Cleveland East Side High School graduate Johnny O’Bryant played in the NBA for several years and is currently in an overseas league with the Türk Telekom of the Turkish Basketball Super League.
O’Bryant wanted to give something back to the area where he got his start in the Delta and founded the Delta Elite AAU basketball team. The team consists of kids around age 10 and is in its second year. Athletes come from areas including Clarksdale, Cleveland, Greenville and Greenwood. Practices are held at DM Smith Elementary School in Cleveland.
Jeffrey Parker is the director of the Delta Elite program.
“I was Johnny’s coach in AAU coming up with the Jackson Tigers and Johnny wanted to give back like we did with him and he wanted to start in his region in the Delta area just to help kids,” Parker said. “He sponsors the whole team.”
Parker said he is trying to help kids in the Delta gain exposure, but there must be the necessary resources and camps.
“There’s not any exposure like it is within the Jackson city limits of basketball or on the coast,” Parker said. “What we’re going to do is put the Delta on the map. That’s why we started this group to get the attention. We have some bright young kids representing the Delta area and they’re doing a good job.”
The Delta Elite recently won the Battle of the South tournament in Jackson and go to the Nationals in Orlando, Fla. in July.
“We wanted to start with our own group and just raise them into 17,” Parker said. “We’ll have this group and try to keep them together through 17 all the way and just document and just make sure that it’s special for them.”
Parker said he wants the players to be recognized across the nation by the time they are 14. The COVID pandemic did not stop them from practicing.
“We put in a lot of work during the pandemic because we weren’t able to travel to tournaments, so we just practice a lot,” Parker said.
The Delta Elite run a 1-2-2 full-court press.
“We’re able to get a lot of turnovers and easy baskets off that,” said Parker, adding the plays are ones professionals use. “Our guys run a lot in practice.”
Delta Elite coach Rodney Quinn, whose son Kolbie Williams is a small forward on the team, said he was a point guard on the TL Weston state championship team in Greenville in 1999. TL Weston ran a similar system to the Delta Elite.
“The strength is the pressure we put,” Quinn said. “The guys, they’re small, but they run up and down the court. We play a wide defense and a 1-3-1. At this age, kids don’t normally play that. It takes them by surprise.”
Key players Parker mentioned include point guard Dominic Spinks from Cleveland, Caleb Holmes out of Cleveland and Jordyn Wilson from Greenville, who had a double-double in all the Battle of the South games.
“We just think those guys because they could bring the competition level at practice that makes our other players want to play to the best of their ability,” Parker said. “These guys get in the gym. They put in a lot of work.”
Cash Moore, 10, a fourth-grader at St. Elizabeth Catholic School, is the one player from Clarksdale.
“I just love playing with my friends and everything,” Moore said.
Moore hopes to play for Delta State University and then the Golden State Warriors. His favorite player is point guard Steph Curry.
First, Moore hopes to play for Coahoma Community College. He sits on the sideline with the CCC women’s basketball teams during the games.
“I learn about basketball and it’s just really fun,” Moore said.
Wilson said playing for the Delta Elite has improved his game in the post.
“It helped me a lot with the competition and stuff,” Wilson said.
“I just knew to shoot it when I get it and stuff.”
Williams hit two 3-pointers to finish with eight points in the Battle of the South championship game.
“He (Quinn) knew that I knew how to shoot so he gave me the green light to shoot,” Williams said. “If I had a wide open shot, I was just going to take it.”
Parker called on communities in the Delta to support the team.
“Where it starts is the support of the community and we will need the support of the community to get behind these kids,” Parker said. “We’re going to do a tournament next year. We’ll host a tournament in the Delta area, so we’ll be bringing a lot of teams to the Delta area.”
Parker said the Delta Elite could bring communities together and help kids at the same time.
“We just want to thank Johnny for bringing attention to the Delta area by giving to kids,” Parker said. “We really appreciate all that he’s done and look forward to establishing a relationship within the community.”
Those looking for more information on the Delta Elite may contact Quinn at 662-522-3472.