The Delaware State coach has a Villanova connection

There are three people former Villanova forward Will Sheridan considers father figures in his life: his real father, Jay Wright, and Delaware State coach Stan Waterman.

While the Wildcats’ Monday home game against Delaware State (6:30 p.m., FS2) is seen by most as an opportunity to get back on track after a Friday loss at Temple, the game takes on added significance for the second-year forward from Sheridan and Villanova Nnanna Njoku. Both played under Waterman at the Sanford School in Hockessin, Del.

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“It’s going to be really weird,” Njoku said. “It’s going to be hard not to laugh a little just because I usually go to him before the game to ask him what the game plan is, what he wants me to do differently. And now I’m going to have to do this against him.

Waterman is in his second year as Hornets coach after spending 30 seasons at Sanford. During his tenure, the Warriors won eight state titles, including 2002 with Sheridan and 2019 and 2021 with Njoku.

“I watched Villanova’s basketball a lot, a huge Jay Wright fan,” Waterman said of the retired Hall of Fame Wildcats coach. “These things they did very well, we tried to implement them and install them in our curriculum at the secondary level.”

Waterman also coached Villanova striker Eric Dixon. Waterman was an all-American basketball assistant for the youth teams in 2016 and 2017, when Dixon attended national team training camp.

Waterman faces a tough road to repeat his Sanford success at Delaware State (1-1), a year after taking over a team that went 3-16 in 2020-21. He went 2-26 in his first season, and ranks the Hornets 362nd out of 363 Division I teams this season.

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He sees Villanova as the standard of basketball cultures and wants to develop Delaware State the same way Villanova developed under Wright. However, Waterman has experience building a program. Njoku says one of the reasons he chose Villanova was that his culture was similar to the one he found himself in under Waterman at Sanford.

“Sanford was a huge basketball school, Villanova is a huge basketball school,” Njoku said. “As far as training goes, we played very under control and played to our strengths. [at Sanford]. I feel like that’s what Villanova does.

Sheridan regularly talks to Waterman, even though he hasn’t played for him in 20 years.

“It’s really about relationships, and to have our relationship continue and grow 20 years later is pretty impressive,” Waterman said. “I take this responsibility – as a coach, as a teacher, as a mentor – very seriously and challenge [my players] to be able to do the same thing, to pass it on to the guys who come up behind them.

Sheridan is still following Waterman and his team. He attends most of Villanova’s games, but in between trips last week he visited Memorial Hall in Dover for the Hornets’ 104-67 win over Division III Immaculata.

“I don’t think he even knew I was coming to the game,” Sheridan said. “Coach is in my life. He’s my guy. I text him all the time. I admit he’s very focused and engaged right now on Del State basketball, so I’m getting a little less texting, but I keep in touch with him.

Waterman understands that Monday will be a tough game for his team.

“We’re really looking, No. 1, for an opportunity to compete,” Waterman said. “But also, an opportunity for us to see how an established and successful program really succeeds.”

Njoku expects a challenge.

“I have a few friends who play on the team and they told me he coaches the same way he coached at Sanford,” Njoku said. “They do everything very precisely, under control. It should be fun.”

However, Sheridan knows what he is hoping for.

“I support Coach Waterman, but I want Villanova to win,” Sheridan said. “Cut me, I’m bleeding blue and white, I’m Villanova. Just like I’m Delaware, I’m Coach Waterman, but I’m a Wildcat.

James C. Tibbs