A leader among his peers both on and off the court, Oliver Purnell enters his fifth season as head coach at DePaul in 2014-15. Known as a builder of programs, DePaul is the fifth coaching stop for Purnell over his 26-year career as he established has winning traditions at each of his previous four coaching stops.
He was named the 13th head coach in DePaul basketball history on April 6, 2010 after stops at Clemson, Dayton, Old Dominion and Radford. From his first victory at Radford on Nov. 30, 1988 to his 400th career win with the Blue Demons on Dec. 22, 2010, Purnell has recorded a milestone victory at each stop of his coaching career.
A win over Georgetown in the first round of the BIG EAST Championship saw the Blue Demons finish the 2013-14 season on the upswing. Four hours before the start of that 60-56 victory, freshman Billy Garrett Jr. was named the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. Garret is the second DePaul player under Purnell to earn the league's top rookie honor. Addtionally, Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin finished their DePaul careers ranked among the top scorers in school history. Young is third in the record book with 1,899 career points followed by Melvin in seventh place with 1,792 points.
The 2012-13 campaign saw DePaul post a seven-game winning streak from late November through December to finish with a 9-3 non-conference record. The seven-game streak was the longest for a DePaul team since the 1993-94 season. Both Melvin and Young joined the 1,000-point club while Young also became the first player in program history with at least 1,200 points, 400 assists and 100 three-pointers.
Evidence of the rebuilding at DePaul started in 2011-12 as the Blue Demons improved in a variety of ways. DePaul opened the season by winning nine of its first 12 games. The 9-3 record marked just the third time in the last 25 seasons that a DePaul team won at least nine of its first 12 contests. In addition to the increase in victories, DePaul also posted its highest scoring average since 1994-95 and the highest number of steals per game since the 2002-03 campaign.
Individually, Melvin's 522 points marked the sixth-highest sophomore total in program history while Young became the first player since Rod Strickland to total at least 100 assists in a season as a freshman and sophomore.
Purnell led the Blue Demons through the 2010-11 campaign and set a foundation for future success behind then-rookies Melvin and Young. Melvin was selected as the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year and was joined on the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team with Young. Melvin was Purnell's first signee as he inked his National Letter of Intent a month after Purnell was hired at DePaul. The two Baltimore natives led the Blue Demons and all BIG EAST freshmen in scoring throughout the 2010-11 season.
Melvin's BIG EAST Rookie of the Year honor was the first major BIG EAST award by a DePaul player and he was the first player to earn conference rookie of the year honors since Quentin Richardson was the 1999 Conference USA Freshman of the Year. Melvin also eclipsed Mark Aguirre's freshman field goal percentage record by shooting .522 from the field.
Purnell inherited a Clemson program in 2003 following stints at Dayton, Old Dominion and Radford. After a 10-18 record during his first campaign in 2003-04, he led the Tigers to six straight postseason appearances including each of the last three NCAA Tournaments. Clemson was just one of 21 programs nationally, including BIG EAST members Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Villanova and West Virginia, to make three straight NCAA appearances.
In his last four seasons with the Tigers, Purnell's .694 winning percentage was third in the ACC with only Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and North Carolina's Roy Williams posting higher winning percentages in that span. The 2009-10 squad finished at 21-11 with the program's third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Clemson also finished the season with 301 steals in 32 games to rank among the nation's best for the sixth straight year. Purnell compiled a record of 138-88 (.613) during his seven-year tenure at Clemson while the program improved its winning percentage in five straight seasons from 2004-09.
Following the 2009-10 season, senior forward Trevor Booker was selected by the Washington Wizards in the first round of the NBA Draft. Booker was the 23rd overall selection in June 2010 and was the first senior selected in the draft. The first first-round pick from Clemson since 1994, he completed his degree from Clemson in August 2010. Booker concluded his career third in Clemson history with 1,060 rebounds and fifth on the career charts with 1,725 points. He played and started all 134 games of his career, a Clemson record. He also earned USBWA All-District III honors twice and was a first team All-ACC and All-Defensive Team as a senior - a first in school history.
Among the many highlights during his time at Clemson were the No. 24 ranking in the 2007-08 final AP poll and the 25-win season during the 2006-07 campaign. With the 25-11 record that season, Purnell became just the seventh active Division I head coach to take at least four schools to 20-plus win seasons. Purnell joined Krzyzewski and Bobby Cremins of Georgia Tech as the only coaches in ACC history to accomplish that feat at a league school.
The 2008-09 season was record-breaking on many fronts. Purnell's team finished with a 23-9 record, a .719 winning percentage, and a No. 24 final ranking in the Associated Press poll. Purnell and former Georgia Tech mentor Bobby Cremins are the only two coaches in ACC history to guide their teams to five consecutive years of improvement in winning percentage. The Tigers also won 20 or more games for the third straight season in 2008-09, a first in school history.
Included among Clemson's victims in 2008-09 was third-ranked Duke, which lost to the Tigers by a score of 74-47 on Feb. 4 at Littlejohn Coliseum. It was the largest margin of victory ever for Clemson against a ranked opponent. The Tigers also won four ACC games on the road, including over an NCAA Tournament team in Boston College and a 15-point come-from-behind effort at Virginia Tech.
His 2007-08 team advanced to the ACC Championship game before falling to top-ranked North Carolina. On the way to the finals, the Tigers knocked off No. 2 seed and seventh-ranked Duke to earn a No. 5 seed in the 2008 NCAA Championship. It was the school's first NCAA apperance since 1998 and also saw Clemson ranked No. 22 in the AP top 25 for the program's first final ranking since 1997.
After taking over prior to the start of the 2003-04 season, Purnell put Clemson on the map in his fourth season. The Tigers matched a school record with 25 wins in 2006-07, which also set a single-season best for Purnell in his then-20 years as a Division I head coach. Purnell led the team to 17 consecutive victories to open the season, also tying a record held by the 1986-87 Tigers while lasting as the nation's last remaining unbeaten team that season.
Clemson also returned to the national polls for the first time since the 1998-99 season. The Tigers were ranked in the USA Today coaches' poll for eight consecutive weeks, which included a high of No. 14 on Jan. 8, 2007. Clemson also reached the No. 1 spot in the Sagarin computer ratings on Dec. 14, 2006. Clemson finished the 2006-07 season with a 25-11 record and advanced to the NIT championship game for the second time in school history.
It was a steady move up the victory ladder for Purnell since he arrived at Clemson in April 2003. In his first season (2003-04), he guided the team to wins over two top-15 teams, North Carolina and N.C. State and had four wins overall against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. In his second season, the 2004-05 campaign, he led the Tigers to a six-win improvement and first postseason appearance since 1999. Clemson earned a berth in the NIT and finished the season with a 16-16 overall record.
Clemson's all-around improvement in 2004-05 was evident in the NCAA statistical categories as well. The Tigers were the only team in the nation to rank in the top 20 in both steals and blocks per game. Clemson ranked seventh nationally with 10 steals per game and 20th nationally with 5.2 blocks per game. In fact, Clemson's 319 steals were the third-most in a single season in school history.
The 2005-06 team finished with a 19-13 overall record, the best mark at Clemson since the 1998-99 team won 20 games and the best winning percentage since the 1996-97 team reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament with a 23-10 mark. Purnell also led the Tigers to seven ACC wins, the most conference wins produced at Clemson in eight years. He led the Tigers to their second straight berth in the postseason NIT. Clemson's win over Louisiana Tech at home was the first postseason win for the program since 1999. Also during the season, Purnell claimed his 300th win as a Division I head coach after Clemson defeated Georgia Tech 95-82 on Senior Day.
The 61-year-old native of Maryland came to DePaul with 22 seasons of experience as a Division I head coach. He now has 436 career Division I wins, and has taken teams to 14 postseason tournaments and has 12 seasons of at least 20 wins on his resume. In 10 of his last 15 seasons he has taken a team to postseason play, including each of his final six at Clemson.
From an honors standpoint, Purnell has been named conference Coach of the Year in three different Division I conferences. In 2002-03, as the head coach at Dayton, he was named a finalist for the Naismith Award, the honor presented to the top Division I coach in the nation. He added to his list of coaching honors in 2009 when he was named District III Coach of the Year by the USBWA. Purnell was also one of 10 finalists for the Henry Iba Award, presented annually to the nation's top head coach.
Additionally, he was a coach prominently involved in the USA Basketball program for nearly 10 years. Teams he was affiliated with in the USA Basketball program as a head coach or assistant coach accumulated a 45-4 record and won five gold medals in international competition. He is one of five USA Basketball coaches in the history of that competition to win five gold medals. He served as an assistant coach under Larry Brown on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, the seventh time in his career he was selected as a coach of a USA Basketball team. He coached prominent NBA players, such as Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson, in Greece in 2004 at the Olympics.
Purnell was the head coach of the 1999 USA World University Team and led the squad to an 8-0 record and the Gold Medal in Brisbane, Australia. He was the recipient of USA Basketball's 1999 Developmental Coach of the Year Award for that accomplishment.
Purnell has been an administrative leader in his field. He was selected to the Board of Directors at the 1998 convention for the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). In 2000, he was appointed by the NABC to serve as a member of USA Basketball Men's Collegiate Committee. That committee is responsible for the selection of collegiate coaches and players for USA Basketball's teams. His most recent appointment is the ultimate testament to his leadership within the coaching ranks. His move up the ladder within the NABC culminated with his selection as the organization's President, a capacity he served during the 2006-07 season.
He was also recognized for his efforts in the fight against cancer with the 2010 Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award. The honor is presented annually to a college coach who has been vigorously engaged in the program's fundraising, education and promotional initiatives and has demonstrated leadership in the fight to save lives from cancer and embolden the American Cancer Society's vision of a world with less disease and more birthdays.
His players have been successful on the court and in the classroom. In his nine years at Dayton, all but two of his four-year players graduated. In 2004-05, Clemson guard Shawan Robinson was selected to the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District team.
Purnell arrived at Clemson on April 6, 2003 with 15 years of Division I head coaching experience at Radford (1988-91), Old Dominion (1991-94) and Dayton (1994-03). His 155 victories rank third in Dayton history. He led the Flyers to at least 21 wins in each of his last four years, the first time since the late 1960s that Dayton had four straight 20-win seasons. In that four-year span, he totaled 88 victories with the Flyers.
In 2002-03, Dayton had a 24-6 overall record, including a league best 14-2 mark in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Seven of the wins were on the road, which was the most by a Flyer team in 33 years. Purnell's team then won the Atlantic 10 Tournament with a 79-72 victory over Temple that clinched an NCAA automatic berth for the Flyers.
In his final season at Dayton, the Flyers gained a victory over No. 9 Marquette, which advanced to the NCAA Final Four at season's end, and a victory over a top 20 Cincinnati team. The victory total was the most for the Dayton program since the 1966-67 team won 25 games. The season included a nine-game winning streak, the longest for the Flyer program since 1989-90, and the squad finished 16th in the final regular season poll conducted by the Associated Press. It was the first top 20 final ranking for the Dayton program since 1969.
Purnell was named the head coach at the University of Dayton on April 8, 1994, and inherited a program that had won just 17 games the previous four seasons combined. The team was ranked 209th in the Sagarin rankings in 1993-94. In his final year he had the program ranked in the top 20 of the AP poll much of the season.
In 1997-98 Purnell was named Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year by the league's coaches and was the NABC District Coach of the Year that same season. It was the third time he was named a conference Coach of the Year, the third different conference to honor Purnell. He had been named Colonial Athletic Association Coach of the Year at Old Dominion in 1993 and the Big South Conference Coach of the Year while at Radford in 1991.
Prior to taking the reins at Dayton, he spent three years as head coach at Old Dominion, his alma mater. He compiled 57 wins in those three years and took the program to three postseason appearances. His team won the Colonial Tournament in 1991-92 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. In each of his final two seasons at Old Dominion his teams claimed the CAA regular season championship, won 21 games and advanced to the NIT. Following the 1992-93 campaign, he was honored as the CAA Coach of the Year, NABC District IV Coach of the Year, and the Coach of the Year in the state of Virginia.
Purnell began his collegiate head coaching career at Radford in 1988-89. In 1990-91, his third year, he led Radford to a 22-7 record, a 15-game improvement over the previous season. It was the third-largest single-season improvement in NCAA history at the time.
Prior to his career as a head coach at the Division I level, Purnell served as an assistant coach for 10 seasons at his alma mater, Old Dominion, and at the University of Maryland. He was on the Maryland staff as an assistant coach from 1985-88. Maryland went to the NCAA Tournament in his first and third years with the program. He served as an assistant coach in a full-time capacity at Old Dominion from 1978-85. All seven of the Old Dominion teams he served as a full-time assistant advanced to postseason play, three NCAAs and four NITs.
Purnell earned three letters and was a three-year starter as a guard at Old Dominion before he graduated with a degree in health and physical education in 1975. He earned a master's degree in physical education administration in 1978.
He was the senior co-captain and MVP of the 1975 Old Dominion team that won the Division II National Championship. He averaged 14.4 points per game and finished his career with 1,090 points and 476 assists. He still holds the school record for steals in a game with eight against Washington & Lee in 1975. He was named a Converse honorable mention All-American as a senior and also received the Tom Scott Award as Old Dominion's Outstanding Gentleman Student-Athlete.
A sixth-round selection of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1975 NBA Draft, he was inducted into the Old Dominion Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988. In 2006, he was named to Old Dominion's all-time team.
A native of Berlin, Md., Purnell was born May 19, 1953. He and his wife Vicky have two children: Olivia, who graduated from the University of Southern California in 2004 and earned a master's degree from NYU in 2007, and Lindsay, who graduated from Boston College in May 2007 and graduated from the Wake Forest School of Law in May 2010.