In the 2007-2008 season, the Colts were 22-11 and reached the 12th Region tournament championship game. The success came under Coach Robert Hammonds, who left West Jessamine last month to take an assistant principal's positions at Letcher County Central. He will also be the head basketball coach at the school.
The recent string of success and the return of key players for the Colts played into the hiring process.
"Our program has reached a point where its successful and we're competitive on a consistent basis, and having sad that, I wanted a coach that has been there and done the things our program has done. Coach Kelley exactly fits that," West Principle Ed Jones said. "He knows what it takes to get there. He's been there and experienced those things, so I think he knows what it takes to take a team and keep them there and that was a big thing."
Lafayette won a state in 2001, while Kelley was an assistant. They also won an 11th Region title and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004 while he occupied the top post.
Kelley was not rehired after last season and was given no reason as to why. But Kelley is fine with the change.
"I always believe if you do things right, good things are going to happen to you," he said. "I think the best thing to ever happen to me professionally is to walk into this situation."
And he knows he's taking a job for a school that's in a good position.
"I feel like I'm walking into a gold mine," he said. "I think it's a great school and a great community. As far as basketball, obviously, they had an extremely successful season last year. You've got a lot of kids coming back. I think this program really has a chance to take off."
He expects the Colts to continue to compete for a 12th Region title and a chance at another run to Rupp, every season.
"No one is going to dominate the 12th Region, but there's no reason we can't be there every year," he said.
Lafayette and West met once last season, in the Marion County Holiday Homecoming Tournament in late December. The Generals won that matchup 85-84. That experience, coupled with watching the Colts in the Sweet Sixteen, gives Kelley an idea of what kind of team he'll be leading next season.
"I remember telling my assistants after the game, 'Their kids don't do anything to beat them selves,'" he said. "They're very disciplined. They're very structured. They know what their roles are. They know what it takes to be successful. Then I sat at Rupp and watched them and it was the same thing, but they were playing even better than when I had seen them in December."
The Colts return leading scorer Jarrod Polson, inside presence David Elliott, swingman Keston Bartholomew and sharpshooter Kyle Mefford. They also return Dylan Pohl who saw more action as the season went on and could be a strong interior player with the ability to step out and hit long-range jumpers, for the Colts.
With a team returning strong players and major contributors to a deep postseason run, Jones said he was excited to hear Kelley said he had no intentions of rocking the boat.
"The biggest thing is just what he said, 'I'm not going to come in year one and just change everything. You're successful. You're successful with the offense you're running. You're successful with the defense you're running. I'm not going to come in and say this is the Damon Kelley way of doing things and just change it,'" Jones said. "I really liked and appreciated that as much as anything else he said to me."
With the recent success and the number of returning players, expectations could be very high for a new coach. But Kelley has no problem with that.
"I don't know if the expectations here are any higher than I've ever had for my own teams," he said. "I don't care what our final record has been at anytime, or what the final score of a game is. I go into every game expecting to win and beliving if we do the things we need to do, we'll come out on top. I've been part of some great teams. I've been a part of teams that have struggled. I'll take high expectations from the fans and the community every single day, because that means you have talent and you have a chance to be successful."
Jones said Kelley will be teaching math and he was just as excited about Kelley's presence in the classroom as he was about what Kelley could do with the basketball program.