The right fit
Kiely proving to be ideal PG to run Mavs' offense
Joe Kiely didn’t expect to end up at Colorado Mesa University.
Men’s basketball coach Andy Shantz wasn’t planning to recruit him.
Things change, however.
Point guard Kevin Screen, who had one year of eligibility left, graduated last spring. Suddenly, Shantz needed another point guard for his first season as head coach.
“Kevin decided not to come back since he only had one class left, and graduated,” Shantz said. “If Kevin comes back, we’re probably not recruiting another point guard. I was sad to see Kevin leave. He was one of my favorite people in the program, but I understand he was ready to move on.”
Screen’s departure left the Mavericks with one returning point guard, Daniel Estes. The junior started nearly every game for the Mavericks last season, but Shantz needed a second point guard.
“We wanted to get someone that could come in and play right away,” Shantz said. “With only one point guard on the roster, we needed someone with experience. Joe played a year of prep school and junior college, so he had two years’ experience out of high school. He’s a mature kid with a mature game.”
Shantz and assistant coach Michael Dominguez found Kiely, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, at Sheridan (Wyo.) College.
After he graduated from high school in Columbia, Md., 21 miles outside of Baltimore, he took the advice of his high school coach and played one year at Winchendon School, a preparatory school in Massachusetts, to prepare him for college. That school was 10 hours from his home, he said.
When he got an opportunity to join a high school teammate at Sheridan, Kiely jumped at the opportunity, even though it was even farther away from home.
“It was a big culture change,” Kiely said. “There are a lot of cowboys in Wyoming. It was pretty boring out there. It’s different here, too. It’s a culture change, but it’s more diverse out here (than Sheridan).”
Kiely didn’t intend to go to college far away from home; it simply worked out that way.
“They want to come to my games, so they don’t like it,” Kiely said of his parents. “They watch online all the time.”
Although Kiely had another year of eligibility at Sheridan, he was interested in playing at the next level.
Kiely was drawing interest from Division I Florida A&M, but got the impression the coaches there were waiting on another point guard to commit, so he decided to accept Mesa’s invitation to visit campus last summer.
Campus was mostly quiet, but he met Clay Kame and Mac Alexander, who grew up on the Western Slope and live in Grand Junction.
“I’ve never met anyone from the East Coast,” Kame said. “I don’t think it took much because of this group for him to fit right in. Everybody’s been helpful and outgoing. That’s a good sign.
“It’s been a joy having him.”
When he visited Mesa, Kiely understood he wasn’t going to see the campus full of activities, but enjoyed his visit and was confident he would fit in despite his East Coast background.
“It’s a different place to play basketball,” Kiely said. “It’s nice out here. I like the program. It has great history, especially at home with the fans.
“That’s one thing that really attracted me to this school was the crowd. When the game is live and there is a lot of people, it makes the game more intense. It’s a type of feeling.”
Kiely will find out what it’s like to play at Brownson Arena this weekend when the Mavericks (0-2) host Montana Western (6-3) and CSU-Pueblo (1-1) in the annual Holiday Inn Thanksgiving Classic. Mesa plays Montana Western at 7 p.m. Friday and CSU-Pueblo at 7 p.m. Sunday. Montana Western plays CSU-Pueblo at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m excited for it,” Kiely said. “I don’t know how many people will be here because of Thanksgiving break, but I still heard a good amount of people come. I’m excited to see what it feels like (to play in front of a home crowd).”
Kiely appears to be adjusting to a completely different style of basketball at Mesa than he’s used to playing.
“Back home, there is a lot of run and gun and a lot of trash talking,” he said.
Kiely said Mesa basketball is more set, half-court basketball, but he’s excited to grow as a court general.
“It’s definitely better for me to get smarter about the game,” Kiely said. “It makes me see things differently. I’ve got to know how to run and gun and to slow it down and control the tempo.”
One of the biggest changes is on defense.
“At first I didn’t like the way we play defense,” Kiely said. “Our coaches will tell you that, but it actually does work. In practice, it’s hard for me to drive against it.”
He has started both games, leads the Mavs with 6.5 assists per game, has no turnovers, and is scoring 8.5 points per game.
“Joe’s doing a great job of coming in and getting acclimated to a new system,” Shantz said. “It’s probably a lot different style than he’s played in the past, but he’s done a great job with his decision-making. We’re pleased with him, especially with his work ethic. He works extremely hard on his game.
“He’s a pass-first point guard. He understands that. He does a good job of getting his teammates the ball. Everything we do starts at the point.”
Although Kiely once dreamed of playing major Division I college basketball, he feels he made the best choice for him.
“Here was probably the best decision,” Kiely said. “They needed a point guard. I really didn’t want to go somewhere I wanted to go; I wanted to go somewhere I was needed.
“I think I fit in real well. I like to penetrate and give the ball up. We have a lot of good shooters.”