(Editor’s note: University of Providence press release)
HELSINKI, Finland-Former Providence University men’s basketball player Zaccheus Darko-Kelly has signed a professional basketball contract with Helsinki Seagulls in Finland, the team announced last Friday.
Darko-Kelly, a three-time American who helped lead Argos ’first conference championship since 1983 last season, arrived in Helsinki on Thursday. Once the paperwork was cleared, he was allowed to play for the team’s first regular season game on Saturday.
“When I arrived, they had already started training, so I got to watch a little training,” Darko-Kelly said. – I trained the next day while waiting for a report, and luckily I got cleared just in time, so I was able to play on Saturday.
In her professional debut, Darko-Kelly recorded seven points, two rebounds, a pass and a steal, a loss against Kovout. He went 3-6 from the field, including 1-3 from outside the arc in 16 minutes.
“I’m basically just watering my feet,” he said. “Every day I get more and more comfortable. We have a new game coming, so I’m interested to see how it goes.”
The news of Darko-Kelly’s signing doesn’t surprise any Frontier Conference basketball fans who have seen her play. The Great Falls 6-foot-6 guard had a decorated collegiate career. Darko-Kelly originally played in Montana Western before moving to Providence, and she was a triple American, including 1st Team All-American twice in two seasons with Argos.
He was selected as the Frontier Conference Player of the Year in both seasons at UP, and led the team to the first Frontier Conference Championship since 1983. In the younger season, he became the first player in NAIA history to win three NAIA National Players. of the Week Honors, averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists during that period. He was fjunior Bevo Francis Award inalist, awarded annually to small college collegiate basketball players. If his high season hadn’t been shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Darko-Kelly would probably have darkened the 2,000-point mark in his career. He finished 1,881.
Such a career caught the attention of many eyeballs. When Darko-Kelly signed the representative, he received immediate professional interest. Before the NBA draft took place on July 31, Darko-Kelly practiced with six NBA teams, including the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors.
He didn’t get his name during the draft, but the Toronto Raptors gave him an offer to play in the NBA Summer League, which he accepted. He didn’t see the field in the first games, but got more minutes towards the end of the tournament and played 22 minutes in the team’s final game against Brooklyn Nets, where he had four points, two assists, two steals and one on board.
“It was very surreal,” Darko-Kelly said. “During the 14 days I was there with the team, I got to meet so many people. There were former players who are coaches for them now, players who are currently there and I have to meet. I only see occasional NBA players at the hotel , it was very surreal. I am very grateful for this opportunity. It was a great experience. “
With his head coach Argos, Steve Keller went to Las Vegas to watch him play against the NBA.
“I’ve never coached a guy who watched the NBA,” Keller said. “It was pretty amazing. He didn’t look out of place. He seemed to belong there.”
After the end of the summer league, finding a team progressed. Darko-Kelly hung around the United States, waiting a moment to see if he would open a place in the NBA G League or an invitation to an NBA team training camp. When these seats were filled, he flew to Germany to try out the teams of the Basketball Bundesliga (BBL), Germany’s highest professional basketball league. He tried on several teams in both Germany and France before the final signing with Helsinki.
For Darko-Kelly, the process was not as stressful as she originally expected. He thinks he was recruited from high school when asked about the mental perseverance required to try to stand out during these experiments.
“Obviously, transitioning from your team’s best player to maybe not, it’s hard at first, but then you realize that this is almost what every beginner goes through,” Darko-Kelly said. “It’s all a great learning process. You have to be able to improve every day all the time. The transition hasn’t been so difficult because I always felt like I had to prove myself in high school and college.”
Darko-Kelly has thrown a lot since arriving in Helsinki, but his new coach and teammates have been very hospitable. He plans to rely on several of his older teammates who have years internationally as he continues to get used to a whole new culture. However, one area where Darko-Kelly struggles the most is thinking about what to eat.
“The biggest problem I’ve had is food,” he said. “There’s good food out there, but it’s hard to come here, and the food you’re used to eating in America isn’t even a thing here. Being able to fill my diet differently has been challenging.”
He has also noticed a difference in the race.
“One thing I’ve noticed while I’m here is how detailed the attack and defense systems are,” he said. “It’s a lot faster in terms of attack current. Players are obviously better, it’s harder to score goals. In that regard, it’s been an adjustment. I think I’ve adapted well, it only takes a while to fully adapt.”
Since she announced she is not going to return to Providence and play professionally, Darko-Kelly has felt a lot of love from friends and family at home.
“People are constantly hitting me,” Darko-Kelly said. “When they announced that I signed here, so many people contacted me from Montana. Friends, family, former teammates, coaches. It’s been great. It makes me really proud of Montana because you can really say it they care about their people.”
“I’ve always been proud of him,” Keller said. “He started where he hadn’t been recruited, and he showed everyone that he should have been recruited. I’m proud of the person he’s become. He’s not only a good athlete and basketball player, but also a good person. That’s the most important thing.”
Currently, Darko-Kelly has one goal: to help his team win the league championship.
“I think we can win the league,” he said. “It’s early to say, but it’s my goal to come here. I want to do my best to help make it happen. I want to be the best teammate and player I can be on the team. Individually I want to learn as much as I can. I want to get better every day. Everyone I’ve been in the organization and on the team, talking about basketball. That’s the most important thing. ”