Westmont Magazine Still Ruling the Court Down Under
When Mike Kelly ’91 took over as head coach of the Cairns Taipans, an Australian professional basketball team based in Queensland, they won their first game with him at the helm. The Taipans then lost their next 14 games, finishing the season 6-22 with half as many wins as the second-to-last-place team in the National Basketball League (NBL).
Mike completely overhauled the Taipans roster for the 2019-2020 season. He made some key adjustments early, and then they kept winning. An inspired country jumped on the Taipans bandwagon as they captured an unlikely post-season berth. Mike was named NBL Coach of the Year, earning the coveted Lindsay Gaze Trophy.
“Everything we’ve achieved in the last two years has been a great team effort,” Mike says. “This season’s improvement was built on the base of last season. We had a lot of new players but tried to continue to compete as a team and play unselfish, tough basketball. I continue to strive to get to know the guys and to put them in a position to play their best basketball.”
A former star at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana and part of the 29-0 team that won the 1985 CIF Championship, Mike played two years at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa before transferring to Westmont.
“I tried to recruit him to Fresno Pacific University where I was the head coach and athletic director at the time,” says John Moore, longtime head coach of Westmont’s men’s basketball team. “He made the right choice by coming to Westmont.”
As a Warrior, Mike made the All-GSAC Team in 1988 and 1989, leading the Warriors to a GSAC Championship and the NAIA National Tournament in 1988. In 50 games with the Warriors, he averaged 14.2 points a game, 17th on the Warriors all-time list.
“I loved playing ball at Westmont for coach Kammerer,” Mike says. “Chet helped me on the court but was even more important to me off the court. He showed me every day what it looks like to live your faith. He is a great model for me as a coach and man.
“The Westmont experience was really good for me, and I still have some of my best friends from those days. It was great to be in a close-knit community where I was challenged to talk about my faith. I have continued to learn and lean on God through playing and coaching. God has opened up amazing opportunities for me and my family.”
Mike had a lengthy and proficient career, playing professionally in Australia for 15 years. In his inaugural NBL season with the South East Melbourne Magic, he won the 1996 NBL Championship and was named MVP of the Championship Series. The following two seasons he won the Best Defensive Player Award. During his career, he led four different teams to the Grand Final.
“Mike is inspiring because he played power forward in college and became a terrific guard at the highest professional level in Australia—their version of the NBA—which is unheard of,” Moore says. “Mike was tenacious and a tremendous leader and teammate. He is no less so as a coach. He is relatable, understands the technical parts of the game and invests deeply in his players.”
In 2006, Mike served as an assistant coach for the Wollongong Hawks before returning to the U.S. to coach at Vanguard and Utah Valley universities. He returned to the NBL in 2013. As an assistant coach, he guided Melbourne United to a championship in 2018.
“I love the game of basketball,” Mike says. “I get to be around talented, motivated people who want to compete every day. It’s exciting to be challenged every day to get better.”
Mike and his wife, Annette, have a daughter, Ashton ’20, who graduated from Westmont this year. “I felt so good about her being in that great environment with friends close by and family in Orange County,” Mike says. “As much as we miss her over here, I know she’s been in the right place.”