Kisha (Kelley) Simpson: Daddy's Girl
Feb. 22, 2010
By Larry Watts, Contributor, BigTen.org
She came to Michigan State as a shy homebody, a self-proclaimed daddy's girl, and someone who cried every time her family dropped her off for the start of a new school year.
She is now an outgoing personality who longs to meet new people, aspires to help others, and wants to see places the world has to offer.
It's more than fair to say her time at Michigan State changed Kisha Kelley (now Kisha Simpson).
"I didn't want to leave the Detroit area (for college), I didn't want to be away from home," Simpson said. "(Michigan State) opened up my eyes to a lot of things."
The youngest of five children in the Kelley household, Simpson was raised in a family-oriented atmosphere where, like most families, everyone looked closely after one another. The family wouldn't stray far from the environment, rarely taking a family trip or participating in many organized activities.
And even though they came from a family that hadn't excelled in athletics in the past, the Kelley kids could routinely be found playing sports outdoors. The childhood games of baseball, dodgeball and tag were commonplace, as was basketball, the sport that seemed to come easiest to Simpson.
Becoming the first member of her family to play any kind of organized sport, Simpson joined the seventh grade basketball team. The quiet, reserved one in the classroom, Simpson's game spoke volumes.
The game that came so easy to her got even more so throughout high school, averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds as a senior. Simpson was a first-team all-state selection by both the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, participated in the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan All-Star game, and was part of the All-Star Shrine Tour in 1989 and 1990.
Her athletic honors might have been dwarfed only by the constant show of support from and her connection to her family.
"We were always very close growing up. We always took care of each other," she said. "They came to all my games. Any activity that I was in growing up, everybody was there. Anybody you would ask would tell you how close we were."
That's what made accepting a scholarship offer to Michigan State so difficult.
Unlike most prospective student-athletes, Simpson never took part in summer camps or AAU teams, so she had gone mostly unnoticed by anyone outside of the Detroit area. Longtime Michigan State coach Karen Langeland got word of the talented forward out of Benedictine High School and went to scout one of her games. Clearly impressed by her potential, it only took that one game for Langeland to quickly offer Simpson a scholarship.
The soon-to-be high school graduate was hesitant to accept, mainly because she didn't want to leave home. But her father, Ronald, saw to it that she head to East Lansing in 1991.
"I really had no input because my father was like, `It's Michigan State; you're going. It's a good school. You're going and you're going to play'," Simpson recalled her father saying. "He enjoyed watching me play basketball, but his thing was my education."
Her entire family came to help her move to campus for the start of the new year, not just for her freshman year, but every time she went back to school. And every time, they all cried when they had to say goodbye.
"We're very emotional as a family," she said.
Ronald was sure to visit her frequently, as he was a fixture in the stands of the Breslin Center during her career. He also traveled to some away games and even made a trip to California just to watch his daughter play.
Road trips, such as the one her sophomore year to California, throughout her career allowed Simpson to see parts of the country she never would have the opportunity to otherwise, and gave her a taste of the world outside of Michigan. Her teams traveled all across the Midwest, played a tournament in Puerto Rico and had road games in Arizona and North Carolina.
"Playing at Michigan State was the first time that I was able to really travel and see other places," she said. "And that's what I really liked about being a part of the basketball team. I don't think I would have traveled as much had I not been playing sports."
But no amount of travel could stave off feelings of loneliness from her home and family. She didn't have much free time, but when she did, she always tried to get back home. No need for a family birthday or other special occasion to return - she just missed them.
At times throughout her freshman year, she wanted to transfer closer to home, but Ronald convinced her that remaining at Michigan State was in her best interest.
Ronald was always her biggest fan during her career as a Spartan. He watched her average 15 points a game as a sophomore, then looked on as she earned All-Big Ten honors and was voted team MVP after averaging 19 points as a junior.
"I have always been a daddy's girl, ever since I was little," she said. "Wherever my daddy would go, I would go. He was such a cheerleader for me, and I got used to it. I got used to him always being there."
Just before her senior season, Ronald died unexpectedly, leaving Simpson crushed. At the time, Simpson said she just wanted to finish the season and go home.
"I want to do well for my dad," she said in 1994.
Her teammates dedicated the season to him - and so did she. Writing "I love Dad" on her socks for every game, Simpson finished the 1994-95 season averaging 18.9 points and 5.9 rebounds in leading Michigan State to 16 wins, which at the time tied for third-most in school history.
She was named first-team All-Big Ten, became Michigan State's all-time leading scorer, finishing her career with 1,668 points (currently third all-time), and was named the program's first All-American, garnering honorable mention honors from the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.
She finished with a Spartan career that any father would be proud. And now she also understands why he told her Michigan State was the place for her.
"I had a good education, I met wonderful people when I went to Michigan State, I was able to travel, and I have friendships now from 15 years ago, so I think it was an awesome idea for me," Simpson said. "I'm glad I had a parent there that was looking out for my best interests and not concerned with making me happy, but was thinking that in the long run that I'd appreciate this.
"Just that little bit at Michigan State has made me want to do more, travel more, meet more people and that's what it helped me do."
After graduating with a degree in criminal justice, Simpson returned to school and received her master's degree in social work in 2007.
She currently works at Star Commonwealth in Detroit, an organization that works with juveniles that are involved in the court system and provides counseling, tutoring, employment assistance and family therapy. Additionally, she supervises an independent living program, in conjunction with the court system and the Department of Human Services, that helps neglected children learn life skills.
Simpson is also an avid traveler, routinely taking trips within the United States and making yearly visits to Florida. She loves New York, travels there as often as possible and has such a fondness for it, she named one of her daughters Harlem. Now wanting to journey to the far reaches of the world, Simpson hopes to make a trip back to Puerto Rico and is making arrangements for Greece, Rio and Africa.
A married mother, Simpson has changed from the shy, homebody who always wanted to be close to home to an outgoing, community leader set on traveling the world, thanks to a little push from her father and the life lessons learned at Michigan State.
"Some of it I didn't see while I was there, because I was trying to get back home, but I had a little sprinkle of it, a little taste of it," Simpson said. "As I matured, I realized, it's OK, your family is going to be here regardless. You can go off and see and do things and you're going to be OK. That's what I learned from Michigan State."
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