Shortly after Ed DeChellis arrived in Annapolis to assume the role of men’s basketball coach at Navy, it was time to meet his new players. Only a handful of team members attended the intrductory session, however. All of the others were on a ship.
Such circumstances never were a consideration for DeChellis at Penn State, or either of his previous stops for that matter, so arranging basketball matters around the players’ military obligations has been the most conspicuous modification to his coaching routine. Senior guard Jordan Sugars, for instance, recalled having to enlighten DeChellis on why teammate J.J. Avila was unable to attend a meeting because he had watch duty.
“I think for me the challenge that I’ve had to learn here somewhat is the players aren’t as available as they are at a Penn State,” said DeChellis, who was named coach at Navy two weeks after Billy Lange resigned on May 9 to become a top assistant at Villanova. “There, kids are balancing academics, and then you’ve got them basketball-wise. Here I’ve got the military, the academics, the military and then trying to get our quality basketball work in.”
At Penn State, DeChellis would have his players in the weight room at 6:30 a.m., and then they would attend breakfast at their leisure with practice in the afternoon. At Navy, students have reveille at 6:30, morning meal formation at 7 and breakfast promptly at 7:10. Breakfast lasts 45 minutes, at which time Midshipmen attend classes for four consecutive hours.
Noon meal formation is at 12:05, and lunch is at quarter past the hour. Company training comes after lunch followed by fifth- and sixth-period classes. Finally, there is time allotted for athletics from 3:30 to 6 p.m.
“It’s a lot to throw at you at once,” Sugars said. “We’ve been telling him the ins and outs. It’s kind of funny because it’s something that we’re used to, but at the same time you’ve got to remember [a new] coach doesn’t know this, so we’ve got to explain.”
Last week, DeChellis finally was able to have that long-anticipated full team meeting. Once he and the players moved beyond the initial informal dialogue, the conversation swung toward his vision for a program that finished 11-20 last season and has not made the NCAA tournament since 1998 or won 20 games since 1999-2000.
Since 2000-01, when Navy went 19-12, the Midshipmen have had just three winning seasons, and have lost at least 20 games four times and at least 17 games seven times. From 2003 to ’05, they won a total of 22 games. Since 2002, Navy has finished higher than fourth in the Patriot League only twice.
None of the current players was born the last time Navy won a game in the NCAA tournament, in 1986. Their most vivid recollection of former Midshipmen superstar center David Robinson likely comes from ESPN Classic or the trophy case in Ricketts Hall honoring the school’s most decorated player and 2009 inductee into the basketball Hall of Fame.
For DeChellis, one of the first steps toward rebuilding that tradition was to reach out to former coaches Paul Evans and Don DeVoe. Evans coached Navy during the program’s glory days, when the Midshipmen won 80 games from 1984 through ’86. DeVoe coached Navy for a dozen seasons and directed the team to three NCAA tournament appearances.
“They’re guys that obviously have been very, very successful here at Navy and very successful nationally, so I value their opinions on what they see with the team and individual players,” DeChellis said.
While DeChellis continues to evaluate which offense is best suited for his team, there’s no mistaking his commitment to a trio of fundamentals players can apply regardless of their scoring aptitude: defending, rebounding and ball security. Last season, Navy finished last in the Patriot League and 340th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and was second to last among Patriot League teams in scoring defense.
Part of DeChellis’s routine these days also includes studying as much film from last season as time allows. Though he hasn’t been able to view every Navy game from tip-off to final buzzer, DeChellis at least has been able to gain preliminary knowledge of his team’s strengths and limitations.
That information is particularly valuable not just for implementing strategy but also for recruiting, which begins for DeChellis on Wednesday.
“There’s no sense in me sitting here all summer saying, ‘This is what we want to do,’ and then I get to the fall, and I go, ‘Whoa, guys can’t do that,’ ” DeChellis said. “I told the kids I don’t know what we’re going to do offensively, but I know one thing: We’re going to play great defense. We’re going to rebound [the ball] and take care of it, and we’ve got to be a tough team mentally and physically.”