Team preview: Navy

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.


The U-Haul was barely unpacked in Annapolis when Ed DeChellis went to visit his old friend, Don DeVoe.

It was part social call, part paying a respectful visit to a man who settled in Annapolis after retiring from the job DeChellis just moved to town to take. And it was part picking the brain of a guy who seemed to have figured out how to win at the Naval Academy, at least until athletic scholarships came along and changed the paradigm.

During DeVoe's 12 years at Navy, the Midshipmen made three trips to the NCAA Tournament as Patriot League champions. The three-time league coach of the year led Navy to at least a share of five regular-season titles. Six times the Midshipmen played in the league final.

The team DeChellis, who left Penn State after a run to the NCAA Tournament to take the Navy job, inherits from DeVoe's successor is not of that mold.

DeChellis takes over a team that never made it out of the first round of the Patriot League Tournament in seven seasons under Billy Lange, who left in May to rejoin Jay Wright's staff at Villanova.

Navy Midshipmen

Expect DeChellis to use some of the tactics DeVoe had success with as he tries to rebuild the program, particularly a heavy emphasis on using the Naval Academy Prep School and the school's junior varsity program to build a pool of talent that can contend in the Patriot.

DeVoe used that strategy very effectively. While the postgraduate military commitment is a big handicap in recruiting, the Academy technically does not give out athletic scholarships and is not subject to the same numbers limits other teams are.


This year Navy has 19 players listed on its preseason roster. The numbers in the program will get bigger beginning next year, when the basketball program at NAPS is reinstated.

DeVoe used to send recruits there for a year of maturing and becoming accustomed to military life. It is an idea with several benefits.

DeChellis will be instrumental in selecting the new NAPS coach. Whoever gets the job will be an extension of DeChellis' staff. Players will spend a year running Navy's system while boosting their academics.

It also is a de facto redshirt year in a league where rules prohibit redshirts. The result is Navy plebes who are more ready to contribute when they get to Annapolis.

There is a certain element of "throw enough and some will stick" to the approach, too. Without limits on the numbers of players it can bring in, Navy can take chances on late bloomers and projects -- the kinds of kids who used to star in the Patriot League before the scholarship era.

DeChellis will be able to bring in enough players to fill the prep school roster each year. Some will transition straight to Navy's varsity. Others will get more seasoning in Navy's throwback JV program, which plays 12 to 14 games.

In DeVoe's heyday, Navy seemed to have an almost endless supply of mature upper classmen who came out of nowhere to make an impact with the varsity as a junior or senior.

All this is in the plans, but redeveloping the NAPS pipeline will take time to make an impact. The first players to go through the system won't enter NAPS until next fall. It will be three seasons until any arrive in Annapolis.

In the meantime, DeChellis faces the challenge of trying to keep the Midshipmen competitive during the transition.

It won't be easy. Navy will be among the youngest teams in the country. There are three seniors on the roster. Only one of the three, 6-3 guard Jordan Sugars (16.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), has any significant experience.

The rest of the roster is made up of sophomores (six) and freshmen (10). There is no junior class.

The two other seniors, 6-2 guard Ted Connolly (0.3 ppg, 0.0 rpg) and 6-6 forward Carlton Smith (0.5 ppg, 0.4 rpg), may well benefit from a fresh start under DeChellis. But it will be Sugars who DeChellis will need to carry the big load.

Navy's top scorer the last two seasons, Sugars will once again be counted on for points and rebounds. He's been among the league's rebounding leaders the last two seasons. He's also a three-point threat, having made 68 threes a year ago.

"Jordan is a proven commodity," DeChellis said. "We're going to count on him for leadership, too."

The only other proven commodity for the Midshipmen is 6-7 sophomore forward J.J. Avila (11.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), last season's Patriot League Rookie of the Year. Avila was among the league's scoring and rebounding leaders as a freshman.

Avila played like a big wing much of the time in Lange's no-post offense. DeChellis would like to see him become a bit more of a back-to-the-basket threat. To that end, Avila came back having added 10-15 pounds in the offseason.

"J.J. is bigger, stronger," DeChellis said.

Slightly less proven is 6-1 sophomore combo guard Isaiah Roberts (5.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg), who started 14 games as a freshman. That's not a lot of experience, but on this roster it makes Roberts the Mids' third-most seasoned vet.

Roberts will play. Whether it is on the wing or at the point is yet to be determined.

"We don't have a proven point guard," DeChellis said.

Sophomore Brennan Wyatt (3.4 ppg, 1.2 rpg) played in 31 games, starting five last season. The 5-8 Wyatt reached double figures three times as a freshman. He will be in the mix at the point, along with 5-7 freshman Kevin Alter, 5-11 freshman Jon Ward-Adams, and 5-10 freshman Earl McLaurin, who started at the point last season at NAPS.

"We've got some guys who can play the point; none of them have played a lot of minutes, though," DeChellis said.

There is a little more experience on the wings, with Sugars, possibly Roberts, and 6-3 sophomore Thurgood Wynn (1.5 ppg, 0.5 rpg). Wynn appeared in 25 games last season. Brandon Venturini, a 6-0 freshman shooter who spent last year at NAPS, was a 26 points-per-game scorer in high school. He'll get a chance to break into the rotation.

Donya Jackson, a 6-3 freshman who prepped last season at Mercersburg Academy and averaged 22 points and almost seven rebounds there, will also get a shot. Ditto for Jackson's prep school teammate Chall Montgomery, a 6-2 freshman who averaged 21.6 points at Mercersburg.

"We've got some kids we think are talented. But we will have to develop them," DeChellis said.

Avila will be a stretch-the-floor weapon at the four. Who will join him in the frontcourt is anybody's guess heading into preseason drills.

Sophomore James Loupos (2.9 ppg, 1.3 rpg) will get a chance, if for no other reason than he is 6-6 and there is not a lot of size on the roster. Loupos did play in 30 games last season, including nine starts. Like Avila, Loupos is more at home on the perimeter.

Carlton Smith, a 6-6, 220-pound senior, will get a look up front, as will freshmen Worth Smith and Jared Smoot. Smoot is 6-10, making him the only guy on the roster taller than the 6-7 Avila. He really is more of a project than a ready-to-play big man, but his size means he will at least get a shot at making the rotation. Worth Smith, 6-5, played the three in high school, but Navy's lack of size means he will get a chance to see if he can handle some minutes inside.

Long term DeChellis would like a more traditional rotation, with some big, strong, real post types to balance the abundance of guards. This year he'll make do with what he has got.

"We don't have a whole lot of depth. We'll adapt our style to who we think are our top guys," DeChellis said. "We'll have to be creative and try to find ways to play our best guys."






This is likely to be a tough season in Annapolis, as DeChellis tries to make do with a roster recruited to play Lange's three-pointer happy up-tempo small ball.

DeChellis wants to play a solid man-to-man as his base defense, but the undersized Mids are going to find it tough to match up with teams with legitimate post players.

The roster is dominated by freshman. Numbers alone make it likely some of those plebes will be asked to be important parts of DeChellis' rotation. That is a lot to ask of any freshman, but especially at one of the military academies, where the physical rigors of the first year, and the mental challenges of adapting to the Academy lifestyle, make it a tough adjustment on and off the court.

While he waits for the talent to catch up, DeChellis will set out to build a new culture around his program.

"There are three things you have to do to win: play good defense, rebound at both ends of the floor and not turn it over," DeChellis said.

That seems like good areas to focus on. Last year's Navy team was the worst in the league in defense and rebounding and turned it over more often than any other Patriot League team.

Like his friend DeVoe, DeChellis arrives having already taken two other schools (East Tennessee State was the other) to the NCAA Tournament.

DeVoe made it three by leading Navy to the PL crown his second season. Expect it to take DeChellis a little longer.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.