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A happy resolution comes in Delaware

April 1, 2015 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments

A little over three weeks ago, Monte Ross held court with reporters for over ten minutes following a press conference. His Delaware team had just battled eventual champion Northeastern valiantly in the CAA quarterfinals, but fell short, and that meant the season was over. His contract was up sometime before next season, so there was an open question: would this be the last time?

Would it be the last time he led the Blue Hens?

Would it be the last time he coached a group he led back from a bad start to look like one of the most promising teams for the following season?

Would it be the last time, at least in this capacity, that the group assembled got the chance to have a conversation like this with him?

It seemed likely that the answer to those would be “yes”. But as time went on, and no official announcement that the school had cut ties with Ross came, you had to wonder if he would get a contract extension after all. Coaching vacancies were getting filled, meaning some of the better potential candidates for this job were getting snapped up or signing extensions at their current school, should the idea have been to let Ross go. Finally, a resolution came last week: Ross signed a three-year extension to remain at the school in that capacity.

It was good news for the program from the standpoint that they appear to be turning a corner. Yes, Ross’ early years were not ones for the books, with some ugly win-loss records, but they were the result of him laying down the law and refusing to go for a quick fix with kids who didn’t fit the program. It all started to pay off the last few years, as the Blue Hens have won 48 CAA games the past four seasons. The highlight was last year, when they won the CAA Tournament despite having to suspend their best player and a few others at different times, proving that you can win the right way.

This year, without a contract extension, Ross and his staff simply went to work as if he had a lifetime deal. Their mindset was to do their job. The odds seemed stacked against them; they were beyond inexperienced, having lost a great deal of production from last season’s team in part because they had to boot their top returning player out of the program during the off-season. Again, the law was being laid down. And again, it worked, at least as well as it could under the circumstances.

The Blue Hens started off 2014-15 losing ten in a row, but they turned a corner once the calendar flipped to 2015 and they were healthy. They were a dangerous team in the CAA Tournament as they knocked off three of the four teams that ended the regular season tied atop the CAA. Now, they are set up to be one of the favorites next season, as the roster should stay mostly intact. Had Ross been let go, it was possible that there could be an exodus; one player went on record to say he would transfer if that happened.

Ross has been a fine representative of the university in this role. He’s very understated and is a fun interview in his own right. All along, he has been honest, a stand-up guy and one who has really opened up as he has grown in the role. He gives insights while adding his own form of light-heartedness, some of it on display that night in Baltimore. During his press conference, as one person got up to leave during his opening statement, he interjected, “Was it something I said? The guy just left.” The best, though, came when he was asked about how it would be if this current core were to be broken up, likely as a result of him and the staff being let go.

“It would be… tragic,” he began, before getting a few laughs out of those gathered as he continued. “I’m trying to think of… probably not the same scale as the Beatles… but it would be, for what the students of Delaware, what the alums of Delaware, what the fans of Delaware have always longed for in a basketball team and a basketball program, for these guys not to be kept together. For them to be able to enjoy it for the next three, four, five years, that would be too bad.”

He won’t make anyone forget John Chaney in that department, or even his former boss, Phil Martelli. And he doesn’t need to.

Ross was similar during that conversation after the press conference. You could tell there was mutual respect on both sides, which is refreshing considering the relationship between coaches/athletes and the media is too often adversarial. Many in the community rallied to support him as this went on, with some having signs showing support for him in Baltimore. They appreciate that he has methodically brought the program back with high standards of character along the way. Now he can get back to work knowing he can continue that work with the group he assembled that really grew up as the 2014-15 season went along.

And he can hold court with reporters a few more times along the way.

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