CHATHAM, NJ - Two years ago, the idea of reaching lofty goals such as attending an Ivy League college or accomplishing athletic milestones were hard to envision for Chatham basketball player Veronica Kelly.
Migraine headaches made schoolwork a grinding, exhausting chore that required nap breaks, and a lack of confidence led to nervous play on the basketball court.
"I had two concussions during one year of AAU basketball and then I had another minor one," Kelly said. "I'd get migraines and it would take me forever to get through my schoolwork. I got it done, but I got no sleep. Because of the concussions, the part of my brain that processes sight was a little off. Once I got the corrective eyeglasses, everything was so much easier."
It certainly has been a turnaround for the 6-2 senior, who is headed to play basketball at Dartmouth College and recently became the 10th player in Chatham girls basketball history to reach 1,000 career points.
Veronica Kelly is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
Kelly, who doesn't need glasses on the court, began to wear the corrective lenses her junior year and that was when the vision of her future came into focus.
"In my junior year, I got my ACT scores back and I said to myself, maybe I am smart," Kelly said. "Then I started winning awards in art and I thought, maybe I'm not just some girl who plays basketball. I had accomplishments in other parts of my life and it helped my confidence in basketball. I wasn't nervous anymore."
Kelly ended her junior year with the two highest-scoring games of her career and it has carried over to her senior year.
"I never had confidence until my junior year," she said. "It's nice that it's finally coming together. If I have a game where I'm not shooting great, I know there are other things that I can do to help the team win. I love blocking shots. Getting a good block is the most fun."
In addition to the 1,011 points she'll take into Chatham's game at Montville on Friday, Kelly has career totals of 773 rebounds and 239 blocked shots. An 88 percent free throw shooter, the forward's well-rounded game includes 8.6 rebounds per game, and season totals of 19 blocks, 30 steals and nine assists.
Chatham girls basketball coach Joe Gaba made Kelly a starter as a freshman and he's counted on her for consistent scoring over her four-year varsity tenure.
"Anytime you have a 1,000-point scorer, she's obviously a special player," Gaba said. "She came into the program when we needed some scoring and we inserted her into the lineup and she's had that role for us since she's been a freshman."
Kelly looked up to the Chatham varsity players as role models when she was younger, admitting that she wanted to be like Grace Conroy (2013 graduate). She received a text from Chatham's 9th player to reach 1,000 points, Cassandra Falone, whose message said: "Welcome to the club."
Kelly, however, was most touched by the Chatham youngsters who came up to her after her 1,000-point milestone.
"They made me a poster," Kelly said. "and told me I was their favorite player on the team. I was them with Grace Conroy, I wanted to be like her. It's funny to think I am them now. I thought they were so cool and mature. It's so humbling that kids are into it."
Kelly would like to pass along some of the confidence she's gained to her younger sisters, Courtney, a freshman point guard at the Academy of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, and Hannah, a sophomore on the Chatham varsity.
"I want them to know that they can achieve their goals," Kelly said. "I feel bad for my dad. When it's warm out, Hannah will get up early and shoot before school and Courtney will shoot after school and I'll shoot at night. He'll be outside rebounding for us all day."
Kelly is excited about the prospect of being able to study abroad at Dartmouth, where she plans to continue with visual arts as part of her studies. But right now, there is some unfinished business left on the basketball court.
"We've never won anything as a team and that's what I'm concentrating on," Kelly said. "I'm not thinking about how many points I can score, I'm thinking about what I can do to help the team win."
* Still active
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.