Longtime coach Lake Kelly dies at 75

mfields@herald-leader.com,By Mike FieldsMarch 5, 2009 

Lake Kelly, whose career as a college and high school basketball coach spanned more than 50 years, died Thursday in his hometown of Flemingsburg.

He was 75.

Mr. Kelly went to Fleming County Hospital on Monday to have a kidney stone removed in an out-patient procedure. Complications ensued, however, and he died at the hospital early Thursday morning from a suspected heart attack.

"Coach was one of the hardest working men I've ever known," said Robbie Graham, a life-long family friend and a former assistant coach under Kelly. "He wanted to be the the best husband, the best father, the best coach, the best (school) administrator."

Mr. Kelly twice served as head coach at Austin Peay (1971-77 and 1985-90), and led the Governors to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including a 106-100 overtime loss to Kentucky in 1973.

Between stints at Austin Peay, Mr. Kelly was head coach at Oral Roberts University and Clark County High School, and an assistant at UK under Joe B. Hall for two years.

"I thought of Lake as indestructible," Hall said. "He was always even-tempered and optimistic, always 'up' mentally, a very collected, level-headed. common-sense guy.

"That's what I liked about him. He was the greatest support I had. It was a joy to have him on my staff."

Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury, who got his start in college coaching as an assistant to Kelly at Austin Peay, saw Kelly last month when the Bulldogs played UK in Rupp Arena.

"In the press conference (after the game), I walked off the podium and went and gave him a hug because I absolutely wouldn't be where I am without Lake Kelly," Stansbury said. "He was one of my dearest friends in life."

Mr. Kelly's coaching resume also included stops as a college assistant at Loyola, Morehead State, Florida State, and New Orleans, and as a high school head coach at Lafayette, Columbia (Tn) Central and Fleming County.

Mr. Kelly didn't intend to coach again when he moved back to his hometown in the early 1990s, but when the Fleming County job opened, he couldn't resist.

"The most rewarding thing in coaching," he said at the time, "is helping kids have some success."

He guided the Panthers to the Sweet Sixteen in 1998 and '99.

Hall said Kelly's return to the high school game "showed where his heart was."

Green County High School Coach Troy Lee Thomas, who was an assistant to Kelly at Fleming County, said after Kelly retired as an elementary school administrator a couple months, he was still focused on basketball.

"Every time I'd go to Flemingsburg to see him, he'd have a book open, and it was always a book about basketball," Thomas said. "He could never get enough of it. He loved the game."

Thomas said Kelly had planned to spend part of his retirement writing a book on defense.

Graham, who was also on Kelly's staff at Fleming County, said he was "amazed" at Kelly's unquenchable thirst for basketball knowledge.

"We'd go to coaching clinics all over the country, and he'd always sit in the front row and take notes like he was a first-year coach," Graham said.

"We went to a clinic at Cincinnati one year, and Coach (Bob) Huggins saw him, paused for a second and said, 'I'll be daggone. It's Lake Kelly. He should be up here teaching and I should be sitting there listening to him.'"

Mr. Kelly's survivors include his wife, Marti, sons Lake Jr. and Brian, and daughter Jane.

Boone Nickell Funeral Home is handling arrangements. Visitation will be at Fleming County High School on Saturday, starting at 4 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 to 2, followed by the funeral.

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