Canada’s basketball boom in the 1990s and 2000s has made hardwood stars one of the nation’s chief exports into the U.S.
But even as Canada has produced a number of recent NCAA standouts – noteworthy names like Andrew Wiggins, Dillon Brooks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and many more – Nova Scotia remained a new frontier.
To that end, Delaware guard Nate Darling is something of a pioneer.
“The two guys in my generation, it was me and Lindell Wiggington from Iowa State, who’s in the G League now,” Darling said. “Growing up together, we were the two when we were kids everybody put against each other, like who’s better.”
Blazing a new trail requires venturing out into the unknown, and Darling’s path from Nova Scotia to Newark routed through America’s capitol.
While Wiggington headed to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, Darling spent 2013 through 2016 at D.C. prep basketball powerhouse DeMatha Catholic.
“The basketball out there [in Nova Scotia] when we [Darling and Wiggington] were there was competitive, there just wasn’t much exposure, which is why I left,” Darling explained.
In terms of garnering exposure, DeMatha is one of the premier destinations for a baller. The school produced a laundry list of stars spanning multiple generations: Adrian Dantley, Sidney Lowe and Adrian Branch in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Victor Oladipo, Markelle Fultz and Jerami Grant more recently.
Grant played his college ball at Notre Dame for Martin Ingelsby, who was then an Irish assistant under other DeMatha alum, Mike Brey. Ingelsby’s now the head coach at Delaware.
In this, Ingelsby’s fourth season with the Blue Hens, Delaware has already reached its highest win total in his tenure. A recent hot streak has the Blue Hens in the thick of a tight Colonial Athletic Association championship chase.
And Darling’s been right at the forefront as one of college basketball’s most prolific scorers, averaging 20.9 points per game. He’s also grabbing just shy of four rebounds per and doling out nearly three assists.
His own personal performance, and the specific role in Delaware’s contention for a CAA crown, validate Darling’s decision to make another move. After DeMatha, the Nova Scotian signed with UAB where he spent the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.
Darling started to break out with the Blazers in his sophomore campaign, starting in 31-of-33 games and averaging 10.1 points per game, but he still hadn’t found the right fit. Enter the Blue Hens.
“One of the reasons I wanted to transfer, I wanted a bigger role,” Darling said. “I knew what my capabilities were, and coach Inglesby, as soon as he saw me said, ‘We want you be a key piece to our team.’”
Although Ingelsby echoes the sentiment, even he didn’t anticipate just how key Darling could be.
“When we recruited him, we knew he really had an ability to shoot,” he said. “When we were recruiting and crafting our roster, we really needed guys who could shoot. We didn’t have enough of that the last few years in our program. But I was a little surprised with how talented an all-around basketball player he was.”
Darling’s shooting touch is plainly evident in a 39.1 percent average from 3-point range, where he’s made 79 on the season. He ranks No. 121 among all Div. I players in the percentage of shots taken for his team, per KenPom.com.
But perhaps most impressive, Darling has played in 95.8 percent of possible minutes on the year. Only Jonah Radebaugh at Northern Colorado has logged more anywhere in D-1 hoops.
Consider it making up for lost time, to an extent. Darling sat out the ’18-’19 season while redshirting, which the guard said was a largely positive experience – even if he was itching to play.
“A relief of some stress, a season without basketball for one time in my life, I was able to just work on my game and get better. It was nice in that part, but at the same time, I love basketball and it really hurt to watch my team out there, knowing I would contribute.”
“What made our practices great last year is we had two guys in Justyn Mutts and Nate Darling [who] went against Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson everyday,” Ingelsby said.
Ingelsby added that redshirt season helped Darling “grow as a basketball player,” something that the coach said was a priority when bringing him into Delaware – emphasizing the all-around ability and not pigeonholing Darling as a 3-point specialist.
And Darling’s all-around game is no hidden secret any longer – neither is the Nova Scotia hoops scene, which Darling said has continued to grow since he went to DeMatha.