RJ Kelly may not be a fan of The Beatles. But if he were, his favorite song would likely be “The Long and Winding Road.”
At Cumberland Christian Academy in Georgia, he was a McDonald’s All-American nominee. During his senior year, he averaged 27 points and 13 points per game.
He began his college career at Savannah State University, where he was on the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference all-rookie team. From there, he spent time at the University of South Alabama (USA) before moving to Talladega College.
With one year of eligibility remaining, he connected with a name from his past. Darnell Archey, now the head coach at the University of Mobile (UM), had been an assistant at USA during Kelly’s time with the Jaguars.
“I knew RJ from when I was at South Alabama,” Archey told Lagniappe. “He came to us in 2018 and had to red-shirt from Savannah. After that, he went to Talladega.”
Archey was well aware of the impact 6-foot-7 Kelly could have for the Rams. The second-year head coach was not disappointed.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) recently named Kelly to its All-American Honorable Mention list. This comes after he was first-team all-league and co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC).
“Being named an All-American means a lot and shows that hard work truly pays off,” Kelly said in a statement to Lagniappe. “I can’t thank the University of Mobile enough for the opportunity given to me to be the best player I could be. Grateful doesn’t do it enough justice.”
Archey said Kelly has many outstanding qualities.
“What stands out is his athleticism, his length and his motor,” Archey said. “He is nonstop. At 6-7, he can block shots. He runs like a deer. He can cover multiple positions, from point guard to center. He was so valuable on the defensive end.”
Kelly led the Rams in four major categories. He averaged 16.8 points per game and 11.3 rebounds. The rebounding effort set a school record.
He was sixth overall in the NAIA in total rebounds per game and fifth in defensive rebounds per game (8.7). His 238 total ranked him 18th in the nation.
“We were 10th of 12 teams in the SSAC last year,” Archey said. “With RJ, we went to third of 10 teams. One guy really changed the defense for us.”
Kelly’s skills were not a surprise. In his previous year at Talladega, he was the Defensive Player of the Year for the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference.
“To do that in two different conferences is something else,” Archey said. “I knew when we had him that we wanted to help create value for him.
“His dream is to play professionally. An agent told me RJ is one of the top small-college prospects in America.”
Kelly also led UM with 1.62 blocks and 1.29 steals per game. He recorded 15 double-doubles throughout the season. Kelly was twice named the SSAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week.
These efforts helped the Rams achieve an 11-11 record. This was UM’s best finish since going 16-14 in the 2012-13 season.
A key player for the Rams next season will be 6-foot-8 forward Alan Lang, who played at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School before graduating in Utah. As a UM junior, he averaged 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game to earn second-team all-SSAC honors.
- USA baseball catcher Reid Powers has been named to the 2021 Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year Watch List. The award is given annually to the nation’s top Division I catcher.
Powers is one of three Sun Belt Conference student-athletes on the list, which also includes Troy’s Caleb Bartolero and Louisiana’s Drake Osborn. Semifinalists for the award will be announced May 20. Finalists will be announced June 7, with the winner to be named on a date that has not yet been determined.
In 20 games, Powers is batting .208 with two doubles, one triple, one home run, 13 RBIs and five runs scored. He has a .989 fielding percentage. Powers led the Jaguars in batting average (.339) in the shortened 2020 season.
- Several members of the UM outdoor track and field teams have qualified for the NAIA National Championships. In the women’s 4×100 relay, the team of Myla Edwards, Jhanya Quinones, Samantha Mansur and Azaria Jones hit the qualifying mark with a time of 47.88 seconds. That also eclipses the previous school record.
Anna Cabrera qualified in the women’s 100-meter hurdles with a time of 14.90 seconds. Earlier this year, Cabrera was the only Ram to compete in the 2021 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships in South Dakota.
In UM’s latest outing, Cabrera also qualified in the women’s heptathlon. This consists of the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter run, long jump, javelin throw and 800-meter run. She placed first overall at the Montreat Invitational in North Carolina with 4,555 scored points.
Joining Cabrera in qualifying for nationals in the women’s heptathlon was Angel Peterson. The senior from Saraland placed fourth, scoring 4,058 points. Peterson also qualified for the women’s high jump event, recording a winning mark of 1.64 meters.
- SSAC has named UM’s Zachary Presnall its Baseball Player of the Week for the second straight time. The senior right fielder from Satsuma batted over .500 during the three-game week.
In a three-game sweep of Stillman, Presnall hit .545 and slugged 1.091, while totaling six hits, four runs and four RBIs. He also stole four bases. In game two, he went 3-for-4 with a triple, homer and two driven in. In the finale, he went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and two steals. He is hitting .453 on the season with a .709 slugging percentage.
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