Blue Hens excited for next year

NEWARK — The Delaware’s men’s basketball team was one of the lucky ones.

The coronavirus didn’t end their season.

The Blue Hens got to experience the thrill of winning a Colonial Athletic Association tournament game last Sunday before falling to top-seeded Hofstra in the CAA semifinals.

But Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby can still sympathize with the players around the country — especially seniors — who won’t get to see their seasons play out with the halting of the college basketball season because of the virus.

“It’s devastating for those seniors who dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “All the hard work, the good days, the bad days, the grind and you play for those experiences. It’s painful.

“I couldn’t imagine being in their shoes and not having the opportunity. It (canceling the rest of the season) was the right thing to do but it doesn’t diminish how painful it is for those student-athletes.”

The Colonial Athletic Association announced that one of the referees who worked the conference tourney later tested positive for coronavirus. But Ingelsby said the official didn’t work either of the Delaware games.

UD’s players were also pretested for any virus symptoms before they went to the tournament, which was held in Washington, D.C.

The Hens finished with a record of 22-11 — their best season since 2014 and tied for the fifth-most victories in program history.

Delaware had been invited to both the CBI and CIT national tournaments. But Ingelsby said he and his staff had decided before the cancellations that the more-prestigious NIT was the only tourney they would play in.

And the chances of the Hens earning an NIT bid were slim at best.

Remember, Delaware started its season early this year. The Hens played three games in the Bahamas in August with a week of practice before the trip.

“We’ve been together a lot,” said Ingelsby. “It was not a financial decision (not to play in the other tourneys), it was just a decision we made as a staff. … We exerted a lot of effort and energy and preparation into going down to the CAA tournament.

“I just think it was kind of time to step back and appreciate the run we had and get into the off-season and get back to work.”

Of course, what that off-season will look like is far different than normal.

Delaware still has two scholarships to give out. Ingelsby and his staff should be recruiting at high school tournaments and then AAU events right now.

For the moment, though, those games have all been canceled. UD also announced on Friday that it is suspending all in-person and on-campus recruiting.

At the college level, teams also have individual and group workouts with their players in the spring. But those are on hold.

“I’m curious to see how long it’s going to last,” Ingelsby said of the shutdown. “Nobody knows. … It’s unchartered territory. It’s wait and see.

“It’ll be interesting to see if we even have access to them (the players) in the spring to do some workouts because nobody knows right now what it’s going to look like. Guys might be home for a while. We might not see them until the summer. It’ll be interesting times.”

Ingelsby emphasized that he understands all the measures that are being taken and nothing is more important than people’s health.

But with all that in mind, next season is shaping up as a good one for Delaware.

The Hens are set to return all five of their starters — seniors-to-be Kevin Anderson, Ryan Allen, Nate Darling and Dylan Painter along with junior Justyn Mutts. Darling was a first-team all-CAA pick who broke the school record for three-pointers while Anderson was a third-team all-CAA selection.

UD lose only seniors Collin Goss and Jacob Cushing but still has underclassmen Johnny McCoy, Ebby Asamoah and Aleks Novakovich among others.

Delaware will also add guard Reggie Gardner, a North Carolina Central transfer and the third DeMatha Catholic grad on the roster. He’ll be eligible at the start of the season after practicing with the team this year.

With the two remaining scholarships, Ingelsby said he’s more inclined to use them on a college transfer. A grad transfer would be able to play immediately.

“We obviously like our pieces and we’re always exploring the (transfer) wire to see what’s out there,” said Ingelsby. “You get guys in your program and they get better. We have a lot of areas that we can improve on individually and collectively as a group. That’s what the off-season is for.

“On paper we’ve got as good a roster coming back as anybody in our league. But we understand that it’s going to take a lot of work for us to be able to get to where we want to be. This group this year had a great year. We moved the program forward. Now we need to take another big step as we get back to work.”