Nate Darling has chased his dreams a long way

Nate Darling

NEWARK — Nate Darling was just 15 when he left home to follow his hoop dreams.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that he almost didn’t stick it out in the U.S.

“It was pretty tough,” said Darling. “The first couple years were pretty hard. I almost went back a couple times, but I just had a goal in mind. I’m trying to still achieve the goal.”

That Darling now finds himself at Delaware as the 15th-leading scorer in NCAA Division I men’s basketball is testament to just how determined he is about seeing his dream through.

Darling’s hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia may not exactly be the North Pole, but it’s still a long from the Canadian province to Newark.

Already the 6-foot-5 junior guard has gone to Washington, D.C.’s DeMatha High for high school before spending two years at Alabama-Birmingham in college. He spent last year at UD, sitting out a redshirt season after transferring.

After just 13 games with the Blue Hens, Darling has lived up to the talk coming out of Delaware’s practices last season that the newcomer was going to make an immediate impact.

Darling netted a season-high 37 points in a win over Texas-San Antonio early in the year. But he may have been at his best when he tallied 29 points against No. 20 Villanova on Dec. 14.

“He’s fabulous,” Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby said after the game. “He gives us such a confidence on the offensive end. He’s fearless.

“We feed off his energy. He’s such a dynamic scorer. He’s a guy that’s hard for me to take out of the game. He can score from the three-point line, he can get downhill, he can get to the foul line. He makes his teammates better. He’s one of the best scorers in the country.

Nate Darling

“Twenty-nine points on this stage, against Villanova, a team that makes you work and is physical and they throw different bodies at you, …,” Ingelsby continued. “He’s playing like one of the best guards in the country, no doubt about it.”

“He’s a heck of a player,” said the Wildcats’ Jermaine Samuels. “His ability to shoot the ball and, also, I think people underrate his ball-handling abilities. He’s a great player.”

Darling has put in a lot of work to get where he is.

At DeMatha, he got a key to the gym so he could shoot whenever he wanted.

As a kid growing up in Nova Scotia, he’d shovel snow off the driveway if he had to so he could get out and shoot.

“You can ask my dad,” said Darling. “I’d wake up in the morning around 6 a.m. and the gloves and the shovel, get out there and start shooting.

“I think I was like 10 or 11 when I kind of decided I wanted to be an NBA player. I started giving up things that normal kids wouldn’t do.”

In high school, Darling once put up 50 points in a game and was named the MVP of the Canadian National Basketball Championship. He helped Nova Scotia win the CNBC title in the U17 Division as well as helping Team Canada win a silver medal at the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Basketball Championship.

But Darling also felt like he needed to go to the U.S. if was going to keep improving. He came to the U.S. on his own when he was 15, living with a teacher at DeMatha.

“I was kind of one of the best players around in Halifax,” said Darling, who is now 21. “My dad always told me, if you want to keep growing, you’ve got to keep playing better and better competition.

“I don’t know, it’s a weird thing to do. When you think about it, I’ve been gone for like seven years now. My life is down here basically but my real life is up there. It’s a weird thing to balance.”

Of course, in Canada, it’s not usual for teen-aged hockey players to leave home to play in junior leagues.

Darling does make it back to Halifax for summer and Christmas breaks. He’s spending a few days in Halifax this week before returning to Newark.

The Hens (10-3) host UNCW in their CAA opener on Saturday at 7 p.m.

There’s been ups and downs for both Darling and Delaware this season. After a school-record 9-0 start, in which they received a vote in the AP Top 25 national poll, the Hens have lost three of their last four games.

Darling, who sank 8-of-10 three-pointers against Texas-San Antonio, is only 4-of-16 from beyond the arc in UD’s last two contests. But he’s still hit some big shots, tallying a total of 36 points in the two games.

“Nate could finish a half with zero points and I’m so confident he could come out and have 30 in the second half alone,” teammate Justyn Mutts said earlier this year. “He’s just that kind of player. He’s a microwave-kind-of-guy. He gets hot instantly. And once he’s hot, it’s scary.”

Darling knows not every shot he takes is going to find the bottom of the basket, naturally.

Nate Darling

But, like every other talented scorer, he’s always sure his next shot is hitting nothing but net.

“I’m not a guy who’s going to stop shooting,” he said. “In my head, I’m one of the best shooters in the country. If I’m 1-for-8, if I’m 1-for-100, in my head, the next one’s going in. … If I’m 1-for-12 and I get an open look, it’s going up.

“If I get an open look, I’ve got to shoot it. It’s best for my team if I shoot an open three.”