Leading a college basketball program amidst a pandemic has proven extremely challenging.
Navigating coronavirus testing and various safety protocols is nerve-wracking. Adjusting to losing players to positive tests and contact tracing is frustrating. Postponements and cancellations arise with a moment’s notice.
Ed DeChellis steered the Navy men’s basketball program through the rough seas of COVID-19 as well as any head coach in college basketball. The Midshipmen faced their share of obstacles and overcame each, compiling a 15-2 overall record and 12-1 mark in the Patriot League.
Navy closed the 2020-21 campaign on a five-game winning streak to capture the Patriot League regular season championship for the first time since 2000. The Midshipmen earned the top seed for the Patriot League tournament and are seeking to earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
Those accomplishments earned DeChellis the Patriot League Coach of the Year honor, it was announced Tuesday afternoon. Navy had two other honorees as senior captain Cam Davis was named first team All-Patriot League, while junior power forward Richard Njoku was named to the All-Defensive team.
“I am humbled by this award,” DeChellis said. “Winning is all about the players, and it goes without saying I have an outstanding team of talented young men to coach. Credit for this goes to them.”
DeChellis also cited the contributions of assistants Emmett Davis, Drew Gibson, Adam Notteboom and Jon Perry, as well as strength and conditioning coach Brandon Spayd and athletic trainer Hannah Jaussen.
“They all did an incredible job, and I am so proud to work with them daily. I accept this award on their behalf,” DeChellis said. “You always need a great team around you to be successful and I’m blessed to have a great support staff.”
This is the first coach of the year honor for DeChellis during his 10-year tenure at Navy and the fourth of his career. The 62-year-old was previously named 2009 Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year while at Penn State and was a two-time Southern Conference Coach of the Year (2001, 2002) while at East Tennessee State.
“This one might be the most gratifying because the program was so unhealthy when we took over,” DeChellis said. “We started from ground zero and steadily built this thing up.”
DeChellis becomes the third Navy coach to receive the award. Don DeVoe was named Patriot League Coach of the Year in 1994, 1997 and 2000. Billy Lange, currently the head coach at St. Joseph’s, earned the honor in 2008.
The Midshipmen went 3-1 against nonconference competition with a signature win against Georgetown in Washington, D.C.
“I think coach DeChellis could have won this award in several other seasons. For the most part, this program has always exceeded preseason expectations during his tenure,” said Emmett Davis, who was an assistant under DeVoe from 1986 through 1998.
Jon Perry, who played for DeChellis at East Tennessee State and has worked for him for a total of 15 seasons, was thrilled to see his mentor recognized.
“I’m happy to see coach get the recognition he deserves for all he has given to this program. He leads by example and sets the standard in terms of work ethic,” Perry said.
Davis, in his sixth season as an assistant, admitted he got a bit emotional after learning his boss had been voted coach of the year by his peers. That’s because Davis and the rest of the staff know what DeChellis has gone through this season health-wise.
“When I saw the [news] release, it brought tears to my eyes. It’s been an incredibly difficult season for coach, but he’s met all the challenges head-on,” Davis said. “He’s a hard-nosed, tough person with a very genuine, caring side. We’ve all rallied around coach and we’re very happy to see him get this recognition because it’s so deserving.”
DeChellis acknowledged the success of Navy basketball was particularly special this season because he was reminded of his own mortality by the scare provided by the stroke. Medical tests administered at the hospital discovered DeChellis had diabetes, which has led to a major lifestyle change and regular medication.
“I feel like a blessed man. I went through some serious health issues and was fortunate to come out much better on the other side,” said DeChellis, who was unable to coach Navy in Sunday’s regular season finale because of complications related to being diabetic. “I’m back on my feet now, but while I was down my assistants and players kept the program going forward.”
Cam Davis is the first Navy men’s basketball player to earn first team All-Patriot League honors since 2018. The 6-foot combination guard was a second-team selection last season, becoming the ninth Navy player to earn multiple all-league accolades. Davis leads Navy in scoring with 17.1 points per game and assists with a 2.7 average. He currently ranks 20th on Navy’s all-time list with 1,215 career points, one of 25 players to surpass the 1,000 plateau.
This is the fifth time in the six-year existence of the Patriot League All-Defensive team that a Navy player has been selected. Njoku joins Will Kelly (2016), Bryce Dulin (2017, 2018) and Hasan Abdullah (2019).
Njoku leads Navy with nine blocked shots this season and has recorded a personal single-season high of 14 steals. The imposing and physical 6-foot-7, 230-pound product of St. John’s Collegiate High School in D.C. has also scored more points this year (114) than he did as a freshman and sophomore combined (83).