and work on different aspects of her game.
“I think it was helpful in the long run.”
Smith’s first significant action for DePaul was Nov. 24 in the championship game of the Paradise Jam tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands against unbeaten South Carolina.
She scored four points in seven minutes of action in a 55-46 loss. A week later, she scored eight points and snared six rebounds in a victory against Northwestern.
So far, Smith is averaging three points and three rebounds a game.
“For the most part, it feels really good to be out there and playing with my teammates,” said Smith, whose father, Mark, is the former boys basketball coach at St. Charles North and current girls basketball coach at Burlington Central.
Smith said her role this year with the Blue Demons is to “hopefully bring some good energy and a spark off the bench.” She’s particularly focused on rebounding and playing good defense.
Smith joined a team that returns six key players from last season, including 6-3 senior forward Katherine Harry, who led the Big East Conference in rebounding. The Blue Demons were ranked 25th in the AP preseason poll, but fell out of the rankings after a home loss to Dayton. Their 9-3 record also includes a lopsided loss at Kentucky.
Smith thinks DePaul can still “do some damage” in the Big East.
“I think we have a lot of potential and we just want to keep making strides at getting closer to meeting that potential,” she said.
One place Smith has always met her potential is in the classroom. She graduated No. 2 in her class of 531 at St. Charles North and was an Academic All-Big Ten selection at Michigan State. She also was a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar.
“I think it’s really just all about time management,” she said of balancing academics and athletics. “I’m personally a morning person, so I like to get up and get some homework done before class.”
The next action for Smith and the Blue Demons is a home game Friday night at McGrath-Phillips Arena against Princeton.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To submit information on area athletes competing in college, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.