Surrounded by local recruiting talent and playing in a conference that sent two different programs to the Final Four in the last decade, Martin Ingelsby believes Delaware basketball is “a sleeping giant of a job” for a head coach.
That’s no empty talk, either. Ingelsby had unique perspective on the Delaware program before being introduced as the Blue Hens’ head coach in May.
Ingelsby may have spent the better part of two decades in South Bend, Indiana, both as a player and coach at the University of Notre Dame, but he knows the basketball landscape in which Delaware resides.
It’s a position Ingelsby said was “at the top of my wish list.” That made it worth the wait until late May, when he was officially introduced.
“There wasn’t another job in the country that I wanted,” he said. “I thought I made that clear in the interview process I was willing to wait for it.”
Ingelsby’s move to Delaware isn’t exactly a homecoming, but it’s close.
Newark’s just a 45-mile shot down Interstate 95 from Philadelphia, where Ingelsby starred as a prep prospect at Archbishop Carroll High School. Before becoming a Golden Domer, the point guard Ingelsby took an unofficial visit to Delaware for a Philadelphia 76ers exhibition game, part of his recruitment by a familiar Division I coach.
Mike Brey and longtime assistant Sean Kearney became colleagues of Ingelsby’s not long after Ingelsby’s decorated playing career. Before sharing the sideline at Notre Dame, however, Brey and Kearney made the pitch to bring Ingelsby to Delaware nearly 20 years earlier.
The duo got the chance to coach Ingelsby in his final year, ostensibly beginning a relationship that endured at Notre Dame through last season — the second straight season to end in the Elite Eight, marking the program’s best stretch since the 1970s.
On the way to the Midwest Regional Final in 2015, when Notre Dame nearly upset undefeated Kentucky, the Irish won the ACC Tournament in a moment Ingelsby relishes.
“Probably in year two of being in the ACC, going down and winning the ACC championship,” he said when asked about his favorite games from 13 years as a staffer for Brey’s teams. “To be able to do that in year two of our ACC presence, to be able to go through Duke and Carolina, beat those brands and traditions, it was almost surreal in the moment.”
The last two seasons set a new modern-day standard for Notre Dame, but helping to build the program to such a level prepared Ingelsby for his own head-coaching position.
“The thing I’ll always remember is the type of kids we had in our program and the relationships I had with those kids,” he said. “That’s one thing I’ll always remember about how Mike ran his program; the relationship he had with his players was [of] the utmost importance to him.”
Now on the other side of the dynamic, part of Ingelsby’s job is recruiting the prospects found in abundance on the I-95 corridor who fit and can grow into those relationships.
“It’s not about getting players, but the right players,” he said of his recruiting philosophy.
Ingelsby has the right kind of player in his first year. The Blue Hens are just two years removed from reaching the fifth NCAA Tournament in program history — two came under Brey in 1998 and 1999.
They return veteran players such as Chivarsky Corbett, a talented swingman who missed most of 2015-’16 due to an ACL injury, and Cazmon Hayes, one of last season’s top scorers and rebounders. Corbett and Hayes are two of Ingelsby’s earliest recruiting victories; both flirted with the possibility of transferring as the coaching vacancy lingered, but ultimately remained with Delaware.
The Blue Hens finished 10th in the Colonial Athletic Association last season. It’s a tough league — finishing with the nation’s No. 9 overall RPI in 2015-’16 — and has been for awhile. Former members George Mason and VCU made Final Four runs in the past decade.
However, it’s a conference in which teams can make immediate upward strides.
“Within the CAA, which excites me a bit, UNC-Wilmington and Hofstra two years ago were [about] where Delaware was in the CAA this [past] year,” Ingelsby said. “And last year, they’re playing for a championship to go to the NCAA Tournament.”
Ingelsby said it’s going to take tremendous effort, but the Blue Hens’ daily progress has him bullish on their outlook.
“By February we want people to look around and say, ‘Whoa, where did Delaware come from?’
“I think our guys have a chip on their shoulder to prove, hey, we’ve got some good players in this program,” he added.
It may or may not happen in year one, but Ingelsby’s belief in the Delaware “sleeping giant” could have the Blue Hens on course for more NCAA Tournament appearances.