Melvin “Dean” Kelley Born: September 23, 1931 (Monmouth, KS)
Graduated: McCune High School, 1949; University of Kansas, 1953
Deceased: January 13, 1996 (Morton, IL)
The story of the 1952 University of Kansas basketball team has been told numerous times over the years. The team won the NCAA national championship in the spring and half of the team was selected to represent the United States at the Olympics later in the summer with seven Jayhawks bringing home gold medals.
Of course, the legendary team is well represented in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame as well. Players previously inducted from that team include: Clyde Lovellette, Bill Hougland, Bill Lienhard, Charlie Hoag, Bob Kenney, Dean Smith, and B.H. Born. Both Smith and Born were juniors on the 1952 national championship team, like Dean Kelley, but neither Smith nor Born were selected to represent the United States in the Olympics. Kelley was, and today, he joins his former teammates, and his younger brother Al, as an inductee in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Kelley was raised in the small southeast Kansas town of McCune. During his senior season in 1949, Kelley helped lead McCune to a runner up finish in the Class B state basketball tournament. He caught the eye of Phog Allen at the University of Kansas and Kelley decided to take his talents to Lawrence to continue his playing career.
It was a great choice for Kelley and he quickly became one of Allen’s all-time favorite players. Although undersized, Kelley was a tenacious defender which endeared him to the old coach. Kelley broke into the starting lineup in 1952 when he averaged 6.5 points per game and helped the Jayhawks to a 28-3 record, a conference championship, and the national championship. Kelley was one of two Jayhawks to be named to the first-team NCAA All-Tournament team.
At age 20, Kelley was the youngest member selected to represent the United States at the 1952 Olympics. Despite his age, Kelley was a valuable piece in claiming the gold medal and he logged minutes in six of the seven Olympic games.
Kelley’s career didn’t end with the Olympics either as he returned to Lawrence for his senior season of 1953. As team captain, Kelley led a lineup that included Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductees Born, Kelley’s brother Al, and Harold Paterson, to another conference title and a repeat appearance in the NCAA championship game. Although the Jayhawks fell two points short of repeating as NCAA champions, Kelley was once again recognized for his contributions as he was named to the first-team NCAA All-Tournament team. Kelley was the first Jayhawk to earn multiple NCAA All-Tournament selections.
Kelley finished his senior season with 9.7 points per game and was selected in the eighth round of the professional basketball draft in 1953.
In 1956, Kelley began playing with the AAU Peoria Caterpillers and another chapter of his basketball life began. Kelley’s teammates with the Caterpillers included some familiar faces as his brother Al and B.H. Born both played with him are points during his time in Peoria. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the team thrived behind Kelley’s leadership as he helped lead the Cats to the 1958 AAU championship.
The 1952 Olympics wasn’t Kelley’s only international basketball experience either. Kelley won a gold medal in the 1955 Pan American games in Mexico City and he was selected as a member of the 1958 International team that toured across the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.
The honor Kelley receives today is certainly long overdue. He played critical roles on some of the greatest teams ever produced by the state of Kansas. With Kelley’s induction, the story of the 1952 KU national championship team is a little more complete.