Sunday, November 30, 2008

Brooklyn's Delroy James, Doing his Thang

URI’s James has reclaimed his hoop world Journal / Glenn Osmundson

SOUTH KINGSTOWN —The University of Rhode Island’s media guide tells you the facts. It says that Delroy James is a 6-foot-8 junior forward from Brooklyn. It says that he played in 20 games last year for URI.

It says he came to URI from Laurinburg Prep in North Carolina. It says he also attended three other schools before he ever got to Laurinburg.

In short, it tells you the hits, runs and errors of his basketball life. But it doesn’t tell you his story.

And James is an amazing basketball story, both for his perseverance and for the fact that it’s also a snapshot of today’s college basketball world.

And it starts in Brooklyn, back there in a place called East New York, where he was one of eight kids.

He has three older brothers who played basketball, so it’s not surprising that he came of age around the game, introduced early to the New York City AAU world, where kids with potential are paraded around the country like show cattle.

He played for a team called the Juice All-Stars, where two of his teammates were Sebastian Telfair and current Brooklyn high school supernova Lance Stephenson.

He played for the Student-Athlete Broncos, then coached by AAU legend Doc Nocelli.

“I was around guys who had their heads on their shoulders and I was holding my own,” he says. The point is, James was in the basketball pipeline early, exposed to great players, already on the assembly line to big arenas and big cheers, part of a world that now seemingly has little to do with playing for your local high school and everything to do with getting kids with potential into situations where they can get better competition and more academic instruction.

So when he was just a sophomore in high school, he left Robeson High in Brooklyn in the middle of the year.

He went to National Christian Academy outside of Washington, D.C., where one of his teammates was Kevin Durant. The next year?

The next year he went to Florida Prep, outside of Tampa. And the next year?

That was Laurinburg, the small, black prep school in the woods of North Carolina, the place where Providence College greats Jimmy Walker and Dexter Westbrook went in the early 1960s.

James was on a team that went 24-1 and was called the fifth-best prep school team in the country by Scout

He was called the 17th-best small forward in the country by the same group.

Laurinburg was coached by Billy Reed, a onetime URI assistant for Jerry DeGregorio, and as James says, “There were so many New York kids on the team it felt like home.”

So by the time he got to URI, in the fall of 2006, he had been on the circuit for nearly three years, away from home, chasing the game, running and dunking toward a future far away from the streets of East New York.

“I was never homesick because I knew what I was doing was bettering myself,” he says. “And I learned that you have to create your own home wherever you are.
Have to create your own life.” But that fall he was not academically cleared to play at URI, finding out on the day before the first exhibition game of the year.

So his basketball world that year consisted of shooting around by himself in one of the school’s auxiliary gyms, barred from being around the team.

The following fall he was declared ineligible after going to summer school, and went back home to Brooklyn. “I made a bad decision in the classroom,” he says. “It was my mistake. I felt more disappointed for the coaching staff, because they had depended on me.”

Once again, a season was going on without him. Only this time he was back in Brooklyn, wondering what he was doing with his life. No basketball. No nothing.

“It makes you realize how important something is to you when it’s taken away from you,” he says. In many ways, it was a lost year.

He followed the team on But in many ways he felt like an exile, out of sight, out of mind as the basketball world rushed by without him.

So when he came back last winter, joining the team for the second semester, it was with a different attitude. No longer was the game something he just took for granted, something that always had been there and always would be. No longer did he assume that he was going to have success for the simple reason he always had had success.

He played in 20 games, had some moments when his potential all but jumped out at you, when you could see the athleticism, but it was a veteran team, roles already defined, and his playing time was spotty.

Still, he was finally playing college basketball, and James treasured it. And now? “I don’t take anything for granted,” he says. “I can’t ever take anything for granted.”

For he sees three of his brothers playing professional basketball — one in Israel, one in Japan and one in Mexico. He knows that the game can take you places, change your life. And he also knows how fragile it can be — here one minute, gone the next, as ephemeral as a jump shot in the wind.

“Basketball is my life,” he says quietly.

“If I didn’t have basketball, I wouldn’t be here. I don’t know where I’d be.

So I’ve got to work until I’m tired to the bone.” “So you’re ready?” he is asked. “Like no other,” says Delroy James.

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