RD: Best team you’ve played this season? Best win this season?
PMJ: The best team we played is Duke. On the night we played Pitt, they were not far off but Duke is clearly the best. Anytime a team has 3 or 4 McDonald’s All-Americans sitting on their bench they are going to be the best we’ve played! Our best win is probably Virginia. The fact that is was on their floor and that it put us in the NIT semifinals at MSG puts that one ahead of the others. The exposure that our program and university got from that run can only be matched by winning the CAA and going to the NCAA Tournament.
RD: You’re from Philly. Delaware has played every “Big 5” team except St. Joe’s. Coincidence? Any plans of ever getting them on the schedule?
PMJ: That is one of the questions I get asked the most! As long as we can control it, we would not play each other. My father tries to avoid playing people he is close with whenever possible. With Monte (his assistant for 10 years) and me at UD, he would never want to have to play against us. This business is so cutthroat and is all based on wins and losses. What college basketball fans can not totally grasp is the amount of pressure that coaches put on themselves going into each game and you like to enjoy the wins at least for a few minutes. In the moment, you would be competing like you would against anyone else but beating family would bring little joy in the victory. A couple years ago my father was in this situation with my brother who is an assistant at Rutgers for Mike Rice, another of my father’s former assistants. He has said that he could not wait for that game to be over with. St. Joe’s won the game and I know my father could not enjoy that win knowing that he sent his son and a close friend home miserable. For fans and media, it makes for an interesting story line but for the people involved it makes for a tough couple days.
RD: Last year, you guys took Delaware to the postseason for the first time since. Obviously the goal every year is the NCAA Tournament, but what would you settle for?
PMJ: Really our only goal is to win today’s practice. Obviously like everyone else in the CAA we want to win the championship and go to the NCAA Tournament but other than that we are just trying to be the best we can be today. I know it may sound like “coach speak” but it really is what we have been about all season long.
RD: I’m sure you’ve spoken to your father at some point about things this year. What’s the best piece of advice he’s given you as a coach?
PMJ: It really goes back to the early question you asked about what we preach day in, day out. He believes, as we do, that the most important thing is getting better today. Yesterday doesn’t matter anymore and tomorrow is too far away to get caught up in what will happen then. It is about getting everyone on the same page and making individual and collective improvements on a day by day basis to be the best you can be for the stretch run.
RD: How good is Devon Saddler?
PMJ: There are a small number of guys that I’ve been around that match his work ethic. His ability to score the ball is incredible. He is as tough as they come and lives for the competition and the bright lights. This year his assists are up along with his FG% and his turnovers are down without taking away from his scoring. He has been a catalyst for our offense all year because he recognizes when we need him to go get his and when we need him to set up a teammate. The thing that he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for is his defense. We have routinely asked him to guard the other teams’ best perimeter player and he has been outstanding in stepping up to every challenge. He takes great pride in his defense and shutting down some of the best scorers in the country. I believe he should be in the mix for CAA Defensive Player of the Year and a lock on the All Defensive Team.