CHESTNUT HILL — An emotional Boston College coach men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue stated: “This game was for Dick Kelley.”
This was no ordinary game and, as the tremendous outpouring of affection for him proved, Kelley is no ordinary man.
BC, which had lost 10 of its last 13 games, trailed Virginia 49-41 yesterday afternoon with 4:27 to play.
The same Virginia team which was fourth in the country in scoring defense (54.5 points per game). And was coming off a SportsCenter-leading win over No. 3 Duke.
But BC clawed back against the 20-8 Cavaliers and pulled out the 53-52 stunning win on a Joe Rahon 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds left.
A couple former BC players, Marc Molinsky and Hall of Famer Danya Abrams, could hardly believe what they had just seen.
“How about that?” remarked Molinsky to Abrams, who was the analyst for WEEI radio. “Right in front of DK (Dick Kelley)! That’s like the movies.”
Indeed, Kelley, who is confined to a wheelchair from the ravages of Lou Gehrig’s disease, couldn’t have been more than 15 feet away at courtside when Rahon, who was hitting just 30.2 percent of his 3-pointers, drained the deep trey.
The BC players and coaches hugged Kelley, an Andover native, after the emotional win.
Rahon said, “It meant everything. Coach told us it’s more than a game here. Being with him meant the world to us.”
Olivier Hanlan, who teams with Rahon in a talented all-freshman backcourt, said, “We just love Dick.”
That was the sentiment of the day.
Prior to the game, Kelley, a BC grad who has worked for the school for 22 years, received perhaps the longest standing ovation in the 25-year history of the Conte Forum.
That was when he was presented the prestigious U.S. Basketball Writers Courage Award by Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel.
For well over a minute, the crowd, listed as 5,062, stood as one to give him a rousing ovation.
It was more than just the team and the fans.
Sportswriter Phil Kasiecki tweeted, “It’s wonderful to see all on press row standing and applauding Dick Kelley. You’re not supposed to cheer on press row, but this isn’t about a game.”
His family — parents Ed and Anne Kelley of Andover and brothers Ted (a former BC basketball captain) and Patrick — has been extraordinarily devoted to him. Ted, at times, has come back from business trips to China or Australia and immediately headed over to his brother’s apartment down the street from the BC campus.
As Kelley has waged his fight against ALS, the BC community has been inspired by his quiet dignity.
Donahue and legendary hockey coach Jerry York have been there for him since he received the dreaded diagnosis of ALS about 18 months ago. His “second family,” his colleagues in the BC sports information department, also always are there for the former Andover High (Class of 1983) basketball player.
Rahon recalled how Kelley befriended the young players, inviting them to his apartment shortly after they reported in early summer as scared freshmen.
“He’s just a great role model and mentor,” said Rahon, a San Diego native.
The common thread from the media to the bigtime athletes and the nonscholarship athletes is Kelley’s love for BC and its athletes.
Donahue, at one point fighting back tears in the postgame press conference, called Kelley a “very unique guy.”
He continued, “It’s hard not to get emotional about him.”
When yesterday’s game seemed like a lost cause, that yet another tough loss was in the offing, the team drew upon Kelley’s strength.
“If you are going to go down, go down fighting in his honor,” said the third-year BC coach. “It’s an incredibly tough thing to watch. It’s amazing how he handles it.”
Kelley felt blessed after the big win and outpouring of affection.
He tweeted after the game, “Humbled to receive USBWA award in front of family, so many great friends and an incredibly supportive Conte Forum crowd.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.