Though basketball season was still months away, Hayfield Coach Carlos Poindexter couldn’t help but begin envisioning his team’s newfound possibilities after he received a phone call from a surprising area code in the middle of July.
On the other end was a mother interested in getting her son Eliet Donley, a rising junior transfer from Hawaii, involved with the Hayfield basketball team.
“You sometimes get calls like that and of course you always welcome new kids, but when she said he was six-foot-five, I said, ‘Oh he’s definitely welcome!” Poindexter recalled with a laugh.
Though tall in stature, the soft-spoken Donley is typically short on words, making for outings like Tuesday’s, when the athletic forward put together a subtle yet effective performance of six points and eight rebounds to help Hayfield defeat Chantilly, 41-28, on the road.
Donley admits that he’s still adjusting to the tougher competition in Virginia, but during the early stages of Tuesday’s game both teams struggled to play to their potential as turnovers and cold shooting resulted in a 17-10 halftime score.
As Hayfield warmed up for the second half, Poindexter challenged his star guard Amir Atkins to help set the tempo defensively with aggressive play. The senior responded, gathering three steals and knocking down two three-pointers to help the Hawks extend their lead to 18 points midway through the third quarter.
The Chargers (2-3) gained some momentum when a long three-pointer by Ben McGrath dropped through the net and beat the buzzer to end the third quarter. Chantilly also created several second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass, but Donley was often there to challenge or swat away the attempts.
“Eliet’s a blessing to have on the team because he’s very versatile, can block shots and run the floor,” said Atkins, who finished with a game-high 12 points. “It’s nice to have someone inside to help spread things out.”
This advantage surfaced in the game’s final minutes. With Chantilly elevating the game’s tempo in a last-ditch comeback effort, Hayfield’s Tyler Thornton used his speed to create turnovers and penetrate the lane before dishing to Donley near the rim. The duo combined for Hayfield’s final six points, helping the Hawks (3-3) remain in control and ultimately snap a two-game losing streak.
“In the beginning of the second half we came out with more intensity and then I tried to make sure I was in the right position to make plays,” Donley said. “With each practice and game, I’m learning everyone’s tendencies and that’s helping me fit in and helping us build chemistry for the season.”