NEW YORK – With all the focus on the future, it’s easy to forget that star forward Angel Delgado nearly left Seton Hall this past spring before pulling his name out of the NBA Draft.
The pivotal decision has already and will continue to shape the Pirates’ team this season, leaving the less appetizing alternative scenario of a Delgado-less team far in its wake.
So far that some — including myself — are a bit detached from how close it came a mere five months ago when Delgado decided to stay in South Orange for an encore senior season.
Remember — reports had surfaced that Delgado was going to sign with an agent and go pro.
Curious about more details regarding how it all went down, I quizzed Angel, Khadeen Carrington, and coach Kevin Willard.
“It was great, stuff like that helps you a lot off and on the court,” said Delgado of the process as a whole. “I was really excited to test the waters and I’m really excited to come back and be the best player [I can be] again.”
Although the process was nail-bitingly close, so close that Seton Hall was preparing to release the news that their star player was gone, leaving school never felt quite right for Angel.
“I talked to my family and I talked to my coaches and I thought it was the best decision for me. I didn’t feel good at all thinking that I wanted to leave. Every time I was thinking I wanted to leave, I wasn’t feeling good. The decision to come back, [it was like] when you’re 100 degrees, and they throw cold water on you, you feel relaxed. I was feeling really good [when I made the decision] and I’m really excited to make this year special.
“It was tough, the decision was tough but at the same time it was easy because I really trust my guys. I didn’t feel good thinking I’m going to leave. It was easy when I made the decision — I feel more calm, more relaxed and more excited.”
After deciding, Delgado claims he called his coach first, which Willard would later lightheartedly dispute (more on that soon).
“I called Coach. I said ‘Coach, I cant leave, I want to come back and finish my senior year with these guys because we came together and we leave together.’”
When I first asked Willard just how close it was, he asked me what Angel had told me. I relayed the above quotes, saying how Delgado never felt right about moving on.
“I have a different recollection of that (laughs). No, we were pretty close. If he could have got drafted in the low 40s, he would have went because you’re pretty much guaranteed a contract. But that’s not where he was projected, it was late 50s and now you’re running the gamut.
“It was an educated decision. It just wasn’t ‘I want to do it’, he obviously wanted to do it, that’s why he put his name in the draft, but it was more important we got the right information [from GMs, draft advisory board]. They said if you come back and you have the same year you had this year, you’re going to get drafted. And when they tell you that, you’ve got to listen.”
Despite Delgado saying how Willard gave him plenty of space and that “he didn’t bother me [about it] at all”, it’s clear that his head coach — who refers to himself as part of Delgado’s family — was heavily involved in not necessarily the decision making, but performing due diligence.
This is when Willard turned quite candid. I’ll let him do the talking.
“It was me, it was Angel, it was his uncle who lives in New York, and it was just us gathering information, it wasn’t going to be a rush decision. We did the same thing with Isaiah [Whitehead], Isaiah’s mom was phenomenal,” expanded Willard regarding the role he played.
“When you’re a borderline second round pick and you’re a junior, there’s two big things we talked about with him. If you don’t get drafted, you’re [probably] not going to make it and you’re not going to get a college degree. I think all juniors in college thinking about coming back, if you can get guaranteed money, you should definitely go. But if you’re a junior and a borderline guy, you cant pass up on getting your education and your college degree, you’re playing Russian roulette with your career.
“The big thing with Angel, he’s going to graduate, he’s going to graduate after this semester just about (Delgado never stopped attending class in the spring), and he’s going to have a chance to improve his draft status. It was a family decision, I consider myself part of his family,” said Willard before shining a light on what he thinks is an over-looked factor in the NBA Draft decision making.
“We undervalue getting a free college education [in college hoops]. It’s extremely expensive to go to school … We’ve undervalued getting an education where we don’t talk about it. We’ve undervalued it and what I’ve tried to do with my guys, no matter what, when you’re done playing at age 32, 33, you’re going to have to live for the next 50 years of your life and you’re going to have to earn money and have a job, and to do that you’re going to need a college education. For him, for my juniors, it was all about they weren’t going to pass up getting a college degree. For one of them [Delgado], it’s going to be the first time someone in their family is going to get a degree, and that changes the whole dynamic for future generations. It’s too important.”
Despite being so close to the process, Willard claims he wasn’t the first person to know.
“I think he told his girlfriend first, then his girlfriend called me and told me,” he said, smiling. “She was excited for him to get his degree, it was important to her … but I would hope he would call me first.
“He spoke a lot of Spanish, he was speaking really fast,” said Willard of when he eventually spoke to Delgado after he had decided.
“I speak a little Spanish with him and he said he was coming back. I said ‘I want to make sure it was your decision and you’re good with the decision and now that you’re coming back, let’s get back to work and do what you’ve got to do to improve your draft status.’”
I assume Willard didn’t articulate all of that in another language.
Willard’s comment on the decision being between himself, Angel, his girlfriend, and his Uncle appears to be true, but there is another party that indirectly influenced him in a huge way.
Not an agent. Nor some shady “friends”. And it wasn’t money.
It was his teammates, of course.
“We spoke basically every day,” said Khadeen Carrington, who had seen teammate Isaiah Whitehead leave the spring prior.
“I think he told me [he was staying] three or four days before everybody else found out. I spoke with him every day through the process.”
While the two spoke frequently, Delgado made sure to note how his teammates and an ex-teammate in Whitehead made no attempts to change his mind in either direction. The Dominican big man reiterated how the senior class stills hangs out with the Brooklyn Nets guard on a regular basis, but contrary to popular belief, basketball players don’t talk about hoops 24/7.
While his senior teammates didn’t directly influence him, they indirectly did — in a big way.
When Delgado was asked about if they were a major reason he stayed?
“Of course. These guys didn’t bother me at all. I was hanging out with them every day, they didn’t talk about it at all, they let me make my decisions,” he said.
“These guys are my brothers — they’re more than my brothers. We’re not only going to be brothers in school, we’re going to be brothers our whole life. I want to make history with them. I want to finish with them, I want to walk out on the stage when we get our degrees. That’s something I’m not going to forget my whole life.”