- Adam Finkelstein
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It was little more than a year ago that Angel Delgado left his native Dominican Republic to pursue a dream of playing college basketball.
He arrived as a virtual unknown who barely spoke any English and was enrolled at a school, Redemption Christian Academy, that was transitioning from one campus in Troy, N.Y., to another in Northfield, Mass.
In the 12 months since, the rate with which Delgado has emerged has surprised even his biggest supporters. He's climbed national rankings as fast as any prospect in 2014, moving all the way up to No. 45 in the ESPN 100. He's given Seton Hall an absolutely critical verbal commitment, while establishing himself as arguably the pre-eminent rebounder in all of high school basketball.
"When he first got here I thought he had some toughness and a work ethic," the director of his AAU team, Dana Dingle, said. "But when I saw him in the prep games, and the way he rebounded the ball, I thought he could do that at any level."
The arrival of the spring AAU season and, specifically, Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League circuit provided Delgado the forum for his national coming-out party. It was the first weekend of the April evaluation period in Los Angeles when he exploded for 18 points and 20 rebounds against CIA Bounce.
It was more of the same the following weekend (with 16 rebounds in one game and 15 in another) and every weekend from that point on, as Delgado led the EYBL in rebounding at just fewer than 12 per game, while also adding more than 13 points per game.
"No matter who he went up against, no one could deal with him on the boards," Dingle said. "And that's what made him realize, 'OK, I'm just as good as any of these guys.'"
But that was just the beginning.
In the coming weeks, he hit Nike's Big Man Skills Academy, the NBPA Top 100 Camp, and the LeBron James Skills Academy and started to show some offensive skill to go along with his rebounding prowess.
"I got better because I worked hard every day," Delgado said. "Every day I worked on my dribbling, my post moves, everything."
"His skill level definitely improved," Dingle said. "He started to add a post game and began to extend his range."
Evaluators from all levels were taking notice, and by the time the July evaluation period was finished, Delgado had made the move to play for coach Rob Fulford at high school powerhouse Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, while also attracting recruiting interest from the past two national champions, Kentucky and Louisville.
Delgado ended up committing to Seton Hall in mid-August, giving coach Kevin Willard arguably the most important commitment of his career.
Delgado's pledge wasn't just a badly needed source of positive press for the Pirates; it was the first step in an extremely productive summer. Willard landed subsequent commitments from fellow New York Lightning product Khadeen Carrington, as well as SG Isaiah Whitehead, who's No. 20 in the ESPN 100.
For Delgado, it's been an incredibly fast-paced ride over the past year -- or, perhaps more accurately, the past six months. Both his basketball and language skills continue to improve and, ultimately, he maintains a niche that no other high school player in the country can match.
"He's a Kenneth Faried type in that he's the type of guy who can just go get stuff," Fulford said. "You don't have to run plays for him, he just out-hustles and outworks everybody, and that's where he gets his points from."
"I want the ball all the time," Delgado says when asked about his rebounding approach. "It's my ball all the time."
"He's a rebounding machine. He just out-wills everybody, and that's something you can't teach," Dingle added.
Down in West Virginia, Fulford reminds his new star to stick with what's gotten him to this point. The same traits -- tenacity and work ethic -- that helped make Delgado such a great rebounder have helped him adjust to life in the United States. And they're the same ones that will help him write new chapters in what is already an incredible story.
"I've told him," Fulford says, "'Rebounding is why we brought you here, rebounding is why Seton Hall is bringing you there, and rebounding is why you have a chance to play in the NBA one day.'"