DePaul out to prove it’s up to Big East challenge

When high school phenom Jabari Parker revealed his list of top

10 schools, DePaul was right there alongside the powerhouses.

It was a small victory for the Blue Demons, a sign that maybe –

just maybe – they can play with the big boys.

Can they beat them, though?

Year 3 of the Oliver Purnell Era is about to begin and DePaul

insists it’s ready to jump out of the Big East cellar even if it

was picked to finish 13th after going 12-19 overall last season and

3-15 in the conference.

That the Blue Demons were in the running for Parker, the Chicago

phenom, turned a few heads even if they didn’t make the final

round, and it raised hope that the coach is making some recruiting

inroads.

To that end, Purnell said, ”I think what it says to us is we’ve

got to keep hitting that rock. We’ve got to continue to work and

recruit the top kids in the city of Chicago and the state of

Illinois to start with and then go on out from there. We’ve got to

continue to do that. We’ve had a couple of guys over the last

couple of years that were supposedly the top players in the country

that were interested and that visited. But we didn’t get them.

We’re going to continue to do that and continue to work at it, and

sooner or later, that will pay off.”

Clearly, there’s work to do.

The Blue Demons are coming off their fifth straight losing

season and haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2004.

They’re 19-43 in two years under Purnell, who came in with a

reputation for rebuilding programs. But the strides he’s made

haven’t shown up in the win column so far.

That’s something they’re looking to change this season, and they

do have four players back that started at least 15 games, including

their top two scorers in forward Cleveland Melvin (17.5 ppg.) and

guard Brandon Young (14.5 ppg.). Melvin, the top returning scorer

in the Big East, also averaged a team-high 7.4 rebounds as a

sophomore last season.

They’re experienced. They have their top players back. And they

believe they could be a sleeper team.

”I feel we should have a turnaround,” forward Moses Morgan

said.

It’s a feeling that any DePaul supporter knows well,

particularly the old-timers who remember when the Blue Demons – not

the Bulls – were Chicago’s favorite basketball team, when Ray Meyer

was the coach and hometown products Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings

were electrifying the city.

It was a different time, a different era.

Now, the Blue Demons are looking to leave suburban Allstate

Arena, where they’ve played most of their home games since 1980,

and move back into the city. A new facility on the Lincoln Park

campus would be ideal, and sites elsewhere in the neighborhood and

downtown as well as one adjacent to the United Center have been

mentioned in reports.

”It would be a great idea for the program,” said Melvin, who

would be gone long before it’s built.

Athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto doesn’t think there’s room

to build an arena on campus and finding enough space in the crowded

Lincoln Park neighborhood isn’t easy, so downtown could be the

spot. The Blue Demons could conceivably play at the United Center,

at least on a temporary basis while a facility is built.

It would be a huge boost, a potential magnet for college fans in

the city and an eye-opener for recruits.

”I’m excited that there are discussions about an arena for our

program,” Purnell said. ”It’s clearly a great step that will help

us in a whole bunch of different areas, namely recruiting. It would

be a great home for not only our players but for our fans. I’m

really excited that there are serious discussions concerning the

arena.”