Ebony Kelly was one of a group of people who gave me a deep appreciation for high school girls’ basketball during my first year as a 22-year-old prep sports columnist during the 1987-88 season.
An all-conference player for the Minneapolis North Polars that year before moving on to earn a college degree at Arizona State University seven years later, Kelly passed away last week at the age of 49 in Phoenix, Arizona.
It was her calming presence and teaming with backcourt mates Margaret Davis and Mymique Baxter, forwards Daphne Walker and Stacia Hines, and center Gloria Holcomb that led North to their second consecutive City Conference title, in the process changing my whole perspective on girls’ basketball.
Kelly was a 5’-5” point guard who could score in bunches, put anyone in position to score, and was just as excellent on the defensive side of the ball. With an 11-1 record, the Polars earned the right to represent Minneapolis in the Twin Cities championship game against St. Paul Harding.
In an 88-70 loss, Kelly had 15 points as teammates Walker and Hines led the way with 22 and 19 points respectively.
After North’s season ended in region play, Kelly graduated and enrolled at Arizona State University. She settled in the Phoenix area for the remainder of her life.
So before North legends Tamara Moore and Mauri Horton put the Polars on the girls’ basketball map in the late 1990s, Kelly led a group of young ladies to success a decade earlier. She was loved by many and had quite an influence on the North High community during her days as a student athlete.
Kelly was one of the most dominant prep basketball players of her era, and more importantly, she was a great person who will be missed.
Rest easy, Ebony.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.