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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
One of the best stories in college basketball that no one knows about over the last few years has been the emergence of Delaware State in the MEAC.
Head coach Greg Jackson has brought amazing stability to a program that didn't have any. Before Jackson came to DSU, the Hornets program had seven head coaches in eight years. One red-shirt player played for five coaches in five years.
That all changed with Jackson, who came to DSU from North Carolina Central five years ago. The Hornets immediately improved under Jackson's direction. They finished in the upper half of the MEAC each year and made runs at regular-season championships.
The only thing missing was a tournament title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. DSU had come up short in the MEAC tournament until last March. The Hornets went to their first NCAA Tournament when Aaron Williams tipped in a missed shot in the 55-53 title game over Hampton to give DSU its first MEAC championship. The Hornets also won their first regular-season title.
Delaware State then picked up a predictable No. 16-seeding and got to face top-seeded Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in the Charlotte Coliseum. The Hornets didn't win but surprised the Blue Devils a bit by leading for part of the first half. Jackson's small lineup confused the ACC champions and shockingly, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had to adjust to what Delaware State was doing. Duke eventually wore down the Hornets but had to work very hard to win, 57-46.
"They won their regular season and their tournament," Coach K said after the game. "They believe in what they do and are extremely well-coached. We knew this would be a tough game, and we're just glad to win."
The nation got to meet Delaware State and Jackson in their finest hour. The nation also got to know Jackson in a different way on the personal side. Jackson's son, Greg Jr., is 17 but suffers from sickle cell anemia; a disease inherited from his parents that largely affects African-Americans. If left to its own devices, the blood disorder could kill him by the time he's 40.
Through DSU's greatest season, Jackson had to deal with his son's condition that suddenly worsened. He got very sick on the bus when the Hornets were on their way to a game at Coppin State. The bus rushed him to a hospital. The elder Jackson made it to the game two minutes before tip-off.
In June, Jackson brought his son to the Duke Medical Center for a bone marrow transplant from his younger son Justin. The operation, initially at least, appeared to be a success.
So whether the Hornets repeat their MEAC titles is not Jackson's top priority. But Delaware State is now one of the best programs in the MEAC. The Hornets return three starters from last year's club and will be one of the teams to beat this year.
The core of last year's team is back. Start with 6-0 sophomore point guard Darrin Shine. As a freshman, he averaged six points per game and had 108 assists. He will be pushed by 6-2 freshman newcomer Melvin Smith, who played at prep school -- Lutheran Christian Academy in Pennsylvania -- last year after averaging 19 points per game in 2003-04 at Burlington Township High School.
Six-foot-two red-shirt freshman Phillip Brown, 6-1 junior Caheem Broadus (2.6 ppg) and 6-0 red-shirt freshman Quincy Marshall will all fight for playing time in the backcourt.
The Hornets should be fine at the shooting guard spot with the return of 6-6 sophomore Jasha Bluntt (13.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg). He was voted MEAC Tournament MVP after he scored 16 points in the title game.
Adding depth here will be 6-5 junior college transfer Elyon Bush. The Maryland native played at Frederick Community College the last two years and averaged 14.5 points and 9.2 rebounds.
The small forward spot is a key position for DSU because it has to replace Terrance Hunter. Six-foot-five sophomore Troy Roundtree (5.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg) was a role player for the Hornets last year, but should get a shot to play more this season along with two newcomers.
The recruits are 6-7 junior college transfer Joe Dickens via Western Oklahoma State Community College and 6-6 freshman Frisco Sandridge from Heritage High School in Lynchburg, Va. Dickens averaged eight points and eight rebounds for a very good JUCO program, while Sandridge collected 24 points per game as a high school senior.
In the pivot, the Hornets will go with either 6-9 sophomore Aaron Fleetwood or 6-7 transfer Marcus Johnson. Fleetwood didn't play much last season, averaging 2.4 points and 2.0 rebounds. Johnson played at the District of Columbia and averaged five points per game.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Delaware State is in a new position this year as the defending MEAC champions. The Hornets have never experienced that before, and it will be interesting to see how they handle the role of champion.
We think they'll handle it fine, thanks to the excellent coaching of Jackson, arguably the best coach in the MEAC. As we mentioned earlier, he took over a terrible program and made it a MEAC contender right away. The Hornets maintained that level of success ever since.
DSU graduated some key players from last year but enough talent returns for another title run. Look for a second- to third-place finish and a possible trip to the MEAC title game.
For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).