Delaware State coach has Villanova connection

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

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

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“It’s going to feel really weird,” Njoku said. “It will be difficult not to laugh a little just because I’m used to going up to him before the game and asking him what the game plan is like, what should I do differently. And now I have to do this against him.”

Waterman is in his second year as coach of the Hornets 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’ve watched a lot of Villanova basketball, I’m a big Jay Wright fan,” Waterman said of the Wildcats’ retired Hall of Fame coach. “The things that they did really well, we tried to implement and install in our program at the high school level.”

Waterman also coached Villanova forward Eric Dixon. Waterman was the U.S. youth basketball assistant in 2016 and 2017 when Dixon attended national team training camp.

Waterman faces a difficult journey to repeat his Sanford win at Delaware State (1-1), a year after taking charge of a team that won 3-16 in 2020-21. He finished 2-26 in his freshman 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 the state of Delaware the way Villanova developed under Wright. However, Waterman has experience building a program. Njoku says that one of the reasons he chose Villanova was that his culture was similar to what he was in under Waterman at Sanford.

“Sanford was a huge basketball school; Villanova is a huge basketball school,” said Njoku. “From the point of view of coaching, we played in a very controlled manner and played to our strengths [at Sanford]. I have a feeling that Villanova is doing just that.”

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

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

Sheridan is still following Waterman and his team. He attends most Villanova games, but 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. That’s my type. I text him all the time. I’ll admit he’s very focused and committed to Del State Basketball right now, so I’m getting a few fewer messages back, but I’m keeping in touch.

Waterman understands Monday will be a difficult game for his team.

“We’re really looking for a way to be No. 1,” Waterman said. “But then also an opportunity for us to see how an established and successful program really works.”

Njoku awaits a challenge.

“I have a couple of friends who play in the team and they told me he trains the same way he did at Sanford,” said Njoku. “They do everything very precisely, controlled. It should be fun.”

However, Sheridan knows what he’s hoping for.

“I cheer for Coach Waterman, but I want Villanova to win,” Sheridan said. “Cut me open, I’m bleeding blue and white, I’m Villanova. Like I’m Delaware, I’m Coach Waterman, but I’m a wildcat.”

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