Everyone wants to challenge the legitimacy of grassroots basketball, and a quick gander at scandalous news items from the circuit provides abundant ammunition.
But then there are the success stories, and Angel Delgado became one of the most rousing from this year's travel circuit. The Dominican Republic native rose from obscurity into a national top 50 prospect by the end of July. He toured the EYBL with the N.Y. Lightning, and immediately he established himself as the most prolific rebounder among league participants.
Delgado's reputation for blue collar specialization carried him into the NBPA Top 100 Camp as one of the event's most intriguing prospects. He battled the elite there and then stepped up his game to an even higher level at the LeBron James Skills Academy in early July, out-dueling some bigger names in the process.
Though his recruitment skyrocketed accordingly, it never reached full maturation. Just as major players such as Kentucky and Louisville became involved, he made a sudden commitment to Seton Hall in mid-August. That pledge delivered a huge dose of good news to the Pirates, and this season at Huntington Prep he'll receive heavy exposure and potentially rise even further in terms of stature.
Delgado is a brutal, savage rebounder and one of the meanest players in the class. How's that for succinctness?
At heart, he's a very easy guy to describe, and the particulars of his game become apparent very quickly. Despite standing a relatively short 6-8, 220 pounds, he frequently outrebounded bigger, elite centers such as Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander. He accomplished that in large part because he desperately wanted to do so, a testament to his determination, energy and concentration.
It seems these days that almost any big guy who runs the court without wheezing gets complimented for a high-revving motor, but Delgado truly does seem to compete with more powerful combustion than his peers. Effort alone doesn't explain his success, of course, as he's wiry strong, quick off the floor and the owner of sure hands. He also anticipates the angle of missed shots very well and possesses quick, nimble feet in traffic.
That's the rebounding component, and he utilizes those same traits to battle on defense. Delgado undoubtedly will struggle to guard skilled interior scorers two or three inches taller, but even in those cases he'll force those guys to earn their baskets honestly.
And his offensive game is better than you might assume. While it's fair to define Delgado as a specialist, he definitely is not a one-category player. He shoots with fairly good touch inside, uses the backboard effectively, initiates contact and trips to the free throw line, and handles just well enough with his right hand to attack off the bounce from eight feet and closer. He's never going to be a stretch forward and definitely will not ever be a wing, but he does possess some versatility.
His intangibles speak for themselves, and he's the kind of competitor whose persistence likely will rub off on teammates in practice.
Delgado is very good right now, but what's his upside? He doesn't have the body type or style of a long-term wing, and his skill level has blossomed at close-range — not on the perimeter. So if he doesn't become a face-up forward, that means he'll always be an undersized post. That projects as less of an issue for college than it does the NBA, but he's likely to get exposed at times against NBA caliber opponents in college.
In the same way that strength advantages for powerful high school players tend to dissipate in college as everyone gains muscle, max-effort guys also tend to lose some advantage due to the overall escalation in competitive intensity. Big men, in particular, can afford to coast at the prep level in a way that's impossible versus high-major college opponents.
From a tangible standpoint, the most pressing question is whether Delgado will be able to finish in traffic. He's quick off the floor but doesn't sky above the rim for dunks off a straight-up leap, which will put him at risk of eating some inside attempts. How he navigates that issue largely will determine his effectiveness as a scorer.
To whatever extent Delgado's size and skills make him more attractive for college than the NBA, that's just fine for Seton Hall. The Pirates aim to make a push up the Big East ladder in the reformulated conference, and if he remains on campus for three or four seasons, all the better.
Delgado should push for an immediate starting position because of his overall talent and the fact that he's physically ready for college. If he does play three or especially four seasons, he could become one of the program's all-time leading rebounders and has at least a fair chance to represent the program in the NBA as well.