Ryan Coyle (@ryancoyle35)
For as long as Josh Loeffler has been head coach at Johns Hopkins, he’s been lucky enough to have a familiar face at point guard — one who wasn’t just a placeholder at the spot, but one of greatest players in Hopkins history. The engine for a successful run that included an 89-22 record over four years (plus a canceled COVID season), multiple NCAA Tournament wins and a closetful of individual accolades, is Episcopal Academy graduate Conner Delaney.
During his time as a member of the Blue Jay’s program, Delaney cemented a legendary career resume, which wrapped up in March after Hopkins fell to Stockton College in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The fifth-year senior more than left his mark on the Hopkins program.
Conner Delaney (above) led Johns Hopkins (Md.) to three conference titles in four years. (Photo courtesy JHU Athletics)
Delaney will finish his college basketball career as a two-time conference player of the year, two-time NABC All-American, Centennial Conference Rookie of the Year, three-time conference champion, the program leader in assists and the fourth-highest scorer in Blue Jays basketball history, amongst several other accolades where he is located in the top ten in the Hopkins record book.
“Conner really set the tone for the program in terms of what it really takes to be great,” Loeffler said. “He is a self-made player. He has some specific traits and attributes, as well as some God-given skills, but he made himself into the player that he became.”
A lifelong two sport athlete, Delaney excelled in not only basketball, but lacrosse as well throughout his high school career. Although he was once committed to Villanova to play lacrosse, Delaney knew his heart and passion was always on the hardwood, which is why he opted for the college basketball route.
“I was having thoughts and kind of trying to see myself not playing basketball anymore after high school and I just couldn’t do it,” Delaney said. “I knew I would miss it too much.”
Delaney ultimately committed to longtime Johns Hopkins head coach Bill Nelson after weighing options from a few schools, but chose to attend the Baltimore, Md.-based school over MIT.
Hopkins should count their lucky stars that the Garnet Valley native opted for hoops, and helped engineer one of the greatest stretches in program history.
Loeffler took over for Nelson at the end of the 2017, following a stint as an assistant at Division I Loyola (Md.) from 2013-2017.
With a fresh face running the program, there were opportunities for minutes for everyone on the roster. This allowed Delaney to have a chance to compete for the starting point guard spot as a freshman.
“We stat and chart every practice with hustle plays, rebounds, charges, things like that,” Loeffler said. “We put a lot of weight into those types of things that help us out in terms of winning games.
“At the end of the first week of practice, Conner was right at the top in almost all of those categories when we looked over our charts and statistics. There was a lot of evidence from the beginning that he was going to help us win games from day one.”
During his freshman campaign (2017-18), Delaney averaged 10.7 ppg and dished out 112 assists, en route to winning Centennial Conference Rookie of the Year and helping the Blue Jays win the conference tournament title over rival Swarthmore 61-57.
Delaney credits a few of his veteran teammates like Noah Ralby and Jesse Flannery for helping him adjust to the next level.
While Delaney put up some impressive numbers during his first year at Hopkins, his head coach was more impressed with his maturation during the season.
“He (started as) a very good point guard who adopted the role of a setup man, who was always looking to set people up and distribute,” Loeffer said. “But as the year went on, he realized that he still has to be a pure point guard, but to help this team the most he has to be able to take over a game based on what the defense is giving him.
“That maturation process over that season is where you could see he had a chance to be very special down the line.”
Entering his sophomore year, expectations were sky-high for the Blue Jays as they were picked to win the conference in the preseason poll and Delaney was ready to elevate his game from the year before. But in the tenth game of the season, a 65-58 victory over Dickinson, Delaney suffered a Jones fracture in his foot during the second half. The devastating injury required surgery, knocking Delaney out for the rest of his sophomore season.
The Blue Jays finished 18-9 that season without Delaney, marking the only time during the Loeffler-Delaney era that Hopkins has had more than five losses, with seven of those losses coming without Delaney in the lineup.
“It hurt our team as well, because he was averaging around 14 [points], five [rebounds], and five [assists],” Loeffler said. “We had to reinvent ourselves without him in the lineup. He also had to reinvent his role on the team with what he could bring to us when he wasn’t playing.”
Throughout his athletic career, his three-month absence from playing on the court for Hopkins was the only extended absence Delaney had ever endured, forcing him to try and make an impact for the program in a different way than his stellar on-court performance.
“I think that whole four month process of just watching the game and watching our team from the bench, gave me a different perspective on the game,” Delaney said. “I took on a different type of leadership role and was able to help out some guys and be a different type of asset to the team than if I was playing and had to focus more on myself and my on court performance.”
The hiatus from the court allowed Delaney to do a deep dive and evaluate how he could make the most out of his remaining two years of basketball.
“I was super-strong my freshman and sophomore season,” he said, “but I thought the weight I was playing at might not have been the best for me and I changed a lot of my workout and eating habits to get in [...] basketball shape.”
Delaney (above, in 2019-20) returned from a major injury to help the Blue Jays back to the NCAA Tournament. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The 6-foot-tall guard entered the 2019-20 season thankful to be back on the floor with his teammates and started the season off hot. Delaney started the year by scoring 20-plus points in three of their first eight games, all which were victories.
In their ninth game of the season, they had their first of three matchups against Swarthmore, who controlled an undefeated record and a No. 1 national ranking in Division III for a majority of the season. The Garnet handed the Blue Jays their first loss of the season and eventually knocked off Hopkins in their second meeting of the regular season. But, Delaney, his teammates, and the coaching staff knew they would get another chance at them in the conference title game.
“Everything that we did over the second half of our season was really geared towards being Swarthmore,” Delaney said. “We knew to get to where we wanted to go, we had to go through them to do it so we really used that time to get a little better at everything we needed to do to have the chance to beat them.”
The junior at the time and Centennial Conference Player of the Year that season poured in 32 points in the championship, none more important than the pull-up jumper going to his right as the horn went off to knock off Swarthmore 73-71 and secure his second conference championship.
Out of the 1,364 points he scored throughout his Blue Jays career, that was a bucket he will always remember.
“That game, those moments were really the vindication for all the hard work I had been putting in to get to that point.” Delaney said.
“It is one thing to practice it, talk about it, and prepare for it,” Loeffler added. “But, it is another thing watching the player do everything we talked about and go out and execute it. It was really impressive to watch that unfold.”
While the Blue Jays and Delaney were riding high, coming off the emotional victory, their attention had to shift towards the NCAA Tournament where they were hosting the first weekend games. This was March of 2020, when COVID came about and Hopkins found out they were going to be playing in front of no fans for their first-round game against PSU-Harrisburg.
“It was a shock and a blow to us that we worked so hard all year to have the opportunity to host a tournament game with our fans and now that was taken from us,” Delaney said.
Johns Hopkins ultimately lost that game, and Delaney re-fractured his foot in the second half. He was able to recover over the ensuing months and began to prepare for his presumptive final year of basketball.
As the next few months ensued doubt began to loom that there would be a hoops season at all.
“My Mom actually threw out the idea of ‘hey, if there isn’t a basketball season this year, why don’t you try and hop on the lacrosse team for the year?’.” Delaney said.
The former high school All-American lacrosse player kind of shrugged off the idea at first, but as more uncertainty began to loom about what the Centennial Conference was going to rule on in terms of winter sports, he began to seriously consider attempting to walk onto the nine -time NCAA Division I national championship lacrosse program.
“Hopkins had just gotten a new coach,” Delaney said, “and a few of my previous coaches had connections with him and he had seen me play before in high school and knew what I was capable of and I was fortunate enough to get a shot.”
Delaney didn’t just get a jersey and some equipment to be used as a practice player, but instead started every game for the Blue Jays at the long stick midfield spot, competing against Big Ten schools throughout the spring.
Not bad for somebody who hadn’t played organized lacrosse since he was a senior in high school.
“It took me a little bit to get back to fully being comfortable on the field again,” Delaney said, “but the defensive staff at Hopkins did a great job of really developing me and getting me back to where I was when I was playing in high school.”
His athletics career still wasn’t over.
After talking with his parents and the basketball coaching staff, they all mutually agreed that it was the right thing to do to return to school and use his NCAA-granted additional year of eligibility due to COVID.
He did just that and more in 2021-22, averaging 18.3 ppg in his fourth year of college basketball. That led him to earning Centennial Conference Player of the Year honors again as well as All-American status.
Oh, and beating Swarthmore in the title game. Again. This time, he dropped 23 points and six assists.
The Blue Jays knocked off Yeshiva in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but fell to host Stockton in the second round, ending the careers of Delaney and some of his senior teammates. That led to a pain and state of emotions that no coach wants to see their players ever endure, but in reality everyone has to hang up their sneakers one last time.
While it might not have been the storybook ending that finished with cutting down the nets and being handed a national championship trophy, Delaney knows what he did throughout his career alongside Loeffler and his teammates was something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“It was really emotional in the locker room after and it took me awhile to get out of there and especially took me awhile to take my jersey off for the final time,” Delaney said. “I felt that I represented Hopkins basketball the best that I could and it wouldn’t have been possible without all my teammates and coaches over the years.”
What’s next for the Hopkins legend? He’s going to work for Deloitte Consulting in Arlington, Va., where he’s “excited to join a new team to work with, accomplish new goals, and move onto the next phase of my life.”
If his past is any way indicative of his future, he is sure to find more success in this next avenue.