by Chris 'Blue Shorts' Lingebach

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Delaware men’s basketball coach Monté Ross has elected to go with a little levity to soften the blow of drawing a heavyweight in the Blue Hens’ first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years.

Ross joined the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday, with whom he discussed his team’s meteoric rise to the national spotlight in 2013, while expressing how he’s kept the mood light for a team full of players making their tournament debuts on Thursday.

Delaware, armed with a formidable backcourt – made up of senior guards Davon Usher and Devon Saddler, and backed by junior guard Jarvis Threatt – drew tournament regular Michigan State – in a 4 vs. 13 matchup – in the 2nd round of the 2014 tourney, to be played in Spokane, Wash.

The Blue Hens posted the school’s best record (25-9) in seven seasons under Ross’ direction, along the way to a Colonial Association championship in 2013.

Ross spoke of the relationship between Saddler and Usher, who transferred to Delaware from Mississippi Valley State prior to this season, and the instrumental role that relationship has played on the team’s dramatic growth.

“When [Usher] got here, he called Devon Saddler and said, ‘Look, I scored a lot of points at Mississippi Valley State, but I’m coming to Delaware to win. It’s your team. You lead, I’ll follow. I’ll do whatever it takes to win,’” Ross recalled.

“And when I heard that story from Devon Saddler – that Davon had called him and said that – I knew we were going to be okay this year,” he said.

Since struggling out of the gate with a 53-103 record in his first four seasons, Ross has shown he’s taking the Blue Hen program in the right direction, trending upward with a 62-37 record in the last three seasons.

He withholds no gratitude for Phil Martelli, he explained, of whom he was a disciple as a St. Joseph’s assistant for 10 seasons prior to taking the Delaware job in 2006, for instilling in him the understanding of how to treat players required to lead his team successfully.

“He really, really gets it, in terms of this being a people business, and you must treat people the right way,” Ross said.

“No matter if you’re up or if you’re down, there’s a certain level of respect that you have to treat people [with] at all times,” he said. “And I’ll never ever forget him for instilling that in me.”

As for how he’s prepared his current squad for the pressure-cooker that is March Madness, and the battle-tested Spartans, who have made the tournament each of the last 16 seasons (6 Final Four appearances and 1 National Championship), Ross couldn’t shy away from a cheap laugh.

“I’ve been trying to fool them ever since that selection has come up and we’re playing Michigan State,” he said.

“I’ve told them a couple things — and I hope they believe me, because they’ve been believing me all year with everything – one of the things that I told them was, we’re going to try to capitalize on Tom Izzo’s lack of tournament experience.

“I said, ‘Look, they might have beat Michigan for the Big Ten title,’ but I said, ‘look fellas, look what we had to endure – we had to be William and Mary.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio clip above.


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