Eliezer Delbrey was going for broke. It didn’t matter that he was the youngest person to participate in a basketball tryout for the Puerto Rican Under-15 Junior National Team.
By youngest, we’re talking about a rising talent who was in the eighth grade when he flew to Puerto Rico last spring for a three-day process. There were 13 slots available and 15 individuals trying out.
“Everyone else was in high school … two or three grades ahead of me,” said Delbrey, currently a freshman at Classical High.
At the end of three grueling days of tryouts that were held in three different locations in Puerto Rico, Delbrey received positive feedback that doubled as affirmation. It didn’t matter that he was going up against more experienced players. The mission of holding his own had been met.
There was just one caveat, one that was accompanied by a your-time-will-come vibe.
“I was just too young to play,” said Delbrey, “but the experience helped me a lot. It made me a tougher guard.”
Teams that have squared off against Classical this winter would concur that Delbrey has been a tough matchup. Entering the final full week of the regular season, the soft-spoken ninth grader has emerged as a savior of sorts. Injuries to key personnel forced veteran Classical head coach John Kavanaugh to take the training wheels off his prized newcomer probably sooner than he anticipated. The response on Delbrey’s part has resembled the take-no-prisoners attitude that enabled him to push hard for a roster spot on last summer’s Puerto Rican National Team.
Within Interscholastic League circles, the 6-foot-1 Delbrey has served notice that his time is now. For that, Classical can thank the chip that was planted on his shoulder courtesy of a certain tryout experience that ultimately didn’t go his way.
“It resonated with me a lot,” said Delbrey. “All confidence and no fear when I go into [high school] games … making sure I put my foot down.”
Added Kavanaugh, “He definitely believes in himself and his ability. His experience [down in Puerto Rico] told him he was there but that he needed to do more.”
One of Kavanaugh’s former Classical players advised him about Delbrey. The same ex-Purple contributor happens to be Delbrey’s uncle (Gilbert Resto). A member of the R.I. Elite grassroots program who ran into few equals on the hardwood when he starred at Providence’s DelSesto Middle School. Delbrey has already started to form a solid base concerning his recruiting portfolio. Last October, he was invited to Philadelphia for the Pangos All-East Freshman/Sophomore Top-60 Camp.
Kavanaugh recalls the first time he laid eyes on Delbrey.
“He was trying to find his way … a little soft at times. You can see the basketball IQ,” said the Classical coach. “He was going to be my first or second guy off the bench.”
Delbrey’s first varsity game saw him score four points. The next time out, he netted nine points – all coming in the second half. By the season’s third game, Kavanaugh began running isolation plays for the freshman.
“All of a sudden, he’s scoring 19, 20 points,” recalled Kavanaugh. “I’ve never had a freshman do what he’s done.”
That’s a bold declaration considering the Classical basketball program under Kavanaugh’s watch has produced a few players who have gone on to play at the NCAA Division I level, from Terrill Toe (Bryant University) to Kealen Ives (Rider University/Central Connecticut) to David Duke (Providence College). Perhaps one day, Delbrey will be mentioned in the same conversation as former CHS players who went on to represent the school at the next level.
“The confidence … Eliezer doesn’t get sped up. He plays at his own pace,” said Kavanaugh. “He plays much older than he is. The shot is there. He gets to the rim. He finishes through contact. He makes free throws and can score in transition. He’s the full package. I’m excited to see what he can be. He’s got a really big upside.”
Based on the stats reported to RI Scorezone, Delbrey entered the week averaging 16.7 ppg in 18 games. He’s made 36 three-pointers while connecting at a 71-percent clip at the free-throw line. Between late December and early January, Delbrey enjoyed a stretch where he scored 20-plus points in four out of five games.
“There are things that will come in time, but he’s reached the point where he’s not coming out of the game unless he’s in foul trouble,” said Kavanaugh. “He’s a gym rat which is a good thing.”
Delbrey’s also laser-focused on making sure he fulfills a promise he made to himself the moment he received word that he didn’t make the cut for last year’s Puerto Rican U15 National Team.
“I said to myself, ‘Next year, I’m going to make it.’”
Brendan McGair is a sportswriter and columnist with the Pawtucket Times and the Woonsocket Call. A graduate of Providence College, McGair is a five-time recipient of the R.I. Sports Writer of the Year Award as voted by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA).
Follow McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and on Instagram @bwmcgair.