By Bill Foley
Billy “The Kid” Kelly’s basketball career will continue past high school.
The recent Butte High graduate signed an NAIA National Letter of Intent to play for coach Steve Keller at the University of Providence in Great Falls.
Kelly signed in front of his family and some friends Wednesday morning at Butte High’s Richardson Gym.
For the 6-foot guard, Wednesday was a dream come true.
“I always wanted to go play college basketball or a college sport somewhere, but I never thought it would be up there,” Kelly said. “I just knew it would be somewhere.”
Kelly, whose full name William Bonney Kelly was inspired by the notorious gunfighter, will get his foot in the door as a scholarship player in the Argos junior varsity program.
Butte High coach Matt Luedke, who sent seven players to college when he coached at Choteau, said he expects Kelly to take full advantage of the opportunity.
“Billy has next-level quickness,” Luedtke said. “I’m really excited to see his progression up there. I think he’s capable. It is going to be a great opportunity for Billy. It’s a really special thing, and Billy earned it.
“I’m really excited for Billy. He’s obviously a very talented kid.”
Luedke knows a thing or two about the junior varsity program in college. He coached the Montana Western JV team for three years under Keller. He pointed out that one of his JV players, Kyle Erickson, went on to become a 2012 NAIA All-American.
The opportunity comes during a time when a lot of graduates have found themselves squeezed out because of COVID-19. The summer tournaments, where players often showcase their talent for college coaches, were wiped out, and the 2020-21 season did not count against college players’ eligibility.
Plus, Luedtke said, the Frontier Conference is a major step up from high school basketball.
“There’s not a ton of guys who are ready to go play in the Frontier right away,” Luedtke said. “The JV program gives them that chance.”
Kelly is looking to be the first Butte High graduate to play college ball since 2016 grad Patrick O’Herron played at Chandler Gilbert Community College in Arizona. He is hoping to be the first Bulldog to play in the Frontier since 2012 grad Austin Davis took his talents to Montana Tech.
The signing comes after Kelly helped lead the Bulldogs to back-to-back trips to the Class AA State tournament. He averaged 11.7 points and 3.2 assists for the Bulldogs this past season.
He lettered four years in basketball, and looked primed for a huge season as a junior. His season, however, was cut short by a broken ankle, and he played in just eight games. Kelly averaged 10.4 points and 3.9 assists in that span.
Kelly returned to the team for the Western AA Divisional tournament in Missoula, where he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery. That injury meant Kelly had to miss the 2020 football season a year after starting at cornerback for Butte High’s Class AA runner-up team.
A future business major, Kelly thanked Luedke for going the extra mile to get him a spot on a college roster.
“He helped me a lot,” Kelly said of Luedtke, who coached him two years at Butte High. “He did all the talking to the coaches. He knows a lot of coaches, and it was nice to have someone help me out like that.”
Luedke said he expects Kelly to only get better once he gets to work with Keller and the defending Frontier Conference champion Argos.
“He’s got a great program with really good players,” Luedtke said of Keller. “When you go play college ball, and you’re playing against those guys every day, you get better just by being there.”
Kelly, the son of Bill and Darcy Kelly of Butte, played some varsity time with his brother, Kash, as a freshman and sophomore.