Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Delaware coach Monte Ross about trying to increase his win total for the fourth straight year.
Jamelle Hagins graduated in the spring as the school’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocks, how are you going to try and fill that void? It is going to be really difficult: he left an indelible mark on our program and our record book. Jamelle took a chance on us: I told him that we would turn things around and build around him, and he believed in us.
Devon Saddler led the CAA in scoring last year with almost 20 points per game and set a school record with 96 straight starts: what makes him such a great player? He wears his emotions on his sleeve and is the ultimate competitor. Our practices are very sharp because he demands that of his teammates in every single drill. His shooting and his ability to go left might have been considered weaknesses when he was a freshman, but now they are strengths.
Your win total has increased in each of the past three years. How have you been able to keep improving from year to year? To be honest it is all about the players. Coaches get too much blame when things go wrong, but also too much credit when things go right. If you want to be a good coach, get good players! When I draw up a play with 10 seconds left in a tie game, our success depends on whether our player is good enough to put the ball in the basket.
Your non-conference road schedule includes trips to Villanova, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Which of these three games do you feel will present your biggest test? I think they will all present a test: we challenge our guys to play at a high level, which we did last year by beating Virginia. We will have to answer the bell in order to be successful.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? Ever since I got here I never wanted to paint us into a box in terms of winning a specific number of games: the biggest thing for me is for us to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, and if so we will contend for a CAA title. That is the challenge for us as a staff.
You played basketball at Winston-Salem State for Hall of Fame coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines. What made Gaines such a great coach, and what was the most important thing you ever learned from him? He taught me that you have to make something of yourself by working very hard because nothing is given to you in life. Every day after practice he would talk to us for 45 minutes about the types of lives we were going to lead, which was really enlightening.
In the 2003 A-10 tourney as an assistant at St. Joseph’s under Coach Phil Martelli (whose son is now one of your assistants), Jameer Nelson scored a career-high 39 points before fouling out in a three-point loss to Dayton. Where does that rank among the greatest performances you have ever seen? He had so many amazing games but that one is not as memorable as some of the other ones. One that sticks out to me was the first game of his senior year: nobody knew how good we would be when we opened up against Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden on ESPN. It felt like a heavyweight fight and Jameer put on a show with 20 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds, which was the impetus for us to go undefeated in the regular season.
In 2004 you went 27-0 in the regular season. How were you able to keep your team focused for every single game all season long? Phil did an amazing job: we did not really talk about the streak because we were just focused on the next game on our schedule. We were getting a lot of media attention…but only after the Eagles lost in the playoffs! Our players were such competitors that they just wanted to see how they measured up against the next team. We knew we had a good team but we still needed things to go our way.
You were named head coach at Delaware in 2006, why did you take the job? I thought it was a great, great job and was a place where I could win. I was familiar with the program because I had been in Philadelphia my entire life and I thought it was a gold mine. The funny thing was that I had three or four other head coach interviews that year and was getting ready to catch a train to go to Penn Station in New York, but on the way to the train station I got a call from Phil saying that Delaware would like to talk to me.
In the 2013 CAA tourney Devon Moore scored 14 points including a pair of free throws with four seconds left in a one point win by James Madison. Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? It was really tough to swallow because our kids were so devastated. We got invited to a pair of postseason tourneys but we decided not to go because their hearts were not fully into it. I felt bad that our seniors could not go to the NCAA tourney.