Making waves in women’s hoops: Kelley Deyo’s long-lasting impact on the world of women’s college basketball

In the electrifying conclusion to the women’s basketball NCAA tournament in 2001, Notre Dame and Purdue clashed in a showdown for the ages, with 11,000 fans filling the arena. With just five seconds left on the clock, the score stood deadlocked at 66.

Every heartbeat resonated in the thunderous roar of the crowd. Notre Dame’s Kelley (Siemon) Deyo, the 6-foot-2-inch senior forward, watched anxiously as her teammate Ruth Riley stepped up to the free-throw line. The tension was palpable as Riley’s shot miraculously found its mark, sealing Notre Dame’s victory.

The last-ditch effort by Purdue fell short, and the crowd erupted in jubilation. Commentators summed up the momentous occasion, saying, “The Irish can celebrate the 2001 national championship, and they earned it. … They win it here tonight, the final 68-66.”

Reflecting on that unforgettable moment, Kelley could not believe it. 

“I ended on a win with a national championship my senior year,” Kelley said. “I thought my basketball career was done.”

Kelley Deyo and the Fighting Irish won the National Championship in 2001 | Photo Provided

Little did Kelley know, her love for basketball would lead her back to the court, this time as a coach and an analyst. Her journey from standout athlete to mentor exemplifies a deep-rooted connection to the game. Despite setbacks and self-doubt during her collegiate years, Kelley drew inspiration from her father’s humility and faith, realizing her own path to self-discovery and spiritual growth.

Her time at Notre Dame shaped not only her skills on the court, but also her character off of it. Wrestling with doubts and insecurities, Kelley found solace in her faith, embracing her role as a servant and leader.

“I started my freshman and sophomore year only to lose my starting spot in my junior year,” Kelley said. “I couldn’t take criticism. I was always deflecting blame. It was never my fault.”

Her father, however, is former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jeff Siemon. Kelley drew strength from her father’s examples of humility and perseverance. She watched him go from suffering an injury to becoming a first-round draft pick in the NFL to playing in the Super Bowl. 

“There was nothing Viking-related in our home. Everything was in the basement in boxes,” Kelley said. “He didn’t just speak about humility. He practiced humility. … He always told me, ‘People think I’m important because of what I’ve done. But I want them to know that they are important because of who God made them to be.’ It’s so good to invest in others and not sit in the limelight and build your own kingdom.” 

Those standards inspired Kelley as she entered her senior year with the Fighting Irish. She was in a place of self-doubt, motivated to bounce back as a team player. 

“I need to go into this senior year and just serve. I need to play my butt off, win every sprint — which I could because I was fast — and I did. Never fake an injury in the preseason,” Kelley said of her senior year mindset. “I got better because I realized I was doing things wrong.”

Kelley got her starting spot back at the beginning of the year. During that memorable season, her faith and performance earned her the Big East Conference’s Most Improved Player award, coinciding with her achievement of reaching the 1,000-point milestone in the final game of her career. Additionally, she received accolades by being named to both the Big East All-Tournament team and the NCAA East Regional All-Tournament team.

“To be able to be a part of that whole journey and then to finish that way,” Kelley said. “God, I know you did it for a lot of different reasons, but the fact that you did that for me in that moment showed me so much about his love for me.”

Again, believing she had no desire to coach and ending her basketball career early, her journey took an unexpected turn when she was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks in the third round of the WNBA draft.

“Sure, it was an honor, but do I want to do this?” Kelley said. “I had already seen the pro life from my dad and didn’t have this glamorized view of it.”

Overhearing about the “Athletes in Action” program in Prague from a friend, a global community to help coaches and athletes grow spiritually, mentally and physically both on and off the field, Kelley discovered a new purpose beyond basketball.

“I picked up the phone, dialed Michael Cooper, the Sparks’ head coach, and turned down the offer,” Kelley said.

She would then meet Adam Deyo (her husband), reevaluate her priorities, and commit to living a life of faith and service.

Kelley Deyo with her family | Photo Provided

“Adam was doing ministry with the men out there. I was leading a Bible study with my little team in Vienna, and we won the championship, too,” Kelley said. “We took the earnings from that and went literally from north to south Italy for a month and just had the best time traveling all of Europe.”

Eventually, Kelley received an email from Flames Head Coach Carey Green — an opportunity to coach.

“And I still had no desire. He had already asked me again and again, and I said no,” Kelley said. “He told me the Lord put me on his heart and that my husband can get his master’s in business for free.”

Joining the Liberty University Flames as an assistant coach, Kelley made an immediate impact. The Lady Flames accumulated a 95-32 record and, in three of the four years, Big South Conference champions and NCAA tournament appearances.

Initially, Kelley took on a coaching role with the mindset of a temporary commitment. However, with her husband as the director of operations on the court and their newborn baby, she quickly fell in love with coaching, rediscovering her passion for the sport.

It was a pivotal moment when she coached Katie Mattera, who struggled with insecurities similar to Kelley’s own. Reflecting on her experience guarding Riley in practice, Kelley helped Mattera with the depth of her own abilities and identity on the court. She recognized that her coaching journey was not just about the game but about empowering others to reach their full potential.

Those reassuring moments would add up in 2005, when the Lady Flames advanced to their first Sweet Sixteen. 

“I realized how much I loved this game and how much I loved teaching it,” Kelley said. “To come alongside Carey Green and learn in another system, learn what he values, his Xs and Os, I’m just so thankful that I got that opportunity being so young.”

Through it all, Kelley remained grounded in her faith, finding strength and purpose in God’s plan for her life. Despite personal challenges including the micro-preemie birth of her son, Kelley trusted in God’s provision and direction.

“I was able to sit in my identity and say, ‘God, all these things that you say about me are true. I don’t have to earn just like I did in salvation because I’m your daughter,’” Kelley said. “From that mindset, you have the freedom to be able to play and fail and then succeed. All those things I counted as gain, I now count loss for the sake of Christ. All those moments are just a little part. He’s giving me these tastes of victory and success in this life. But this is just a vehicle for you to be doing what you want to do, which is talk to people about my love for them, what I say about them. And if I’m using this because you’re gifted at this, that’s what this is.”

Her transition to broadcasting was unexpected but clearly orchestrated by God’s intervention.

“My mom, strangely, for some reason, after I was done with coaching basketball, she said this to me a few times,” Kelley said. “She’s like, ‘Kelley, I could just see you in TV, like something in TV.’ And I was like, ‘Mom, I have a sociology degree at Notre Dame. That is not an entry point into any television.’”

Kelley Deyo served as a sideline reporter for the ACC tournament and now provides color commentary from the booth for many broadcasts | Photo Provided

Then, Bruce Carey, the former producer of all Liberty sports, ran into Kelley in a chance encounter at Thomas Road Baptist Church. 

“He told me he’s been looking for me and that they have an open position for color commentator and wanted me to take the job for Liberty,” Kelley said. 

From that moment forward, she found joy in sharing her insights and love for the game with viewers across the nation. Despite never having an agent, she seized numerous opportunities with Liberty Athletics, and her broadcasting career flourished with each open door. Beginning with Big South games, her trajectory soared as she transitioned to covering the Big South tournament, the Horizon League tournament and beyond. 

Suddenly, she found herself calling ACC games and even landing roles with ESPN. God continued to pave the way for her, opening doors she never imagined walking through, including working as a sideline reporter for the ACC tournament.

“I love the story, because it’s like, there is no lack with God. If he is calling you to something, he will 100% provide even when I wondered how. Now I get paid to watch women’s basketball games and talk about them,” Kelley said. 

Beyond basketball, Kelley’s identity is rooted in caring for others, a trait she learned from her father. As a mother of four and a devoted wife, she finds joy in serving her family and welcoming others into her home. Her commitment to building a place of worship reflects her desire to continue spreading God’s love and grace in her community.

Coleman is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. 

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