The Delta Elite, an AAU basketball team for kids around age 10 in the Delta, won a recent tournament in North Carolina and placed eighth at the Nationals in Orlando, Fla.
Cleveland East Side High School graduate Johnny O’Bryant, who played in the NBA for several years, started the team. Athletes come from areas including Clarksdale, Cleveland, Greenville and Greenwood. Practices are held at DM Smith Elementary School in Cleveland.
Jeffrey Parker, director of the Delta Elite program, said O’Bryant saw the team play in North Carolina. Twenty teams participated in the tournament in North Carolina.
“This was the first time Johnny actually got to see them play in person,” Parker said. “I was very proud of them because they went 3-0 on the day. It was tough traveling all the way out there and then waking up early, playing three teams.
“Johnny and I quote this, this is exactly what he said, he was like, ‘I just can’t believe the excitement that they play with and they have fun.’ I said, ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. They are an exciting team to watch and they literally have fun.’ My thing about them is they’re the type of team that makes sure everybody is involved.”
As an example, Parker said when Cash Moore from Clarksdale got in the game, his teammates made sure he scored by setting up a pick, getting him wide open under the goal and passing him the ball so he was able to shoot free throws.
Parker said the tournament in North Carolina gained the Delta Elite momentum going into the Nationals. Twelve teams competed in the Nationals. The Delta Elite lost by one point in the first game of Nationals.
“It was a tough one because we missed several free throws at the time and missed a couple of layups,” Parker said. “They were a little nervous, but the second game we came on out and won that one. We played a couple of tough teams. The next two teams we ended up losing to played for the championship. That lets you know the competition level we were facing while we were out there, but I think our kids responded.”
Parker said two post players from the Delta Elite were missing and they went with all guards in a five-guard set.
“This is the first year ever going and competing at a high level,” Parker said.
He said it was a good opportunity to see the level of competition.
“We got to see some of the top teams in the country,” Parker said. “(NBA player) Chris Paul’s team was there. Some of the Nike teams were there competing. So they got to see a level that we need to work toward when we come back starting up to the next season. We have goals to get better than we did this year. That was a great excitement to see. I think they really enjoyed seeing other teams, the competition level and just knowing that we’ve got work to do.”
Athletes on the Delta Elite reflected on their experiences in the tournaments.
Shooting guard Caleb Nix is a DM Smith Elementary School fifth-grader from Cleveland.
“I think in North Carolina we played well,” Nix said. “We won all three of our games. I think we did well in North Carolina.”
Nix said one of his best plays came when his teammate, Jordyn Wilson from Greenville, screened and rolled and Nix bounced passed the ball to him. The play came in the fourth quarter and Wilson scored after Nix got him the ball.
Point guard Dominic Spinks Jr. is a sixth grader at Hayes Cooper Center in Cleveland.
“I think we did well,” Spinks said. “We played one of the top teams, but I think we did well.”
Spinks said one of his best plays came on a rebound. After Spinks collected the rebound, he dished the ball to Nix behind the 3-point line. Nix connected on the 3-pointer.
“That was in our second game (in North Carolina),” Spinks said.
In Florida, Spinks said a good play came when he made a 3-pointer thanks to a Nix screen.
“It definitely was a great experience, too,” Spinks said.
Moore is a small forward and fifth grader at St. Elizabeth Catholic School in Clarksdale.
“We were the only team without a six-foot tall person (in Orlando),” Moore said. “We did really well.”
Nix, Spinks and Moore all said the Delta Elite trapped athletes who were six feet or more on other teams and got them into foul trouble.
“When I was guarding the big guy, I took the ball away from him,” said Moore of one of his top moments in Orlando.
Moore said his defense prevented a scoring opportunity for the other team.
Kolbie Williams, a small forward from Greenville, was the tallest player in the tournament at around 5 feet, 5 inches.
“We accomplished a lot. I think we can play with better teams,” Spinks said. “We can play with anybody now.”
“I think we’ve got a lot of talent,” said Nix in agreement. “We (Nix and Spinks) drop 14 to 17 points a game. He’s (Moore) on the bench, but he gets on the court and still looks confident. We’re all confident on the court. Lose or win, we still have our heads up.”
Parker said the Delta Elite is a versatile team looking to add two to three pieces to what is already there.
“I think we’ll be able to compete at a higher level than we had this year,” Parker said.
Tryouts for next season will be at DM Smith Elementary School in September and fall tournaments start in November. Parker encouraged kids from Clarksdale to try out.
“I think it’s really strong because I reached out to several people throughout the communities in the neighboring counties so I’m looking forward to seeing the tryouts because I think we’ll get a nice group of kids to be able to just expose the talent area up there,” Parker said.
Parker thanked the different Delta communities for their support and said he looks forward to continuing to partner with them.