The University of Kentucky women’s basketball program has hired Crystal Kelly, a Louisville, Kentucky, native and 2004 Miss Kentucky Basketball, as its new assistant coach, it was announced by head coach Kyra Elzy on June 30.
“It is with great anticipation that we announce the hiring of Crystal Kelly,” Elzy said. “She is the total package. She takes great pride in being a product of Kentucky, and she understands the responsibility that it holds. Crystal was a talented in-state basketball player, which will benefit our program in numerous ways, but she also has had proven success in her coaching career. I have a lot of confidence in Crystal, and her contagious energy, competitive spirit and winning pedigree checks all the boxes for our program.”
Kelly comes to Lexington after serving two seasons as the associate head coach at Towson (2021-23). There, she helped Towson to back-to-back seasons of 20+ wins and two straight Women’s National Invitation Tournament appearances.
“Returning to my home state to coach at the University of Kentucky is such a privilege and honor,” Kelly said. “Coaching alongside Coach Elzy, who has mentored me for many years, is truly a full circle moment. As I step into this new role, I’m eager to build relationships with the student-athletes, collaborate with the staff and immerse myself in the unwavering passion of Big Blue Nation.”
The Wildcat is a native of Louisville, Kentucky, and played for Sacred Heart Academy, helping the girls basketball team to three straight Kentucky High School Athletic Association state championships (2002, 2003, 2004). While in high school, she was named the 2004 Miss Kentucky Basketball, 2004 Associated Press Player of the Year and the 2003 and 2004 Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year. She was also named an All-America by several outlets, among receiving other honors.
Elzy has known about Kelly for more than 20 years, leading the effort to sign Kelly to the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball class of 2004. Kelly went on to have a standout career at WKU (2004-08), so much so that the Hilltoppers retired her jersey (No. 42) in 2008. Kelly rewrote the record book during her college career, finishing with a school-record 2,803 points and 1,258 rebounds. Her scoring total also stood as a Sun Belt Conference record and made her the 12th leading scorer in NCAA Division I history at the time.
She still owns the school record in more than a dozen categories.
During her senior season at WKU (2007-08), she was named an All-American by the Associated Press, CBSSportsOnline.com and State Farm Coaches. She also earned Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year accolades that season, after averaging 22.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and leading the nation with a school-record .644 field-goal percentage. Moreover, Kelly scored a school-record 42 points in her final home game against Louisiana-Monroe, which was the same day her jersey was retired into the rafters at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Following her successful college career, Kelly was drafted in the third round, as the 31st overall pick, to the Houston Comets in the 2008 WNBA Draft. She played in the league for three seasons, in addition to playing professionally in Spain, Italy and Brazil.
Kelly has an extensive coaching career, which includes a couple of stops close to home.
Kelly spent four seasons as an assistant coach at Bellarmine (2012-16). Everything came together in her final season in 2015-16, when the Knights went 24-4, captured their first-ever Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament title and earned their first NCAA II Tournament berth since 2007-08. Bellarmine’s winning percentage (.857) also tied a program record that season.
She then spent one season as an assistant coach at Tennessee Tech (2016-17), before spending two seasons as an assistant coach at Xavier (2017-19). While in Cincinnati, Kelly led the post players, a group that included A’riana Gray, who earned All-Big East Honorable Mention status in 2018-19. Gray led the Musketeers with 13.9 points per game and led the conference with 11.5 rebounds per game. She was the only Big East player to average a double-double on the season.
Following that stretch, she returned to Tennessee Tech for an additional season (2019-20) and then to Bellarmine for an extra season (2020-21).
While at Kentucky, Kelly will work primarily with the post players and she will oversee recruiting.