The University of Delaware has been awfully patient with Monte Ross. The Blue Hens hired Ross as their basketball coach eight years ago in an attempt to revive a program that had become the worst in the conference and one of the worst in the nation. And progress has been slow. The Hens still haven’t won a Colonial Athletic Association championship, they still haven’t made it to the NCAA tournament under Ross and they still haven’t made basketball relevant at a school where historically it’s just been something that helps kill time between football and spring football.
Two former coaches – Steve Steinwedel and Mike Brey – did make Delaware basketball something special for short periods of time, but the program had slipped back to those not-so-good-old days when people either didn’t care about Delaware basketball or didn’t even notice it existed.
But, at long last, that could be changing.
Coming into this season, Ross’ overall record wasn’t very good (90-131 overall, 54-72 in the CAA), but it’s been decent the last two seasons and this year promises to be a lot better than decent. The Hens should compete for their first CAA title — the Hens played in and dominated lesser conferences in the Steinwedel and Brey eras – and their first NCAA berth since Brey packed his bags and left for Notre Dame in 2000.
Delaware is 11-7 overall after Wednesday night’s 76-71 victory over William & Mary and, more importantly, 3-0 and in first place in the CAA. And the Hens are not only winning, they’re doing it in style — they have a running, gunning team that’s fun to watch, although not too many people do. An announced crowd of 2,793 was in attendance on Wednesday night, and by “announced’’ they mean “padded.’’
Anyhow, going into the William & Mary game the Hens were averaging 81.4 points per game, the most in the CAA and 29th nationally. And the Hens roll up those points with a balanced attack – they have five players averaging in double figures, led by Devon Saddler’s 21.2 points per game.
“We play fast and we play quick,’’ Ross said.
Saddler is Delaware’s best player and that’s why it was noteworthy when Ross suspended him for seven games earlier this season for breaking team rules. Give Ross credit for maintaining discipline, because it’s not easy for a coach who doesn’t have great job security to bench his best player. But Ross did it and the Hens are a better team for it – and we’re assuming Saddler is a better man for it, which is really the point.
Other Blue Hens having good seasons include Jarvis Threatt (17.7 points per game), Davon Usher (17.6), Kyle Anderson (13.1) and Carl Baptiste (9.8).
“You’d be hard-pressed to find any team in America that’s more balanced than we are,’’ Ross said.
Despite this year’s success, nobody expects Delaware to make a run to the Final Four, although one-time CAA neighbors George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth both did that, so it is possible for a mid-major team to play with the big boys. Still, those were flukes and it could be a long time before it happens again. But it’s not asking too much for the Hens to be consistent contenders in the CAA. Delaware has good facilities and plays in a great recruiting area that encompasses the Philadelphia and Baltimore areas, plus Delaware has a beautiful campus and a great academic reputation.
All the ingredients are there to put together a solid and steady program and so far Ross hasn’t done it – but he could be on the verge. After starting out with five straight losing seasons and finishing no higher than seventh in the CAA, Ross’ team was above .500 the last two years and finished second in the conference last year. And now they appear primed to take the next step — finally.
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.