He needed something to do.
Tommy Kelly, who starred at Niskayuna High School in boys’ basketball, had tried to get a summer job. Without much luck, though, he ended up with more free time than he knew what to do with as he waited to head back to Hartwick College for his junior year. To fill some of those hours last summer, he started posting video clips to social media of him bouncing ping-pong balls in creative ways into a plastic cup.
“I didn’t expect people to like it so much. It started off as a joke,” Kelly said. “Then, I did one with a Frisbee, and then I was like, ‘Why haven’t I done one with basketball yet?’”
So that came next, and the 21-year-old has stuck with that as he’s approached his junior season with Hartwick, which starts Friday with a 7:30 p.m. game at Union College before a home game Tuesday against Skidmore. In those games, Kelly will play a much more reserved game than the one he demonstrates in his social-media posts that regularly generate several thousand views apiece on his account. Some of his trick shots have been re-posted by other accounts with greater reach, and have received as many as hundreds of thousands of views.
“And I gained 1,000 followers on Instagram last week,” said Kelly, which nearly doubled his count on that platform, which showed him with a little more than 2,200 followers as of Thursday evening.
The videos on his account — “tommytrickshot” is his handle on Instagram, while he’s also started to post his clips on Twitter where he’s @tommytrickshot_ — are worth tracking down to watch. In the latest, he puts the basketball between his legs while spinning in the air, then, before landing, tosses the ball across the court several dozen feet into a basket. Right before that, he posted one in which he ran past the basket, jumped feet first into a wall to spin himself as he put the ball around his back, then rocketed the ball — before landing — off an adjacent wall and back into the hoop.
Kelly said all the videos he posts are legitimate, but they all require far more than one take. It’s normal, he said, for it to take between 20 and 30 minutes for him to execute his trick-shot ideas. A couple times, he’s had to quit for the day and head back into the gymnasium the next day to get the shot right.
“I have some crazy ideas,” Kelly said, “so they take a lot of time.”
No shot, he said, took longer than the one he posted a clip of in early October. In that one, Kelly dribbles in toward a basket on Hartwick’s main court, then slams it off the backboard to send it toward a different basket on the side of the gymnasium. Off a bounce, the shot landed in its target basket, leaving Kelly to end the video by casually throwing on his backpack and baseball hat before exiting the gym.
“I wanted to act cool and show it off,” Kelly said, “but, inside, I was screaming.”
Kelly graduated from Niskayuna High School in 2016, then headed to Bridgton Academy, a Maine prep school, for part of the following school year. Early in his basketball season at Bridgton Academy, though, he suffered a gruesome injury to his left arm. After a drive to the basket, Kelly said he fell and landed awkwardly on his arm, breaking his forearm and wrist.
Not long after his injury, he committed to play for Hartwick head coach Waleed Farid, who Kelly said was the lone coach that didn’t waver in recruiting him after the nasty fall.
“That was really big for me,” Kelly said of Farid’s loyalty.
Last season, Kelly averaged 12.1 points in 26.2 minutes per game and made 18 starts.
“This year, we have a lot of talent. The knock on us the last two years was that we were young, but now we’re returning a lot of guys,” Kelly said. “We just have to prove it on the court. Friday, we have to play really well.”
During the season, Kelly said it will be difficult for him to post many new trick shots. His coach, though, gets a kick out of the videos, and has an idea for Kelly’s next video when the player is ready for a challenge. The idea, Kelly explained, is for the junior to stand at center court in Hartwick’s gymnasium, and make consecutive shots from there on each of the six baskets in Hartwick’s gymnasium.
“But I don’t know if that’s possible,” Kelly, laughing, said.