DOVER — After 571 wins and eight state championships in 30 seasons, Stan Waterman had earned the right to coach boys’ basketball at Sanford as long as he wanted.
But Waterman said he’d always talked to his players about not being afraid to step outside their comfort zone.
“I always say, the comfort zone is a safe place but nothing grows there,” he said.
That’s one reason why, at the age of 55, Waterman has decided to take on the biggest challenge of his basketball life.
On Friday, Delaware State officially announced that it is hiring Waterman as its new head men’s basketball coach.
DSU also announced that it has hired Towson assistant E.C. Hill as its new head coach in women’s basketball.
Stepping away from the high school ranks, where Waterman had built a reputation as one of the top coaches the state has ever produced, the former University of Delaware point guard will try to breathe life into a DSU program that has only occasionally put together successful seasons.
Waterman admits that leaving Sanford isn’t easy.
“The first thing is trying to get over these emotions,” he said on Friday morning. “I’m super excited on one end and there’s some sadness to leaving a program where I’ve been for 30 years. That makes it tough.”
At the same time, though, Waterman said there’s a lot to like about what president Dr. Tony Allen is doing at DelState.
“There are a lot of exciting things that are happening at the university,” said the Wilmington native. “Paying attention to that — being a local guy — I’m excited about being a part of that family.
“As far as the basketball piece goes, it’s an opportunity to become a Division I head coach. I think any high school coach has that in the back of their mind — or even in the front of their mind — as a dream or as a goal. That excites me, there’s a challenge.”
Waterman will be DSU’s ninth head men’s hoops coach since 1994 and the 16th coach going back to 1949. Only Jeff Jones, who went 78-72 between 1988-94, finished with a winning record.
But Waterman is a little different given the amount of success he’s already had as a head coach. And while that success was at the high school level, he’s coached more than his share of future college players.
Waterman has also coached at the national level, working with USA Nike Hoop Summit teams and at the 2018 USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team October minicamp. He’s also been a gold medal-winning assistant coach for the 2018 USA Men’s U17 World Cup Team and the 2017 USA Men’s U16 National Team.
“Stan is well prepared for this challenge,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a press release. “I respect him as an outstanding leader in our game. His basketball knowledge and experiences are elite.
“Stan’s leadership and inspirational skills have produced winning teams and outstanding collegiate players throughout his career. His passion for the game and to the state is unmatched. Delaware State University has made a great choice in Stan Waterman.”
Waterman takes over a program that hasn’t reached double digits in victories in any of the last six seasons. The Hornets are just 35-141 in that stretch — including a 9-42 mark over the last two years.
The first jobs for Waterman will be putting together a coaching staff and studying DSU’s roster to see what kind of players he may need to bring in.
The Hornets’ top three seniors all entered the NCAA transfer portal since the season ended. That group includes leading scorer Myles Carter (15.0 ppg), along with Pinky Wiley (10.2) and Ameer Bennett (4.9 ppg).
Wiley is headed for Hampton.
“I look at the roster that is currently in place and we have a lot of guys returning,” said Waterman. “If everybody’s back, there might not even be an opportunity to add much to the roster. It’s making that assessment of what’s there and how do we best put those players in position to have more success.”
Whoever is on the roster, Waterman knows that changing the mindset of the program is the biggest thing that needs to change.
Winning isn’t easy.
“It starts with the culture,” said Waterman. “I know that’s a word that is probably over-used in many regards. But it’s establishing and learning how to compete and win — and win the right way. And I’m talking about winning not only on the court but winning in the classroom and winning in the community and developing a sense of pride in your program.
“Our determination in these first couple years probably won’t be the scoreboard or wins and losses. It’s about making sure we have the right guys in place.”
Hill brings pro experience
On the women’s side, new Hornet coach Hill was a formidable player in her own right.
After a stellar career at Northern Illinois, she played in both the WNBA and in the American Basketball League as well as playing overseas.
At Towson, Hill worked with guard Kionna Jeter, who finished her career averaging 23.0 points per game to rank 10th in the country and first in the Colonial Athletic Association. Jeter became the first player in Towson history to be drafted into the WNBA.
From 2011 to ‘16, Hill was an assistant coach at Arizona. Hill also spent six years as an assistant at her alma mater, Northern Illinois.
Hill, who was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, helped lead the Huskies to three straight NCAA Tournament berths She was named a first-team U.S. Basketball Writers’ Association All-American, a Kodak District Four All-American, a preseason Street and Smith’s and Basketball Times All-American, Mid-Continent Conference Player of the Year, first-team All-Mid-Con and All-Mid-Con Tournament on a 25-6 NCAA Tourney squad that won the 1993-94 Mid-Con regular-season title with an 18-0 record.
“Delaware State University is ripe with opportunity,” said Hill. “Geographically, and as one of the nation’s premier HBCUs, we are perfectly positioned to recruit exceptional student-athletes. The university’s commitment to women’s sports is also clear and compelling. We can create something really special here.”