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“Bigger, stronger, deeper.” That is how DePaul head basketball coach Oliver Purnell describes this season’s edition of his team. No, a starting line-up of Mikan, Aguirre, Cummings, Corzine, and Strickland will not be taking the court in the Windy City, but signs point to the Blue Demons getting better. How much better is the question.
“This is an exciting time of year,” Purnell told Breitbart Sports. “We are starting to find out some things about our team, our personnel, particularly the new guys.” There are a lot of those new guys.
DePaul has eight new players on the roster, including four freshmen, as well as two new assistant coaches. Many of the new players are physically impressive. “Several are six-eight or better,” Purnell said. “That does make us bigger and stronger. Now it’s up to us to implement that strength into our offenses and defenses.”
A major problem the last couple of years has been rebounding. The Demons’ improved size and strength should help in that department.
While DePaul’s new cast of characters may be large in stature, many are green when it comes to experience. According to Purnell, that is being addressed. “I think it’s coming together pretty well,” he said. “Obviously, it is never quick enough but I’m excited about the possibilities. Any time you have a lot of new guys it makes the learning curve a little steeper, it makes the process a little longer, but the end product can be better. We needed size and strength and we got some. We got some perimeter players that we’re very high on.”
One of those players is top-100 recruit Billy Garrett Jr. Though just a freshman, the 6-5 Chicago product is ahead of schedule from a preparation standpoint. “Billy has a high basketball I.Q.,” Purnell said. “He’s picking up things nicely. We are asking a lot of him. He needs to make plays and shots, and he’s doing a tremendous job so far.”
Not all of the Demons are newcomers. Garrett and senior Brandon Young have taken turns playing point guard while the other plays off the ball. Young has high hopes for himself and the team. He doesn’t listen to the pundits or coaches who picked DePaul to finish at the bottom of the Big East. “It puts chips on our shoulders,” said Young. “It makes us go out there and work even harder. It’s nothing but assumptions anyway. We can prove them wrong.”
If the Demons are to prove them wrong, the newcomers and the veterans will have to gel.
Along with Young, senior Cleveland Melvin looks to play a big role on this team, albeit a different one. Melvin has mostly played power forward thus far, and he has done well. He captured the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2011 and led DePaul in scoring the last three seasons. His accomplishments however did not translate into team success. Now, the 6-8 Melvin will get a chance to play small forward.
“One of the things we’re experimenting with is moving Cleve away from the basket,” Purnell said. “He’s adjusting well and if that continues it will allow us to play much bigger.”
Melvin seems up for the challenge. “It’s definitely an adjustment but I can do anything I want now,” Melvin told Breitbart Sports. “I can score, I still rebound and defend, and I defend better. I’ll just do everything I can to help the team on the court.”
Melvin’s performance will dictate what kind of style DePaul will play this season. “A bigger front line should make us a more formidable rebounding team for sure,” Purnell said. “When we go to some zone it makes for a big zone and a long zone. Melvin on the wing along with big guards points us in a certain positive direction. I’m expecting him to play a lot and probably start.”
DePaul is still a member of the Big East, the conference they have struggled mightily in since joining its ranks, but things have changed drastically. Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida and Rutgers are gone, while Creighton, Xavier, and Butler have been added.
“The new Big East configuration points to exciting times to come,” said Purnell. Exciting. But, just because some top schools have left, does not make things any easier in the basketball-centered league.
“I look at the conference schedule and there are no nights off,” contends Purnell. “I do like that it’s a smaller league because you know your opponents better, its easier to scout, and you play everybody twice. That allows you to get into a certain rhythm preparing for opponents, even going into the conference tournament. So, I like the configuration, but I don’t think it necessarily makes for an easier schedule. You still play 18 games and you’re playing against outstanding teams. Creighton, Butler, Xavier…we all as basketball people know what they’ve done over the last years and they’re going to bring that to our league.”
In order to get through the grueling grind of the long season, DePaul will rely on its depth. “I feel we can go to our bench,” Purnell said. “Whoever is on it, and we haven’t determined who will start yet, but what that says to me is that guys that don’t start are capable of starting.”
The work ethic is there too if you ask Purnell. “We put in a lot of work this summer and all players improved,” he said.
Just like his players, Purnell is not happy with being picked last by the so-called experts. “It bothered me as a competitor, but it also motivated me,” said Purnell. “I think it will motivate our team to prove to the media and prove to the other coaches that we aren’t the last place team in the league and I don’t believe we will be.”
Not exactly lofty goals, but considering where this once powerhouse of college basketball has been in recent seasons, getting out of the cellar would be a start. Purnell’s job may very well count on it.
The Demons have a lot of questions heading into the season, but one things for sure, the attitude of team leaders like Young and Melvin is excellent. The younger guys will now try to feed off of the example of the seniors and use their physicality and big frames to deliver victories for the team.
DePaul has a 30-64 record under Purnell, so modest expectations even within may sound prudent. Garrett however has gone on record saying if all breaks right he feels the Demons can win 20 games. Chalk that up to freshman exuberance? Maybe. But, perhaps that’s exactly what DePaul needs, in body and mind.