Duke’s Kelly needs game-worthy nickname

DURHAM, N.C. — What Ryan Kelly really needs is a nickname.

The Duke senior forward is one of those guys who if not for his 6-foot-10 frame and recognizable half-beard, he’d be able to slither in and out of situations in life as well as on the basketball court without much notice to the average eye.

Kelly isn’t exactly dynamic with anything he does on the court, which may explain why he’s gone through nearly four years of college without a proper nickname known to everyone inside the Blue Devils’ locker room.

We’re not talking “Animal House” stuff here with tart names such as Flounder or Mothball, just something that mocks who he is but is also fittingly complimentary. But so far, nothing.

“I don’t know why that is, but apparently the fans have a nickname for me now, the ‘White Raven,'” Kelly said Saturday after scoring 22 points in an 80-62 win over Wake Forest. “I just try and go about my business and help out my teammates.”

See, Kelly can write a book on giving the media fairly canned answers to questions, though if prodded enough and in just the right way he’ll reveal a few things. And as for the White Raven deal, if the fans haven’t chanted it during games, it doesn’t exist. They haven’t.

Maybe Kelly can adopt the moniker “Demon Deacons slasher,” as he once again lit up Wake Forest, reaching the 20-point mark for the fourth consecutive game against Duke’s ACC brethren from Winston-Salem, N.C.

Kelly joked he doesn’t know Wake’s fight song and has no real answers as to why Wake brings out his best.

“That’s what everybody says,” he said. “I don’t know what to think about it, I just have opportunities.”

Kelly scored 7 of Duke’s first 10 points Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium and 13 of the top-ranked Devils first 19, giving them a big lift while his teammates struggled getting into a flow. Nine of the points came on 3-pointers and four on free throws. It’s that combination of a perimeter game and his ability to drive on smaller defenders that makes Kelly especially dangerous and creates greater balance for the Blue Devils.

Fellow seniors Seth Curry on the perimeter and Mason Plumlee inside are a nice combination, but when Kelly is hot and playing with an edge, like he did Saturday, Duke (14-0, 1-0 ACC) looks every bit the part of the nation’s top-ranked team.

“He stretches the floor and that helps Mason out because they can’t really double two bigs on Mason,” sophomore point guard Quinn Cook said about Kelly. “So when Ryan gets going on another guard it’s hard for him to stop missing. He had it going today.”

Hall of Fame Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski isn’t surprised when Kelly, who entered the contest averaging 12.8 points per outing, goes for 20-plus.

Kelly scored 18 points in Duke’s previous outing, a 67-50 win over Davidson last Wednesday night. It was only the second time he’d reached 18 points on the season, though he’s been at 14 five times and 15 once.

But Kelly can do more, especially when called on in times of need. Kelly said confidence is the key. He always brings a lunch-pail effort to the court, but having more belief in his shot takes his game to another level.

“I think Ryan has the ability to score 20 points against anybody,” Kryzewski said. “I think Ryan’s really good.”

Then maybe Coach K should come up with a nickname for the Raleigh native. Or maybe it should be left up to Cook, who’s notorious for giving other Blue Devils names, often more than one on the same day.

“Sometimes, I call him ‘Baby Dirk,'” Cook said, referring to Kelly’s similarities in height and style with Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki.

Curry thought about it for several seconds when asked what he calls Kelly before being reminded of Cook’s fairly new name for him.

“I called him Dirk a few times, he has kind of a Dirk kind of game,” Curry said, smiling. “I call him R Kelly. I don’t know if that’s a nickname or not.”

Kelly reminds nobody of the R&B star, so that won’t work.  If anything, he looks more country or even like one of those acoustic guitar-playing singers and songwriters from the 1970s.  

Finding the topic of nicknames humorous, and one Kelly claims he’s given little thought, he did sort of hint he wouldn’t mind one that sticks. But there’s one caveat:

“If my teammates figure one out for me,” he said, “then yeah, I’d be fine with it.”