NC A&T fans got their first look at new head men’s basketball coach Monte Ross at an introductory press conference at the school Thursday afternoon.
Ross appeared on stage with Athletics Director Earl Hilton III at the school’s student center in front of the press and a crowd of Aggie faithful that included Chancellor Harold L. Martin, Sr.
“I’m here today to say thank you to Chancellor Martin, thank you to AD Earl Hilton,” Ross said. “I am over-the-moon excited to be here. I think North Carolina A&T is an unbelievable place with unbelievable opportunities to succeed.”
Ross looks forward to the Aggies’ passion
Ross said the passion Aggie fans have for their athletic programs will be matched by him and his staff.
“Apathy brings staleness,” Ross said. “But when you have passion like the people here at North Carolina A&T, it means there are expectations. And I love expectations. Nobody’s expectations are going to be higher than those myself and my staff put on ourselves.
“But we need you be to right alongside of us,” he said to the assembled Aggie faithful, “pushing us, kicking us sometimes, smacking us on the back sometimes and letting us know we’re right there with you.”
Monte Ross fit the bill
Ross, 53, who played at A&T rival Winston-Salem State under legendary head coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines from 1988-92, is coming off a four-year stint as an assistant at Temple. Prior to Temple, he spent ten years in the Colonial Athletics Conference as head coach at Delaware. He posted three winning seasons including a league title and NCAA appearance in 2014. The Philadelphia native has also worked as an assistant at Lehigh, Drexel and St. Joseph’s.
Hilton said that history had a lot to do with selecting Ross to lead the Aggies.
“We were looking for a leader of young men,” Hilton said. “We wanted someone that could graduate our players and win championships. He checked all the boxes. He’s won everywhere he’s been. He’s been a head coach and he has an HBCU background. That is exactly what we were looking for.”
Hilton said he had over 270 applications for the job. The list was pared to 27 before being narrowed to seven that he interviewed via Zoom. Four finalists had on-campus interviews. He declined to name the other finalists.
Details of Ross’s contract will be available once it is approved by the Board of Trustees.
Ross’s familiarity with the CAA
Ross takes over an Aggie hoops program going into its second year in the Colonial Athletics Conference (CAA). In the 2022-23 season, A&T finished in a tie for sixth place in the 13-team conference with an 8-10 league mark. The Aggies were 13-19 overall under interim head coach Phillip Shumpert.
He has followed A&T’s progress.
“I was very impressed with A&T finishing in the middle of the pack tied with Delaware,” Ross said of the Aggies first year in the CAA. He spoke of the top CAA teams this season – Hofstra, College of Charleston and Towson – and successful coaches like Charleson’s Pat Kelsey and Hofstra’s Speedy Claxton. At least four CAA head coaches were in the league while he was at Delaware and several assistants then have become head coaches now.
“There are some really, really good coaches in the league,” he said. “I’m very familiar with those teams from being in the league but also from watching them from afar the last couple of years.
“We’re familiar with the style of play of many of those teams. We know what type of players are needed to win. I think my experience in the CAA will bode well for us.
“I’m looking forward to matching wits with those guys.”
Challenges ahead for Monte Ross
Five of the players on this past year’s A&T team, including the Aggies’ top two scorers, have entered their names in the transfer portal. Additionally, Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) issues are now currently part of the landscape for prospective college student/athletes. Building a team in this environment is challenging.
Ross has a plan.
“Well, I think first we have to assess, when you talk about the transfer portal, the guys that we have,” he said, ”See where they are in terms of staying, leaving. There are more conversations that have to be had. We’ll continue to have open dialogue. I think the biggest thing is building a relationship as quckly as we can – getting me to trust them and getting them to trust me. And the quicker we do that, the faster you can peel the layers off. They can get to my core and I can get to their core and see if there’s going to be a fit for both of us.
“And then the N-I-L, that’s a conversation for us down the line. Right now, there are so many things we have to address and take care of.”
Ross said he likes to play fast, get up and down the court and play an exciting brand of basketball. He wants players to play unselfishly and together.
“With than being said,” Ross added, “everything for us is going to rest on the defensive end of the floor. You’re going to have to play defense in order to get on the floor. And it’s the way championships are built. Points sell tickets but defense and rebounds win championships. And that’s what we’re about.”