A New Day is Dawning for DePaul and the BIG EAST
Sept. 18, 2013
CHICAGO – Everything about DePaul’s basketball program in the 2013-14 season speaks to a new beginning for the Blue Demons.
They are heading into the inaugural season of the new BIG EAST Conference, a basketball-centric league with seven holdovers from last season’s BIG EAST and three talent-laden newcomers.
Construction of a new basketball arena in the South Loop near McCormick Place is scheduled to get underway during the 2013-14 season.
There are seven new faces ready to man coach Oliver Purnell’s vaunted pressure defense including DeJuan Marrero who missed the 2012-13 season with an injury.
Also new to the DePaul basketball scene will be the kind of size Purnell has not seen during his tenure in Lincoln Park. For the first time, there are five scholarship players on the roster 6-foot, 8-inches or taller---6-8 Cleveland Melvin, 6-10 Tommy Hamilton, Jr., 6-10 Purdue transfer Sandi Marcius, 6-10 Forrest Robinson and 6-9 Greg Sequele.
The Blue Demons are ready to undertake the equivalent of a basketball reboot to refresh the hoops scene at DePaul when practice begins the last weekend of September.
“The team has a very different look with seven new players,” Purnell said. “At the same time, we have our three top scorers back in Brandon Young, Cleveland Melvin and Jamee Crockett along with some quality experience among the other returning players.
“We’ve got more size this year, and I believe we are a better outside-shooting team. For the first time since I’ve been here, I feel we have depth and quality depth.”
The restocked front line should help in two critical areas, rebounding and defense.
“Playing at a high level in a top conference, size does matter,” Purnell said. “We are putting a lot of emphasis on rebounding, and the additional size will make a difference. But there’s also the ability to keep your player in front of you. And, a by-product of that is we’ve got to do a much better job of guarding the basket and guarding your man.
“Last season, we didn’t defend the pick-and-roll very well. At times when a defender goes to help out, we gave up second and third shots. A big key to all of that is to keep the ball out of the lane.”
Intense defense has been a Purnell’s hallmark at other stops along his coaching journey.
“There’s no question that with better defense and rebounding, the offense we had last season would have been enough,” Purnell said. “Our defense was not very good, and as a result, you wind up losing close games like we did last year.
“At the other places I’ve coached, those programs were known for defense. At Clemson, it was our pressure defense. At Dayton, it was the half-court, man-to-man. At Old Dominion, we were known for our full-court pressure.
“We’ve got to get to that point at DePaul. In our fourth year, we’ve got to establish a defensive reputation.”
Entering a new era of BIG EAST basketball is the perfect time for DePaul to turn its fortunes around. It began when Purnell made changes to both his coaching staff and his roster.
“We have to take the next step,” Purnell said. “Doing it the same way in not acceptable, and being close is not enough. In every other stop of my coaching career, the third or fourth year is when we‘ve gotten there.
“This year we’re going to have a better defensive team and a better rebounding team. We can also be a better shooting team and a team that makes better decisions.”
The BIG EAST’s decision to break away from the football-playing institutions and form a conference of like-minded, basketball-oriented schools put a smile on Purnell’s face.
“I love the new league of similar schools and the round-robin setup where we get to play every team twice,” Purnell said. “It is the fairest and most balanced way to determine a league champion.
“This gives our fans an opportunity to get to know the other nine teams in our league with the home-and-home schedule. For coaches and players, we will all have two chances against each of our opponents. I just love the new format.”
The DePaul coach anticipates some knock-down, drag-out battles with his conference opponents. Marquette, Creighton and Georgetown are the early favorites with Villanova, Butler, Xavier, St. John’s Providence, DePaul and Seton Hall also in the mix.
Marquette, Georgetown, Creighton, Villanova and Butler all competed in the 2013 NCAA tournament, and college basketball experts are forecasting that eight BIG EAST teams have a legitimate shot at the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Six of the new BIG EAST schools have gone to the Big Dance at least two of the last three years. Half of the teams in the new league have reached the Elite Eight since 2007.
“It’s not like the new BIG EAST is any easier,” Purnell said. “We’ve brought in Creighton who will be one of the best teams in the country this season. Butler has been to two Final Fours in the last four years. And Xavier has traditionally been a Sweet 16 team.
“You’re adding some strong teams. These are programs who have been contenders for the national championship.
“The reason we have a chance to move up in the conference this season is not because the BIG EAST is any easier. It’s because of our top three scorers returning combined with some talented new personnel.”
Sustaining success long-term is where the new arena comes in.
“The arena issue was something that has long been a challenge in recruiting,” Purnell said. “It’s something we’ve fought against and something that DePaul teams of the past had to battle. It was said that DePaul didn’t play in the city and didn’t have a real home court.
“All those objections are going away with the building of the new arena. This year’s freshman class and all the incoming classes after that will have an opportunity to make history and make their mark in the new arena.
“All of a sudden, the issue of an arena and home court has gone from a negative to a positive. You combine the new arena with the new conference and the beginning of televising our games on the new FOX Sports 1 network and the possibilities for success are endless with our program.
“This is indeed an exciting time to be a part of DePaul Blue Demon basketball.”