Martin Ingelsby has an official title – head basketball coach at the University of Delaware. But Ingelsby’s real job, at least for now, isn’t to coach, but to sell. And even though his most important job is to sell Delaware basketball, his first job is to sell himself.
Ingelsby did not step into an easy situation when he was hired as Delaware’s coach last month — he inherited a bad team that was losing the few good players it had and he was further behind in recruiting than the 76ers were in the Atlantic Division standings. Plus, he had to do a million other things, including hiring a coaching staff, connecting with his remaining players, organizing his recruiting trips and, oh yeah, moving his family several hundred miles to a state they only knew about because they drove through it on I-95 a few times.
Coaching at the college level is all about salesmanship – they call it recruiting, but it’s really selling a product. An NBA coach simply drafts the best player available and that player has no choice but to play for him or play overseas. But a college coach has to sell his program to an athlete who is probably being wooed by a dozen other schools. And when a coach sells his program, he’s really selling himself, because kids and their parents are impressed by people more than institutions. Sure, Duke has a great program and it’s an elite school, but the best players in the country go there because they want to play for Mike Krzyzewski.
Ingelsby’s challenge, of course, is a lot different. He has to convince good players to come to a bad program – over the last 16 years Delaware, under coaches David Henderson and Monte Ross, had a record of 217-277. And if they do come here, it’ll be because of him, not because of the school or the community. The way Ingelsby comes across, the way he connects or fails to connect with people, will ultimately decide whether he’ll be successful as a head coach.
And, so far, Ingelsby has done a great job meeting that challenge. One of the first things he did after being hired was to get 6-4 guard Ryan Daly, a former Philadelphia Catholic League Player of the Year from Archbishop Carroll High, to agree to come to Delaware. Daly, who averaged 21.7 points per game as a senior and also made 65 three-point baskets for a 23-2 team, was going to Hartford before changing his mind. And even though Daly isn’t going to be an NBA lottery pick someday, he could be a terrific player at Delaware’s mid-major level and he’ll definitely be an important building block, and that’s what Ingelsby needs most of all. Even if he doesn’t win right away, and he won’t, the new coach must quickly build a foundation for the future.
Then Ingelsby did it again when he convinced Chivarsky Corbett to stay at Delaware after the talented swing man previously said he was going to transfer to Texas-San Antonio. That was after former coach Monte Ross was fired and players were scrambling to jump off the Blue Hens’ sinking ship. That included the Hens’ beat player, Kory Holden, who transferred to South Carolina before Ingelsby was hired, and it appeared it would also include Corbett.
That lingering negative vibe from the past had to be dealt with before Ingelsby’s program could move into the future, and the new coach has managed to do that quickly and quietly.
Corbett isn’t a star who will carry Delaware on his back – he missed almost all of last season because of a knee injury, but the previous year, as a freshman, he averaged 8.8 points per game coming off the bench and was an All-Rookie pick in the Colonial Athletic Association. But he is a good player who will get better and, like Daly, he should be a big part of Ingelsby’s rebuilt foundation.
Eventually, we’ll find out how good Ingelsby is as a head coach when it comes to dealing with strategy, but he’s already shown that he’s pretty good where it counts the most, and that’s dealing with people.