Delaware guard Devon Saddler has had quite the season at the University of Delaware. It began with Saddler being suspended for a month just two games into the year for an undisclosed violation. It culminated with him breaking the all-time points record for the Fightin’ Blue Hens and leading the school to its first NCAA tournament birth since 1999. Saddler has run the gamut of emotions this season as he went from suspended senior to celebrated star.
The 6’2″ guard from Aberdeen, MD led Delaware to its first tournament appearance in 15 years by taking care of William and Mary 75-74 in the final of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. The Fightin’ Blue Hens actually trailed by six with only 1:20 to play, but Saddler started a 7-0 run with a pair of free throws and senior forward Carl Baptiste scored the deciding basket with 10 seconds left on the clock.
Delaware coach Monte Ross had actually drawn up a play designed for Saddler to take the final shot, but the senior guard was having none of it. He was adamant in the huddle that the ball should go down low to Batiste, who punished William and Mary inside on his way to a career high 24 points. Coach Ross relented and the rest is history.
”I tell you what, it was crowded in there when we got it to him,” Ross said, “but he powered it into the basket.”
Saddler’s basketball acumen was not the only trait he had on display during the CAA championship. The Fightin’ Blue Hens’ all-time leading scorer added 16 points and five assists in Delaware’s first ever CAA tournament championship appearance. Saddler was named to the All-CAA First Team for the second straight season after leading the league in scoring with just under 20 points per game.
Delaware’s return to the Big Dance after a 15-year drought seemed improbably back in November. At the time the Fightin’ Blue Hens started the year 0-2, and Saddler was suspended for 7 games. It was a long road for Saddler, who was determined to go from suspended to once again celebrated by not only Delaware fans, but by his teammates and coach.
“We hold our student-athletes to high standards academically, athletically, and socially,” Ross said. “When those standards are not met, there are consequences. Devon realizes that he now has an obligation to regain the trust of his teammates, coaches, and fans.”
The two-time All-CAA player was able to do just that. He worked hard to be able to get back on the court on Dec. 16 against North Dakota State, and he has been a model of senior leadership for Delaware ever since. At the end of January, he had to take on even more of the scoring and leadership load as junior guard Jarvis Thrett and sophomore forward Marvin King-Davis each received month-long suspensions of their own. Thrett averaged over 18 points per game while King-Davis averaged five.
In the midst of Thrett’s and King-Davis’ suspensions, Saddler led the Fighting Blue Hens through the meat of their conference schedule going 7-2, on their way to a CAA leading 14-2 mark. Over that stretch he worked to be more of an all-around player, rather than just a scorer, and Delaware keeps reaping the benefits of that work.
“I feel like this year I just wanted to elevate my game and get more rebounds and more assists. Saddler said. “I didn’t want to just be known as just a scorer… I want to be known as a great basketball player.”
As Delaware’s all-time leading scorer becomes more of a complete player, Delaware will seek to do some damage in the field of 68. Saddler and his crew finally have some experience playing together after being suspended, and it could lead to the team being celebrated on a national stage.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika