Fresh off a 2022-23 season that ended with raising the trophy, the Delaware Blue Coats are gearing up for another year that will be filled with high expectations.
Although the bar has been raised, there are not many returning pieces from last year’s championship-winning squad. That will make things tough on newly appointed head coach Mike Longabardi, who has a plethora of young and hungry weapons at his disposal.
“It’s going to be very difficult for me with decisions that I’m going to have to make with who plays. I think we got a nice little core that’s been here before, which has helped me a lot because they give me some ins and outs of what to expect,” Longabardi said. “Then, our two-ways just started playing with us and they’ve been here since July, with the Summer League. They’ve created a nice little chemistry… we have to get everybody acclimated, but I think it’s been one of those situations where there’s just a lot of parity and that’s a good thing.”
One of those new pieces is rookie Terquavion Smith, who is one of the new two-way players that Longabardi referenced. In the early returns of the preseason, Smith easily recognized what the team’s offensive identity could become with a lack of big men on the roster.
“We want a quick attack, so I think we’ll keep that same mindset; fire threes, be fast,” Smith said. “We’re not big down low so I think making threes and putting threes up and getting out is probably our best strength.”
While Smith and fellow rookie Ricky Council IV are expected to lead the team on the court, it’s going to be up to the “veterans” of the team to push the winning culture onto these guys. Jared Brownridge, one of the only four returnees from last year, understands this better than anyone.
“I think anytime you win a championship, the guys that you bring back from that championship team always give good advice to the new players that are coming in,” Brownridge said. “So obviously me, Pat McCaw, DC [Derek Culver], Aminu [Mohammed], we knew what it took in terms of getting ourselves ready in practice and doing what we learned in practice and translating it to the games, so we just want to carry that over and explain that to not only the rookies but new guys on the team. That way they can get a sense of the culture.”
Another person who can help teach the young guys about a winning culture is Longabardi himself, as he carries 20 years of NBA coaching experience with him, including two championships. He’s also worked with some of the greatest players in NBA history, like LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, and so far in his brief time as head coach, he has impressed many.
“He stacks up pretty well with everybody that I’ve been a part of so far as a coach, especially as a head coach,” three-time NBA champion Patrick McCaw said. “I think it starts with the head coach, the way he brings energy to practice. It speaks volumes for guys like us, so when we’re starting our days, we’re kind of looking for him to get us going, and he does that. He definitely stacks up well with all the coaches I’ve ever played for, so I’m excited for the season to start and see where he takes us.”
“Longo’s [Longabardi] a very detail-oriented coach, especially spending as much time as he has in the NBA,” Brownridge added. “Being with Doc Rivers and many other head coaches, I think he’s learned a lot. So just to have him around and be able to pass on that knowledge is something that’s huge for our program.”
The Coats’ quest for back-to-back championships began on Friday, Nov. 10 at Chase Fieldhouse. The guys are beginning to buckle up for the grind of the season, but are looking forward to taking a deep breath and letting loose at their ring ceremony in front of the home fans.
“I’m excited just to see the atmosphere and see all the fans come out because the fans here are amazing,” McCaw said. “They always bring the energy so I’m just excited for Friday to see the outcome and see the turnout.”
“I’m very much looking forward to Friday night,” Brownridge added. “Coming off the championship, finally getting our rings, so having that ceremony and allowing the fans to take in as well. Because they’re a big part of what we do, so it’s a celebration for all of us.”