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Magic Mike to wave big stick at South East

SOUTH East Melbourne Magic championship winner Mike Kelly has been crowned as the second NBL coach of South East Melbourne Phoenix, succeeding the club's inaugural coach Simon Mitchell at the helm of one of the league's most potentially exciting franchises.

American-born Kelly, 55, now boasts an extremely impressive coaching resume after originally arriving in Australia as an import playing in the SEABL.

Spotted by Magic coach Brian Goorjian, Kelly in 1996 won a contract with South East Melbourne which turned out to be instrumental in the club winning the championship that year.

Kelly won the Larry Sengstock Medal as the Grand Final Series MVP when the Magic recovered from a 0-1 deficit to beat arch rival Melbourne Tigers 2-1 for the championship.

In both 1997 and 1998 as South East lost Grand Finals to the Tigers and Adelaide 36ers, Kelly was named the league's Best Defensive Player, copping the less-than-coveted tough assignments on scoring studs such as Andrew Gaze and Brett Maher.

He was retained in the new Victoria Titans line-up in 1999 when South East merged with North Melbourne Giants and reached the Grand Final, losing again to the 36ers.

Joining the Crocodiles in Townsville, Kelly again was a key player in the 2001 Grand Final Series defeat to the Hawks, the 196cm granite-tough defender and 3-point shooter ultimately closing his own playing career at Wollongong. 

Kelly opened his coaching career as an assistant with Illawarra in 2006-07 before returning to the US to continue his development as a sideline maestro.

He then worked as an assistant at Townsville Crocodiles in 2013-14 before being taken on by the new-look Melbourne United in 2015, possibly to act as an interpreter for their American coach Dean Demopoulos.

Incoming head coach Dean Vickerman retained Kelly's services and he helped the club beat the 36ers in 2018 for the championship in a torrid five-game series.

Kelly then won his first NBL head coaching gig in Cairns, the Taipans finishing last in his first season but reaching the semi finals in his second, losing to eventual champion Perth 1-2.

Picking up the 2020 Coach of the Year honours for that epic 16-12 season, the Taipans again fell away in 2021 and Kelly and Cairns said their farewells.

If you can't beat them, join them seemed to be next as Kelly arrived in Perth, possibly to again act as an interpreter for new Wildcats head coach, American Scott Morrison.

Kelly again was John Rillie's right-hand man in Perth through 2022-23 and even gathered an international winning streak as one of the regular fill-in coaches for the Australian team through its FIBA windows.

"I've been a head coach in different circumstances and there were some ups and downs there, and I'm just really stoked to get another opportunity with an NBL club, cause there's not too many," Kelly said.

One of the game's true gentlemen, it is great to see Kelly back and backed. And interestingly, Wildcats forward Luke Travers has chosen to test the free agency waters, a curious coincidence.

Mar 30

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.