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California Kid Was The Virgin Islands Secret Weapon in Puerto Rico

james leland

            James Kelbert

SAN JOSE – Virgin Islander by choice James Kelbert played a key role in helping the Virgin Islands’ Under-17 boys basketball team to the championship game of the Centrobasket Tournament in Puerto Rico that earned a spot in next year s FIBA Americas Under-18 Tournament in Tokyo.

The Virgin Islands lost to Puerto Rico 101-57 in the gold medal game Saturday and came home with a silver medal. But Kelbert returned home to San Jose, California where he lives full time. It was an experience he says he’ll never forget and one that broadened his perspective on basketball.

“International play is completely different from high school,” Kelbert said. “It’s a lot more rough and physical. At first I was taken aback, being used to high school refs calling fouls. It toughens you up. It’s something that’s going to help me in the long run.”

Kelbert, an all-Mercury News first-team selection as a junior at Leland High School, was eligible to play for the Virgin Islands team because his father was born in St. Thomas.

He attended a tryout and training camp in mid-July and then joined the team for the tournament. He scored 12 points in a semifinal win over Mexico that was termed an “historic” win in local published reports.

In 1976, Tim Kelbert represented the Virgin Islands in the Summer Olympics in Montreal as a sailor.

The Antilles School graduate moved with his brother, Bruce, to California several years later.

Bruce’s son, James Kelbert is now not just a highly-recruited basketball player, but a swimmer and water polo player to boot at his high school in San Jose.

The 6-foot-2 Kelbert is one of the most sought-after basketball recruits coming out of the area, averaging 19.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals last season as a junior.

“My dad and uncle were born and raised on St. Thomas,” James Kelbert said. “My grandfather, Lee Kelbert, was the founder of Little Switzerland, and my Aunt Helen Kelbert, who lived in St. Thomas for many years, was a philanthropist and co-founder of Little Switzerland.

“We have a strong family connection with St. Thomas. So, when we moved to San Jose we could not continue with the family sport of sailing because it was an hour drive to the coast.

“I got into basketball in the fifth grade,” Kelbert added. “I grew to love the sport and I got better at different things. I could rebound, shoot, and play several different positions on the court. It all culminated in a wonderful season where I was chosen All-California D2 after helping my team, Leland High, advance to the CCS finals. We lost a heartbreaker in overtime.”

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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