February 15, 2015

Kelbert does it all

Kevin McCarthy

Leland High's James Kelbert has earned the title of basketball Renaissance Man. The application is because there really isn't anything the 6-foot-2, 195 junior cannot do on the court. You want points? Check. Rebounds? Double check. Defensive effort? You betcha. Even run your offense? Yes, he can do that, too. Maybe best of all is he will bang against anyone and pursues all loose basketballs as if each is a family heirloom.

photo of James Kelbert

His responses to two particular lines of inquiry are particularly enlightening. Asked to name his best skill, Kelbert said, “I'd probably go with tenacity. I led the team in rebounding and I go after every board and ball as if it's 50/50. It's being aggressive with some temperance. That comes from water polo (he has also lettered in that sport) because you have to be smart when you're being aggressive. I call it using moderation to your advantage.”

For the record, he's averaging 18.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steal a contest. Leland stands 18-4 overall thus far, 11-1 in the Mount Hamilton League, and just clinched the league title after a 58-57 overtime game against Willow Glen.

To a question about his best basketball moment, he offered, “It's chemistry. It comes down to chemistry when we're all are playing as one. That's something cherishable, something you never forget.”

This young man is different.

As for hoops influences, Kelbert explained, “I would have to go with three people. My first coach, Bob Penny, when I was playing recreation league really preached about the defensive end of the floor. Mani Messi, my AAU coach who played overseas, helped me with my offensive and defensive mentality. [Current Leland High] Coach [Steve] Seandel, because whenever you make a mistake, he makes sure you fix it. It's a striving for perfection and it goes above and beyond basketball.”

Here's Coach Seandel: “James has carried us for two years. I brought him up to varsity when he was a freshman and he started. He's strong as a bull, tough as nails and not a stay on the perimeter guard. He needs to get more consistent with his outside shot but he is a lot better than people think.”

Leigh Coach Patrick Judge, who seemingly knows more about Santa Clara County basketball than anyone else, offered: “James, without a doubt, is one of best players in the section. He plays with such a mature, old school feel, nothing seems rushed or forced, he simply goes out and does whatever it takes to help his team win. He's the type of athlete and young man every coach would love to have on their team.”

Kelbert remembers his early days as a frosh. “When I started on varsity, we had a lot of big guys, 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 so I was a perimeter player running the offense. Later, I had to be more aggressive and get into the paint.”

Looking to eventually go into medicine, he sports a 4.4 weighted grade point average.

With recruiting, he's wide open. “A strong academic program is really important to me. I have built relationships with coaches at some of the top academic schools. It's early days still.”

Regarding positioning at the next level, “I have no preference, either position [two guard or point]. I'm a two guard as of now and the transition was smooth.”

His sports lineage is quite the mixture. “My Mom, who is from England, played field hockey at Warwick University (UK) and Eastern Michigan and my Dad, who is from the Virgin Islands, played basketball.” His older brother, Thomas, was co-captain of the Leland water polo team and a USA water polo Academic All American.

“We're a very tenacious family. It's a matter of learning life skills through sports.”