Mike Pegues, one of the greatest basketball players and most popular athletes in UD history, led the Blue Hens to consecutive NCAA tournament berths in 1998 and 1998 and the NIT in 2000. The school’s all-time leading scorer, Pegues returned to his alma mater in 2010 as an assistant basketball coach. Coach Pegues recently caught up with Town Square Delaware at Panera Bread on Main St. in Newark.
TSD: Main St. has changed so much since you were a student at the University in the late 1990s. The Stone Balloon is gone, new places like Panera Bread and Chipotle Grill have opened up– do you recognize the place?
MP: It’s true. The Brickyard, one of my favorite hang-out spots, is also gone. But I think it’s great to see how UD has managed to stay on the cutting edge, not only on Main St but all over campus. Every time I drive by Laird Campus, for example, I’m amazed at how well they’ve developed that area.
TSD: You were a high school basketball teammate of former Eagles star running back Brian Westbrook— we’ve all seen what he can do is football, how good was he at hoops?
MP: Brian Westbrook—really great guy; I didn’t realize at the time that he was going to be that good at football. As a basketball player he was cat-quick, great on defense; was a great passer; although he couldn’t shoot a lick – couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn (laughs)!
TSD: We asked Mike Brey, your former coach at Delaware, now at Notre Dame, this same question: how much tougher is the Colonial Athletic conference, which has sent two teams to the Final Four in the last five years, in comparison to the America East, UD’s old basketball conference?
MP: Overall, the CAA is defintely more competitive. The players are bigger and more similar to some of the teams in the Big East… the talent is more widespread—whereas in the America East to top tier teams were very good, in the CAA it’s really tough playing every single team in the conference. There are no easy wins in the CAA—every game is a battle.
TSD: Virginia Commonwealth is one of your conference rivals but does their 2011 Final Four berth help the Blue Hens by association?
MP: Absolutely. VCU going to the Final Four did wonders for our league. It gives us more press. Kids from the North and South can identify with our league more—if Georgetown, Duke or North Carolina don’t want you—we can play pretty good basketball too. Look at Larry Sanders, a power forward for VCU who was drafted 15th by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2010 draft. Another example is JJ Berea who played for Northeastern and is now the backup point guard for the Dallas Mavericks.
TSD: How can UD basketball get back to where it was when you played here? In the late 1990s the Bob Carpenter Center was packed every game, the fans were excited – it’s not quite the same environment now. How can that change?
MP: The simple answer is win! Winners attract crowds and I think that’s about as old as dirt. I think if we can find some ways to put some wins together, to go on the road and beat a team like Old Dominion University, a George Mason, or a VCU, maybe a couple of key non-conference teams. This will all help us get the attention of our students who are critical to our success as a program.
TSD: What are the coaches doing to get out and promote the team?
MP: I’m dying to give the fans something to see; fans come up to me and tell me that they drove all the way up from places like Dover – we’ve got to give them something in return for this support. When people are driving up from Dover to see us play, twenty point losses are unacceptable. We the coaches also have to go the extra mile and show our students in particular that we need them and that’s something that we’re working on.
TSD: What are your expectations for the 2011-2012 season?
MP: Our biggest strength this year will be our depth. For the first time since Coach Ross has been here, he’s going to have a tough time deciding who to play… We’ve got five good big guys down low, and five good perimeter players…Our freshman class has been regarded as amongst the best in the CAA. We also look to have a very strong one-two punch with Jamell Higgins our big guy down low, and Devon Saddler, the CAA rookie of the year this past year. I expect Devon is going to be an all-league caliber player for the next three years.
TSD: There are hundreds of coaching jobs out there, but what does it mean to you have landed at the University of Delaware in particular?
MP: Right now I am at my dream job. Who could want more than to have had such a great experience as a student athlete to come back and coach at my alma mater. It means so much to me that the university regarded me as someone who could help rejuvenate the basketball program and serve in a leadership capacity at the school.