University of Kansas

Former KU basketball great Al Kelley dies at age 83

Former Kansas guard and Naismith Hall of Fame member Al Kelley died Saturday in Lawrence, his family confirmed. He was 83.
Former Kansas guard and Naismith Hall of Fame member Al Kelley died Saturday in Lawrence, his family confirmed. He was 83.

Jerry Waugh never played with Al Kelley at Kansas, but he was around the program enough to know the KU guard had a standout trait.

“Al was the alley fighter,” Waugh said. “He was the tough guy.”

Kelley, who played for KU from 1952 to 1954 and was a Naismith Hall of Fame member, died Saturday in Lawrence, his family confirmed. He was 83.

“Al Kelley is Kansas basketball,” KU coach Bill Self said. “He had a great career, which included winning a national championship at KU (1952) and a gold medal for the U.S.A. at the 1960 Olympics. He was always a pleasure when he would come to the office or a practice and was a fixture at home games.”

Waugh, who played at KU from 1948 to 1951, watched part of Kelley’s career while serving as Lawrence High’s basketball coach in the mid-1950s.

“There was no give-up in him at all,” Waugh said. “He was a tough one and a good one. Good player, good guy.”

Waugh also remembers Kelley being a key part of KU’s 1953 team that fell to Indiana 69-68 in the national championship game. Center B.H. Born led the team in scoring at 18.9 points per game, while Kelley was second at 12.9.

“That ’53 team was a good one,” Waugh said. “And Al was the leader of that.”

KU’s defense — a half-court press — was keyed by its two best players. The 6-foot-9 Born stood in the back to block shots, while Kelley chased opponents around the perimeter.

Kelley earned first-team All-Big Seven honors in his final two seasons at KU. The 1960 U.S. men’s Olympic team he played with was enshrined into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2010.

“Al was a great teammate, a heck of a basketball player,” 1952 KU teammate Bill Lienhard said. “He was a great guy and came from a good family. His brother Dean was on our team — two nice kids from McCune, Kansas.

“We’ve known each other forever. I hate to have him leave us.”

Waugh remembers Al and Dean being alike in the way they battled while playing. Dean died in 1996.

“Al particularly was a tenacious defensive player,” Waugh said. “He had good quickness. He was a tough, ornery player.”

Al was a 2013 inductee into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. He and his wife, Barbara, resided in Lawrence the last 16 years.

“He was a competitor, and I don’t say that about many, but damn, he was going to fight you. He was a competitor,” Waugh said. “There were a few I played with up there (also), but he was the one. I admired that in him more than anything.”

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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