Darling leaving Hens to take his shot at the pros

Nate Darling averaged a team-leading 21.0 ppg last winter in his one season with the Blue Hens. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — Five months ago, the immediate future for the Delaware men’s basketball program looked really bright.

Now it’s a little more cloudy.

When the season ended in March, the Blue Hens believed they would be returning all five starters from a squad that reached the CAA semifinals.

But they’re down to only three returning starters after standout guard Nate Darling announced he was leaving his name on the eligibility list for the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-5 Canadian native, who would have been a senior this winter, was a first-team all-CAA pick in his one season playing for Delaware. Darling redshirted with the Hens the year before after spending two seasons at UAB.

Monday was the deadline for college underclassmen to withdraw their names from the NBA Draft eligibility list.

“I would first like to thank my coaches and teammates for supporting me throughout this process,” Darling posted on Twitter. “The past two years at the University of Delaware have been amazing and I’m forever grateful for my time there.

“After discussing with my family, I have decided to keep my name in the 202 NBA Draft and pursue my lifelong dream of being a professional.”

Darling doesn’t appear to be considered a potential NBA draft pick. But, of course, there are other pro options, including the NBA’s G League and leagues overseas.

“Nate has always dreamed of playing at the highest level and has worked hard to put himself in this position,” Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby said in a statement. “We support him and wish him the best as he pursues this opportunity.”

Last season, Darling averaged 21 points per game — the sixth-best average in UD history. He was the Hens’ leading scorer in 23 of 32 games, getting a career-high 37 points with eight threes in a win over UTSA.

He hit a school-record 107 three-pointers.

Darling, who was named UD’s male Athlete of the Year, also played over 38 minutes per game, the third-highest average in the country.

Delaware also lost junior forward Justyn Mutts, who transferred to Virginia Tech in the off-season after playing one year with the Hens.

Delaware does still return senior starters Ryan Allen, Kevin Anderson and Dylan Painter.

Besides Darling and Mutts, the Hens also lost guard Ryan Daly (St. Joe’s) and Ithiel Horton (Pittsburgh) from this group. Daly would have been a senior last winter.

Having top players transfer is nothing unusual for mid-major programs like Delaware, though.

Stony Brook has had its three top returning scorers transfer, as well as reserve forward Anthony Ochefu — who landed at UD. Several other CAA programs have also had players transfer out.

On the other hand, there’s no guarantees that anybody will be playing college basketball this winter given the current state of the coronavirus pandemic.

Before losing both Mutts and Darling, Ingelsby talked in April about college coaches needing to keep recruiting their own players.

“Everybody wants to talk about recruiting,” Ingelsby said at the time. “The most important recruits we have are the guys in our locker room.

“We’re in such a unique time and period right now (because of the pandemic). We’re keeping in touch with them, making sure they know we’re here to support them. … We have got dinged with the transfer wire the last two years. Hopefully that’s not the case moving forward for us.”