Deja Kelly was a star at Duncanville.
The current college sophomore led the Pantherettes to a state title in 2020, scoring 23 points in a win over Cy Creek (and current Texas guard Kyndall Hunter) in the state title game. Kelly was named the MVP of that game and was also named Texas Player of the Year by MaxPreps. If Dave Campbell's Texas Basketball had had a Miss Texas Basketball award back then, it would have been tough for anyone who wasn't Deja Kelly to win that award.
I was lucky enough to see Kelly play twice during the state tournament and wrote about her performance in the 6A final here at DCTB.
Here were some scouting-report type things I said about Kelly after watching that game:
One thing you notice when you watch Deja Kelly play is how she seems to do everything within the flow of Duncanville's offense. In the two games that I watched her in during the tournament, Kelly managed to do a ton of impressive things, but all of those impressive things felt like they existed inside some kind of structure. Kelly was methodical about her play, even when she was pushing forward on the fastbreak. She knows where she needs to be and where the ball needs to be, and maybe more importantly knows when the Pantherettes need her and the ball to simultaneously be together.
Kelly's ability to play with the ball in her hands and not in her hands should help her succeed in Chapel Hill next year.
After her stellar career at Duncanville, Kelly headed east, landing at UNC as part of an impressive 2020 class for Courtney Banghart's Tarheels. Kelly, the No. 10 player in ESPN's HoopGurlz rankings, headlined the class, and the team also added two more top 100 players in Anya Poole and Alexandra Zelaya.
As a freshman, Kelly averaged 11.0 points per game for the Tarheels, flashing the potential that made her a top recruit. But this season, the second-year guard has exploded onto the scene.
Kelly is now averaging 16.3 points per game for a UNC team that is heading to the Sweet 16, where it will face South Carolina. This was the team's first 20-plus win season since 2014-15.
Deja Kelly hasn't done this alone, but she's given the Tarheels a real top option this season who can take over games.
Let's dig into some analytics on her game, per CBB Analytics.
On the season, Kelly ranks in the 96th percentile in points per 40 minutes and the 87th percentile in fast-break points per game. She has a 1.23 assist to turnover ratio, good for the 74th percentile. Like in high schook, Kelly feels like she's always in control when the ball is in her hands.
She's also got such a fun release on her shot, with the ball coming out really high up, which is why she ranks in the 62nd percentile in shots blocked per field goal attempt, which is pretty good for a player who is out there shooting as much as Kelly is.
Another thing with Kelly is her ability to get to her spot and get her shot off, like on this play that helped beat BC. Kelly gets going downhill, senses the double coming over to her, and just stops on a dime and fires away this winning shot.
One interesting aspect of Kelly's game that can definitely develop more over time is her reliance on the mid-range. 42.4 percent of her attempts come from there, which is 24.7 percent above the Division I average. She's only shooting 30 percent on these shots, though — if Kelly can start to get a little better at converting these attempts into points, or can work on getting directly to the basket more, then her scoring numbers could jump even more. Just 6.7 percent of her shots come at the rim, for example, which is among the worst numbers in college basketball, though that number is up around 1 percent from where it was a month ago. That's not her game — even in the high school games I saw, finishing at the rim was something that she struggled at, but made up for by being unstoppable everywhere else — but if she can start to threaten teams a little more there, Kelly could take an even bigger leap going forward.
But even without that one development, Kelly is just so dangerous with the ball in her hands. Her 3-point shooting has improved a ton this year, helping not only her numbers, but opening things up for the UNC offense.
Defensively, Kelly does a great job of stealing without fouling. Per CBB Analytics, her steals per foul rate is in the 85th percentile nationally.
In terms of lineup data, the Tarheels are 11.3 points per 100 possessions better this season with Kelly on the floor. The offense and defense plays best when she's on the court, which seems obvious when you look at her numbers, but is always something that's nice to see confirmed by the data.
Kelly's efficiency issues — she's shooting 36.2 percent inside the arc — probably need to disappear at least a little for this team to have a chance to win a title over the rest of her time in Chapel Hill, but she's been key in taking this team and getting more out of it. She's a smart player who can run the offense and has been stringing together some nice games, like her 28-point outing in the first round of the tournament against SFA.
Look, as a Texas-based website, we'd love to have Kelly playing somewhere here. But her success gives people in the DFW area a reason to watch ACC hoops, so there's that positive. And if she keeps trending up, her old fans are going to have the chance to see her play for years to come.