In the net ... basketball star Paul Delaney scores again
Since I've made aliyah, I've been asked a few times if my father is a basketball player. He isn't. I assume most of the African Americans in the smaller peripheral cities, like Ashkelon, are associated with the ball players that occasionally roam the streets between practices and grace us with their extraordinary stature. In fact, throughout the years, my family has gotten a chance to meet and chat with a few basketball players who stayed here.This year, however, we were fortunate enough to befriend a talented athlete and even more congenial human being - Paul L. Delaney III.
Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, twenty-nine-year-old Delaney says that basketball was always apart of his environment.Even so, his parents thought it was important for him to try other sports as well. Delaney remembers playing soccer around the same time he started basketball. He also ran track, coming in third in the state in the 400 meter dash during his time.
Once Delaney reached high school, he was advised to focus on one sport. He loved both soccer and basketball, but was told by his peers that his tall stature of 1.88 meters was more suited for basketball. Delaney's father, whom he calls his favorite basketball player, also influenced his decision to pursue basketball as a career.
In 2010, fresh out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where Delaney majored in History and minored in Political Science, he arrived inthe first destination of his professional athletic career - Israel. Delaney played for Ironi Nahariya for his first season abroad, and afterwards returned to the United States to play with the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA summer league. So far, this may sound like a story of a young man who had a passion, pursued his dream and lived happily ever after; however, life would throw young Delaney a few curve balls before then.
The NBA summer league Delaney attended was in Las Vegas. As we've all heard, whatever happens there stays there, but he did share with us that he lost focus at that time because he was busy carousing in Vegas. He also admits that he had gotten a bit cokey, turning down a few offers from European teams such as France. Towards the end of the summer league subsequently, he fired his agent for not getting him better offers. Ironically, Delaney did not have much success with his newly-hired agent; thus, he ended up jobless for six months. Delaney stated that his half-a-year hiatus gave him plenty of time to do some “soul searching”.
On the ball ... Paul Delaney in action
Eventually, Delaney received an offer from “Habik'a”, Givat Shmuel's team. The team was in the second division of the Israeli league, which, in a way, felt like a demotion; however, Delaney, now more humble (and with depleted savings), signed the contract. The offer was presented with a deal that if the team would make it to the championship, he would get a more rewarding contract and would return to the premier league.
Delaney, buoyant and determined throughout the entire season, led the team to victory, scoring 48 points on their most important game - Habik'a overthrew the up-to-then undefeated HaPoel Tel Aviv! Thus, the underdog team made it into the championship, winning them a spot in the premier league. Since then Delaney has played and shone in several teams in the European league: Spartak (Russia), Khimik- (Ukraine) and Cholet (France). As Delaney reflects on that period in his career, he considers it his greatest (basketball) achievement and the most enjoyable time in his profession, even considering later success.
This season, Delaney was summoned by the coach of Maccabi Kiryat Gat, Nati Cohen, to help the team keeps its place in the premier league. Delaney hasn't disappointed; he's one of the dominant players on the court, he's received two MVPs so far and is still a crowd’s favorite; you can hear the fans shouting “Delaney!” every time he has the ball and at the end of games, you can catch Delaney shaking hands and taking photos with them.
How did I meet Delaney, you may ask? Well, Kiriyat Gat's basketball players live in Ashkelon, where I currently reside. My mother and her husband ran into Paul and his fiancee, Sasha Arroz, at a dinner of mutual friends and invited them to Shabbat dinner that weekend. Since then, the couple have been guests at our home for Friday night dinners and other gatherings, and Delaney even joined us for the Pesach Seder.
Out of curiosity, being an athlete and coming from a team sport myself, I asked Delaney if I could sit in one of his team’s practices. We arrived half an hour before practice began, when players usually take the time for their individual warm ups and tend to their personal skills, requirements, and injuries if they have any. When practice officially began, the intensity instantly rose. I watched how Delaney gave advice to the younger players and always tried to keep up the spirits. At the end of practice the team did a toast for Passover, and Delaney gave the team some words of motivation before the big game they had ahead against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Watching Delaney in action on game day, I noticed his swiftness and determination to make every second of the game count.He also utilizes his teammates, making him a good team player as well.
When I asked Delaney what advice wouldhe give young, up-and-coming athletes, he said that athletes should learn how to “motivate themselves” and “don't judge yourself based on other people's paths and achievements - no one knows how far you've come on your journey”. Delaney says that you must show the coach and management that “you're not expendable, but a necessity to the team”. He added that athletes in team sports play best when the “chemistry is right” and that's something that should be worked on along with skills. He also emphasized the importance of education, especially educating the youth - something he wishes to pursue after the season is over.
Delaney says that his years here in Israel have been a great experience, and calls Israel his favorite place of all the countries he's been to so far, but there's no place like home. At the end of May, shortly after the end of the season, Paul Delaney will return to Atlanta, to be reunited with his friends, family and fiancée.
We wish him mazal tov on his new journey, and assure him that the Israeli basketball league, his fans, friends and adopted Israeli family will miss him. Be'hatzlacha!