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Simon Kenton basketball star decided not to play in college after falling off recruiting radar

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

The leading scorer in Kentucky boys high school basketball last season has decided not to continue his playing career in college.

Kelly Niece, who averaged 30.1 points per game as a senior guard for Simon Kenton, said he received partial scholarship offers from a couple of college teams, but he “didn’t want to pay to play another four years.”

Kelly Niece was the leading scorer in Kentucky boys high school basketball last season with a 30.1 average.

Niece said he enrolled at Northern Kentucky University for the upcoming fall semester and plans to major in criminal justice. He took a job at DHL in Florence that offers college tuition reimbursement for its employees.

“It was definitely a difficult decision, but I think there’s more that I want to do in life that I can do now that I couldn’t do if I had to work out and do basketball every day,” he said.

The 6-foot-3 guard had an exceptional senior season. He became the first Simon Kenton boys basketball player to lead the state in scoring and moved to the top of the team’s career scoring list with 2,481 points in five varsity seasons.

Niece was named 10th Region Player of the Year by the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches and he was voted one of the top 10 players in the state in a post-season coaches poll conducted by the Louisville Courier Journal newspaper.

In addition to being the state’s scoring leader, he made 88.7 percent of his free throws, which ranked third in the state. He also shot 60 percent from the field with the majority of his baskets coming from inside the 3-point line.

“He is very creative at getting to his spots on the floor and very efficient at finishing when he gets there,” said Simon Kenton coach Trent Steiner. “He’s the type of teammate you want to play with.”

Kelly Niece was voted one of the state’s top 10 players by high school coaches.

But college basketball coaches do most of their recruiting during the off-season and the last two summers did not go well for Niece. He spent the summer before his junior year recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. Last summer, most of the AAU tournaments that showcase high school basketball players were cancelled due to the pandemic.

“That had a big part in it,” Niece said of his lack of scholarship offers.”Last year, I got in like two tournaments at the end of the summer and it was maybe eight games, and the college coaches could only watch on (computer) screens. And then the summer between my sophomore and junior year, that was when I tore my ACL, so I only got in one tournament.”

Niece did have an opportunity to play one more high school season. The Kentucky state legislature passed a bill that gives students a supplemental school year due to disruptions caused by the pandemic, but he wanted to move on with his life.

“It was a culmination of things that came together,” he said. “It started to be more of a job to me than a game. I just thought there was more to life than basketball.”

If an opportunity to play in college would come along, Niece doesn’t know if he would return to the game.

“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “It’s out of my mind right now, but we’ll see in another month or so.”


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