About ten miles from the northwest coast of Portugal lies the city of Oliveira de Azeméis, one of many cities throughout the southwestern European nation that plays host to a professional basketball team. In this town, U.D. Oliveirense is one of 12 teams in the country’s top league of competition, Liga Portuguesa de Basquetebol (Portuguese Basketball League). The team dedicates itself to finding the best players it can. One of those players they found was Raijon Kelly, a 6’ 4” 180 pound guard/forward from St. Paul, Minnesota.
Kelly, who played with the Cedar Valley CourtKings in 2017 and was named the most valuable player of last season’s league championship game, was thrilled to get the chance to play in Portugal. “It was a good experience,” he said. “Going overseas, trying new food, meeting new people, and playing the game you love was great!” In 16 games of action in Europe, Kelly compiled a stat sheet of 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists, all while shooting 50% from the field. He even got the opportunity to start in two games.
Kelly described how amazed he was when he first got to Portugal.“Getting off the plane was amazing,” Kelly explained. “That first initial shock factor that hits when you’re in another country. It doesn’t matter how many times you’re in Europe. When it’s a new country, you just try to immerse yourself in it.” Despite being away from home, Kelly explained how his teammates with U.D. Oliveirense made him feel welcome. “The guys embrace you. It’s very similar to being here.You don’t know what to expect, but everybody loves basketball so you just all mesh together.” U.D. Oliveirense finished the 2017-2018 season in fourth place in the league, and even made a run into the playoffs before falling in the semi-finals to Benfica, a team playing in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, 3-0 in a best-of-five series.
Coming back to the CourtKings for his second season, Kelly explains the one thing he has on his mind. “Another championship,” he said. “Being here in such a small city, everybody embraces you as they show up. The past two years have been championship or nothing, why not continue it?” In his return to the CourtKings last Saturday in an exhibition win over the Wisconsin Gamechangers, Kelly added 19 points to the team’s 134-117 victory. Fans can see him in action once again at this coming Sunday’s regular season opener as the CourtKings take on the North Minneapolis Eagles at 7:30pm at the Cedar Valley SportsPlex. Join us as we honor the 2017 Midwest Basketball League champions, hand out the rings, and unveil the new championship banner.