7:06 PM EST, February 22, 2013
It would make for a delicious metaphor to assert that Kelly Faris plays as if there is no scorebook.
Only it wouldn't be a metaphor.
"Points, that's one thing I never did emphasize very much," Bob Faris said. "There was never even a book kept on our AAU seasons."
No scorebook when you coached your youngest daughter and Indiana's Finest to the national 11-and-under title in 2003?
"Not even in the final game," he said.
Bob Faris coached his three daughters, Kristi, Kimmi, Kelly and his son Patrick in youth sports for upward of two decades in the Indianapolis area. He was a head coach, an assistant coach, handled multiple teams in one season. Family vacations were planned around the destination points of tournaments.
To look into the play of Kelly Faris one must first look into the head of her dad. So many fans have walked away from UConn women's games the past four years, nodding their heads, agreeing, "Faris plays like a coach's daughter." A postgame ritual, in fact, has developed this winter in which opposing coach after opposing coach raves about the totality of her game. None was more complimentary than Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti, who played in Faris' shoes 17 years earlier: "Kelly just wants to play basketball the way it was meant to be played."
Geno Auriemma not only has brought seven national titles to Connecticut, he has brought us a wide range of unforgettable characters. Diana Taurasi was Magic Johnson. Sue Bird was the girl next door. Svetlana Abrosimova was a 600-page Russian novel. And on and on …
On the surface, Faris, who will be honored at senior day before the Huskies face Seton Hall, evokes no great romance. At one point early on, Auriemma wondered if anybody from Plainfield, Ind., had teeth because he had never seen Faris smile. She walks into every opening tap looking as if she is about to undergo surgery. By halftime, you realize she is the surgeon. Her romance is in an unrelenting quest to maximize impact on every possession on both ends of the court.
Make no mistake, Kelly loves to play.
"Oh, yeah," Bob Faris said. "Loves it."
In the end, the only numbers that matter to the Faris clan are the ones on the scoreboard. Yet there also is a joy in connecting every single dot along the way. Some are easily quantifiable, like an assist directly leading to a basket. Some, like forcing a dribbling opponent into a bad spot or diving on the floor for a loose ball, are not. Yet each mean something in 150 possessions in a game.
Which brings us back to no scorebook:
"Points create a false sense of security for some kids," Bob Faris said. "There are so many things about how points are scored and scored against. What I tried to tell the kids was to try to positively impact as many possessions as you can for your team and that will increase your value. It might be a point, a block, a rebound, not committing a turnover under pressure."
"There are illusions you can talk yourself into when you look at a box score. If I can't figure out what's going on on the floor as a coach, how is knowing point totals going to help?"
Kelly is the youngest of four. When she was not quite 4, she played in a recreation league for 6- and 7-year-olds. From there, she joined middle sister Kimmi's U10 AAU team. She would spend six years on that team.
"The first three years, she didn't play a lot," Bob said. "We'd get up [by 30 or 40 points] and she'd get in, but the vast majority of the time she spent watching the game. She'd hear what we were talking about on the bench. At that age she didn't have a lot of distractions. I think it did her a lot of good in the long run."
Neither Bob nor Kelly, an honor student who had a 4.0 GPA one recent semester, is given to great bursts of emotion. Their passions are to be found in the quiet firing of synapses and neurons. Absorbing knowledge was never a problem for Kelly. Absorbing it quickly on the court is an acquired skill. Bob grew up six blocks from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he didn't want Kelly feeling like she was playing in the Indy 500.
"We had a city boys league in Indianapolis and they allowed her to play," Bob said. "What I was trying to do was to get her used to a quicker, more physical style of play. You've got to make your decisions faster and that in turn will help slow down the game in your head. Playing with the boys brought it to a head at a younger age."
Kelly would go on to lead Christian Heritage to four Indiana 2A high school titles. Her team went 108-8. In perhaps the greatest tribute to the Faris quest of impacting every possession, she nearly choked the stat sheet one game: 14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals.
There would be interest from several colleges. Intent on Kelly making her own choice, Bob said at one point that she seemed stalled with indecision.
"She said, 'I haven't heard from UConn again,'" Bob said. So he called and talked to Chris Dailey.
"Chris had been led to believe by another coach that Kelly had made a decision to stay in state," Bob said. "She wanted to know if I was calling to say that was so."
On the contrary, Bob said, and the recruiting game was on. Kelly would sit with Auriemma in his office. They went to dinner at Nathan Hale Inn. Bob listened. Eventually a half-dozen candidates became Notre Dame and UConn.
"Kelly already had gone to bed one night," said Bob, who played football at the University of Indianapolis. "She came downstairs and said I've made my up mind. I didn't know what she was going to say next."
She said UConn.
"There were a lot of schools she could have gone to and contributed," Bob said. "I don't know that any of them would have been a better fit for her in her development as a player and person. The mind-set at UConn, the way they approach things, it's exactly us. It fits us like a glove."
Not that all the fingers didn't need to grow. Faris shot 38.2 percent, including 27 percent on threes, in her freshman year.
"As a real young player, she was a good three-point shooter," Bob said. "As she got into middle school and high school, she was taller [5-11] than a lot of the kids and spent a lot of time in the paint. I thought she could get back to it, but it was going to take some time. She needed to shoot shots."
And so she did, 500 a day at times.
"It's not totally natural, but she has come a long way," Bob said.
As a senior, she's shooting 53.6 percent, including 41.5 percent on threes. Faris leads the team with 66 steals and 104 assists. She's averaging 5.2 rebounds as a guard. Not that Bob or Kelly care, she's averaging 10.5 points.
"Any time I see a 5-10, 5-11 kid playing center on their team, and they win a state championship, I figure they are going to be pretty good," Auriemma said. "Playing out of position in high school, you knew once they got to college they'd be able to do more than dribble and shoot threes."
Midwestern ice storm permitting, Bob, who owns a direct mail and advertising firm, his wife, Connie, all the siblings and Kelly's godparents are expected at Gampel Pavilion for senior day.
"This represents a culmination of the commitment," Bob Faris said. "All Kelly ever wanted to do since she was little was to keep getting better. This is the end of a chapter and the start of another book hopefully [to play in the WNBA]."
And then Bob Faris stopped. "She's not happy with some of the losses obviously," he said.
The school she turned down, Notre Dame, has beaten UConn five of the past six times. It wasn't a shock after the January loss to the Irish that she tried to personally take responsibility. She had scored 13 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, dished seven assists but insisted that her defense against Kayla McBride had cost her team.
"For Kelly, it comes down to could this or that possession have gone differently," Bob Faris said. "Against Notre Dame, it came down to one. Against Baylor, it was two or three. When it comes down to so few, you can find fault with yourself. I know that's a bad feeling for her. She never wants to be responsible for helping the team lose."
Over the past eight years, Kelly Faris' teams are 240-17, including 132-9 at UConn. By any scorebook — or no scorebook — she will be defined by each possession that led to those incredible numbers.
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