Sweet 16: Devon Saddler, Delaware

With little fanfare, Devon Saddler committed to Delaware over Drexel and Towson in the fall of 2008. Less than one year later, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound combo guard was back on the AAU circuit, headed to prep school and receiving substantially more interest from a variety of high-major schools.

Saddler, who graduated from Aberdeen in 2009, heard from DePaul, North Carolina State, Oregon, Rutgers, Washington and several other programs thanks to his play with Baltimore Assault. More college coaches discovered the Baltimore Sun second-team All-Metro selection when he took part in open gyms at the Winchendon (Mass.) School that fall.

While the increased attention left Saddler flattered, there was never any doubt in his mind about what he would do during the 2009 fall signing period.

“I knew I was going to sign the papers to the University of Delaware,” Saddler said. “I kind of did look into the other schools, but I really didn’t pay that hype any attention.”

When Saddler’s letter of intent arrived at the Delaware basketball offices, Blue Hens coach Monte' Ross -- who discovered the Aberdeen star at a camp in New Jersey before his senior year -- breathed an expected sigh of relief.

“He was a very, very loyal young man,” Ross said. “That eased our fears in terms of him going to prep school. … We were pretty confident in just the type of young man that he was. He wasn’t a wishy-washy type of young man. He was the type of young man that said what he meant and meant what he said. He pretty much stuck to his word. You always look for that in young men.”

Saddler’s loyalty to Delaware worked out well for both parties throughout the 2010-11 season. The Blue Hens experienced a seven-game improvement from the previous season, and Saddler established himself as one of the Baltimore area’s top college players by earning Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year honors.“Winning Rookie of the Year in such a tough league, such a highly regarded league … is quite an accomplishment,” Ross said. “He brought a different type of intensity to our team from Day 1. I think other guys on our team really, really appreciated that. We were better from Day 1 [because of] the type of competitor he was and what he was bringing to the program.”

Saddler’s freshman campaign got off to a promising start. He led the Blue Hens (14-17, 8-10 CAA) in scoring in his first two college games – 19 points in a loss at Ohio, and 15 points in a loss at Cornell. The highlight for Saddler – who averaged 13.3 points and 4.3 rebounds – came at Towson in January.

With plenty of supporters in the Towson Arena stands, Saddler was shut out in the first half. In the second half he came out possessed, pouring in 13 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field. That flawless second-half performance included the highlight of his young career.

“We ran a double screen for Jawan [Carter], and they double-teamed him,” Saddler recalled. “I was open and I hit the game-winner. He kicked it out to me for the 3. It was a buzzer-beater. It was a blessing. It felt so good. I never had a buzzer-beater 3.

“I felt like I was coming out of my shell. I had just now arrived. It was time for me to just start taking over.”

Saddler, whose Blue Hens claimed a 66-63 win over the Tigers that day, did just that for the rest of his freshman year. He carried that over to the summer, when he split time between Newark, Del., and Baltimore. Saddler was a frequent participant in the Melo Center Pro-Am League, teaming with San Antonio Spurs guard and fellow Harford County native Gary Neal against the likes of Josh Selby (Memphis Grizzlies), Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee Bucks) and several others.

Competing with professionals was an eye-opening experience for Saddler.

“I feel like I can go as high as [those] guys can go,” he said. “I came to play, day in and day out. When I was up there, I was holding my own. I’m like, why not? Why can’t I make it if they can? I feel like this year I’m going to try and win the CAA championship and take it from there. We’ve got great leadership this year. … This is our year.”

Ross said Saddler has worked hard on his outside shooting this summer, and has continued to get stronger. He sees no reason why the reigning CAA Rookie of the Year can’t take another step forward this year.

“I think he’s a reason why we took so many strides last year. I think he’ll be one of the reasons why we take more strides this year,” Ross said. “I think his natural leadership ability will come out and he’ll help us in taking the next step. He’s really excited about it. And he’s put the work in this summer to be excited about it. I think good things will happen for him.”

Rookie success hasn’t gone to Saddler’s head. If anything, individual accolades have made Saddler hungrier for team success. He’s ready to do everything he can to help Delaware rise in the CAA standings.

“I’m pleased so far, but I’m not settling,” Saddler said. “I think this year is going to be my breakout year. [I hope] to have a great year this year. I’m working out, my jump shot is falling now [and] I’m getting more comfortable shooting off the dribble. This year might be my year. I might go off.”

The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the 16 best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.

Previous Sweet 16 selections:

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