Let’s not get carried away. It’s only December, Big East play hasn’t even started, and DePaul has yet to play a road game… but the Blue Demons are 4-1 and playing better team basketball than they have in seemingly eons. So, let’s get carried away, shall we?
DePaul has struggled mightily in recent years. They haven’t been in the NCAA tournament since 2004. Their last NIT appearance came eight seasons ago. That was also the last time this once-mighty program posted a winning record. So while 4-1 may sound ho-hum to some, for DePaul it means something. Not only is the team winning games but they’re doing so in a way that gives Demons backers hope that there’s more to come.
DePaul is sharing the ball. Four players are averaging in double figures. The team scoring is vastly improved. The Demons are posting 78 points per contest, second best in their conference. The free throws and threes are falling. All of this is leading to a new-found confidence.
Not only is DePaul winning, they’re having fun along the way. In their latest win, a 78-67 decision over Northern Illinois, the Demons bench was caught on camera multiple times celebrating by acting out little scenarios. Reminiscent of the clowning the Cavaliers engaged in during LeBron James’s initial Cleveland run, DePaul’s bench mob hit a “home run” at one point with reserves playing the roles of pitcher, hitter, catcher, and ump. This pantomime performance is something only a winning team can pull off. But it’s on the court where DePaul is really hitting it out of the park.
Perhaps the best story at DePaul is that of Myke Henry. The Illinois transfer lead the team in scoring. He looks poised and determined. As my six-year old put it, Henry is “that guy they got that came from somewhere else and is really good.” He’s getting plenty of help, too. Jamee Crockett has been spectacular. He has no fear going to the basket and drawing contact. He welcomes the fouls and makes the baskets anyway. Tommy Hamilton IV and Billy Garrett Jr. are also scoring in bunches, while Garrett is leading the team in assists. Durrell McDonald is Mr. Hustle. Diving to the floor and making second effort plays are commonplace for him. The man they call “Nuggett” is to the Demons as Taj Gibson is to the Chicago Bulls. He is DePaul’s Energizer Bunny.
The bench doesn’t only cheer creatively, they also help on the floor. Forrest Robinson, Darrick Wood, and Aaron Simpson are each playing meaningful minutes and helping in all facets of the game.
Much to the chagrin of Marquette fans, DePaul already has a signature win this season. In one of the biggest surprises under fifth-year coach Oliver Purnell, the Demons upset Stanford last week. The Cardinal made the Sweet Sixteen last season and came into Chicago with a mark of 4-1. DePaul didn’t flinch, trimming the tree in short order 87-72. The Demons pressure defense forced 21 turnovers. DePaul sizzled from the field shooting a lusty 54 percent. These are not the kind of numbers this program has been associated with for a long, long time. Henry alone had 29 points. DePaul had something to cheer about.
A few days later in the victory over NIU, Henry was at it again, scoring 15 to match Garrett for top scorer honors. Hamilton had 13 and played stellar defense. Crockett also scored 13 and Robinson came alive with 14 of his own. Sharing the ball and scoring it with regularity is that “DePaul Basketball” Purnell has been talking about for years. Now we are starting to see it in action.
More people should be seeing it. Despite DePaul’s superb start of unselfish, winning basketball the crowds at Allstate Arena are light to say the least. Seven straight losing seasons and a court that’s a hike from campus will lead to that. But right now the Blue Demons have a new spring in their step. The entire roster seems to be buying in to Purnell’s philosophy. The wins are coming now and down the road a new arena is coming as well. The fans should come too. They’re missing out.
Yes, DePaul is 4-1 and that’s a good thing, but let’s not get carried away. This marks the second time in five seasons they’ve gotten out of the gate with this mark. It’s the fourth 4-1 start in seven seasons and sixth in 15 campaigns.
This rosy start has ended in misery before. This group seems different. There’s a feel around the team. The DePaul Blue Demons pass the eye test. It’s early for sure, but considering where they’ve been of late, DePaul is off to a splendid start.