By Joe Henricksen

Déjà vu at DePaul?

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By Joe Henricksen

I am not going to pretend to know Oliver Purnell. I don't. I do know he has had success coaching at a high level. I do know from most everyone that knows him that they speak very highly of his character and ethics. And now I know, just from being around Chicago and involved in the recruiting of the city and suburbs, that Purnell may not quite understand the nuances of all that goes into recruiting Chicago.
 
As I stated in a previous blog, I felt the hiring of Purnell was a solid one, especially considering where DePaul was at as a program. He wouldn't have had the success he's had without doing things right. But I also stated it was imperative he put together the right staff, the perfect staff, to help get things turned around sooner rather than later.
 
I suppose with a seven-year contract at what is reported to be $15 million, he has all the time in the world to figure it all out. I guess with that type of security he has the opportunity to take his time in rebuilding DePaul basketball and learning the difference between the Red-West and Red-South. And really, if it doesn't work out, so be it. He has $15 million in the bank as he heads off into retirement.
 
Under any of the current circumstances the fix of Blue Demon basketball was not going to be overnight. But by bringing in two assistants from Clemson, you can't help but think the transformation is going to take quite a bit longer. This is not to say Purnell won't have success at DePaul, but it's as if he wanted to make it a bigger challenge than it already is by not bringing in someone with Chicago ties. Whether anyone likes it or not or whether you think it's right or wrong, Chicago basketball is what it is when it comes to recruiting. It's a different game that is sometimes like walking on eggshells.
 
Billy Garrett, who was on Wainwright's staff, will stay on with Purnell. And yes, he has made some connections to Chicago by coaching at the high school level for a brief time and recruiting Chicago at various college coaching stops, including Siena, Seton Hall, one year at Iowa and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. But again--and as I was told by a number of AAU and high school coaches in the last week--Garrett is "fine but he's not a Chicago guy" and is a "former football player from Indianapolis."
 
"I respect the right that he [Oliver Purnell] has in picking his own staff," says Orr coach Lou Adams, who has stars Mycheal Henry and C.J. Jones in his program. "I know he kept Billy Garrett but most of the coaches in the city had a relationship with Tracy [Webster]. I know it can be tough to keep the guy that was the [interim] coach like Tracy. It's going to be a tough job ahead of him, but I think we have to give him a chance."
 
This has nothing to do with not offering a job to a Chicago Public League coach. This is about not having one single "Chicago guy" on the staff in a basketball program that plays in a power conference and is in Chicago, one of the better recruiting hotbeds in the country. That's like living on the best farmland in the country and not buying any farm equipment to do anything with it.
 
The first hire Steve Lavin made after being hired at St. John's? Bringing in assistant coach Tony Chiles, who has all kinds of recruiting ties and connections to New York City. In addition to playing both his high school and college basketball in New York City, Chiles has college coaching experience in the city.
 
"This wouldn't happen in any other state with any major basketball program," says Simeon coach Robert Smith of a DePaul program that has basically ignored Chicago in assembling a coaching staff with true Chicago ties. "It's a shame."

Again, that's the thing. In a key metropolitan recruiting area like Chicago it just makes too much sense to have a true Chicago guy or two on the staff.

Von Steuben Vince Carter, who has a close relationship with Garrett, says he hopes Purnell succeeds but does believe it's going to be difficult.

"Chicago people would have liked some Chicago flavor," says Carter, who believes every college program in the Chicago area would be wise to have at least one person from Chicago on its staff. "I think it will be tough but not impossible. It just may take longer than it could have. Purnell and DePaul just decided to take a different road."
 
But didn't we just go through this at DePaul? You know, the good guy who can coach but doesn't have a staff with a pulse on Chicago recruiting? Nearly everyone agrees one of the fatal mistakes former coach Jerry Wainwright made when he took over DePaul was not having Chicago recruiting connections on his staff from the get-go. When it came to DePaul's failures, it remained the one constant gripe, concern and excuse. Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto allowed Wainwright to stay on at DePaul after a winless Big East season, correct that fatal flaw (albeit too late) with the hiring of a completely new staff, which included hiring Thornton graduate and Chicago-connected Tracy Webster.
 
But now here DePaul is again, bringing in a head coach from Clemson with few established relationships in Chicago. Then it's followed up by bringing two assistants from Clemson, who virtually no one in the Chicago area even knows.
 
This can't be understated: It's very tricky recruiting the Chicago area, particularly the city. It really does revolve around relationships, which sometimes takes a year or several years to develop and understand. I don't envy the weight now on Garrett's shoulders as the lone coach on staff who has any clue how Chicago recruiting works. And I don't envy the newcomers who may very well be eaten up and spit out for a year or two while learning the dynamics of recruiting players in Illinois.
 
"It's nothing personal towards Billy," says Smith. "It's the situation he's now been put in. I'm not going to act like I like what is going on there. For me personally, I won't deal with them. At the end of the day the decision comes down to the parents and their kid. They have the final say. But DePaul will have to do it on their own without any help from me."
 
Head coaches want assistants who they can trust, are familiar and comfortable with. That is understandable. And that is what Purnell will have. Maybe this staff will be able to lure talent from outside the state. I think they're going to have to--at least for the time being.
 
Mike Irvin of the loaded Mac Irvin Fire AAU program still can't figure it out and believes DePaul lost out on an opportunity to hit it big quick.
 
"This definitely doesn't make sense," says Irvin of bringing in the Clemson assistants. "This program needs immediate results. Look at the 2011 class. It's a loaded class with players that can play in the Big East and help DePaul. But they now have so much ground to make up and there just isn't enough time."
 
A well-connected father of a prominent high school player in the Chicago area told the Hoops Report, "If they would have kept Tracy [Webster] he would have gotten some players there."
 
DePaul was a tough enough sell to area recruits due to recent failures on the floor, lack of media attention, dreadful off-campus Allstate Arena and other factors surrounding the program. Now, to top it off, the salesmen are out-of-town strangers who will have to work extra hard just to build relationships and get into the gyms they need to be in.
 
It's impossible to place a timetable on how long it will take for this DePaul staff to navigate the city and suburbs. All I know is that the window on the remaining stars in the Class of 2011, just as Mike Irvin indicated, is closing. The Class of 2012 is very limited in terms of difference-making prospects and 2013 players still have three more seasons of high school ball left.
 
As previously stated in a blog, the first move on the very first day would have been to immediately make Tracy Webster feel wanted, needed and excited about the opportunity to stay on at DePaul. Who knows if Webster would have, in the end, taken Purnell up on the job if it would have been offered to him. But at least make it difficult for Webster to turn down. That did not happen. He is trusted and respected by high school and AAU coaches in the city and suburbs. He's the one that has long-lasting relationships with not only these coaches but the kids as well.
 
And there were other terrific candidates out there, some of who I know were interviewed and some who, unbelievably, weren't even contacted.
 
"There are so many coaches out there as assistants that we as coaches in the city respect and know, feel comfortable with and, in return, we give them everything they need," Smith points out. "There are guys out there we have nothing bad to say about and DePaul didn't even give them a chance."
 
Lance Irvin, an assistant coach at Southern Illinois, along with young, energetic Armon Gates at Kent State were looked into by Purnell in the interview process but nothing came of it. Maybe Purnell could have gone and tried to blow away Nevada assistant Dennis Gates with an offer. Didn't happen. There were a number of coaches who insisted Illinois State assistant coach Paris Parham would have been an ideal fit. The well-connected and highly respected Parham, who has endless ties to the city, wasn't even contacted by Purnell. Up-and-coming Todd Townsend, in his first year at Northern Illinois, wasn't either.

This is not a program death wish upon Purnell and DePaul. If the Blue Demons move into the top half of the Big East in the next few years the alumni, boosters and fans could care less if the players are from Marshall, Morgan Park, Aurora, Wisconsin, New York or Alaska. The Hoops Report and many other just believe DePaul could have hit a home run earlier rather than later -- at least put them in position to have a chance to. As Carter noted, "Purnell and DePaul simply decided to take a different road." Here's hoping Purnell's precarious road is a success.

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23 Comments

Somehow I don't think Oliver Purnell's success or failure at Depaul will be tied to his relationships, or lack thereof, to the Irvins or Robert Smith. I don't see how recruiting Chicago is so 'tricky' as you put it Joe. It is either a good fit for a kid or it isn't. If Robert Smith doesn't think one of 'his kids' should attend Depaul because 'a Chicago guy' isn't on Purnell's staff, then I would question who is Smith in this for himself or the kids? The sense of entitlement is amazing to me, as if someone owes he and the Irvins something. I simply don't get it.

I believe Purnell did the right thing by not pandering to these guys. I strongly believe that if he starts by doing that he'll be expected to do his whole time in the position. Also, we tend to forget that Tracy was an assistant for Coach Weber during the time that Julian Wright, Jon Scheyer, Sherron Collins, Derrick Rose and Patrick Beverley got away, just to name a few. Simply put, Tracy may have relationships with certain guys in the Chicago area but he hasn't proven himself to an effective recruiter. And for that reason I don't believe he should have gotten the job.

Darnell,
This is not about pandering to the coaches in the city and AAU. It's about common sense and logical thinking. Almost all staffs are built around coaches that are able to recruit specific target areas ... i.e. being able to recruit in your back yard. And I don't think anyone would disagree it would be easier to recruit in your back yard if you had "family" from there or were tied in somehow.

What it comes down to is that DePaul has no facility in the city and a Athletic Director who may be nice and all but really doesn't have much of a clue. This is just ongoing problem that never gets corrected.

Does Purnell even think about this job if not for $15 million? Brutal job. And bringing in guys that don't have any relationships in the city? Foolish.

The way I took this blog was that it is saying DePaul hired a good coach in Purnell but made it more difficult for himself in attracting local players but it can happen in time. And he has time.

Seriously, Billy Garrett? Overrated. What has he proven in his time in terms of recruiting at his various spots and short stints at places? Come on! Ask people in the college coaching business.

Totally understand bringing in a guy you are comfortable with on your staff. But why bring in two? Here is a fact: DePaul has done a terrible job of recruiting the Chicago area. Wainwright may have been a nice guy but he was in the wrong gyms, chasing the wrong players and that was partly due to not having relationships built in Chicago. Nor did his original staff. You can't help but be concerned the same could happen with Purnell. But maybe they can get more done nationally than the previous staff.

Take a look at the track record of all of these tremendous basketball players from the public league. You will find that the majority don't stay at the same school they start at. They transfer becasue they have been coddled by there "family". Next take a look at how many qualify to accaept an athletic scholarship. Once you have waded thru that pile, examine who worked out. Over the last 5 years the real impact players included. Sherron Collins and Derick Rose. DePaul was not getting either of those kids. They were going to follow the money and they did. Michael Thompson has worked out at Northwestern. Find me another Public League kid in a High Major Program that has gone right from high school, qualified academiccaly and stayed at the same school he started at. The reality of the deal is the list is small. The Public League coaches are all about themselves, they are the most egotistical group imaginable. Would it have made sense to hire an assistant coach with Chicago ties- 100%. The reality of the deal, however, is that connection needs to work with the Chicago Catholic League and suburban schools. The Public League has some promising talent in the system right now, they always do. Have Chicago State hire Tracy Webster- I'm sure they will be in tournament in 4 years. That is the collegiate version of the Public League anyway.

I miss terry cummings: I clearly understand that recruiting is about people and managing relationships. However, what you refer to as common sense and logical thinking I call getting in bed with middlemen with less than stellar reputations (the Irvins) and that's being nice. Oliver Purnell doesn't strike me as the type of guy that wants to possibly blemish his program by maintaining relationships with street-level guys who don't have a whole lot to offer.

Again, was he supposed to hire Tracy Webster? Lest not forget, he didn't do a good job of recruiting at U of I, and that's being nice. So what makes him such a hot commodity now?

It's not just about the city/public league coaches. It's the suburbs as well, the AAU coaches, etc. This staff has no ties to any of them. You think Billy Garrett has ties with the top suburban coaches? Please! This is a train wreck in the Chicago area for the first two years minimum.

It has kind of been mentioned here but all these responses are targeting individuals. It's not just about the Irvins. It's not just about Robert Smith. It's not just about any individual coach. It's about all of the coaches and AAU coaches in the city and suburbs. They have no connection to DePaul for the immediate future. And that's not right.

What's funny is that I have not heard one Chicago Catholic League or Suburban coach complain about the process or the decision. The reason is because they realize it is not there place or there job to dictate or give commentary about what DePaul does. The Public League coaches value there existence a lot more than anyone else values them. Instead, they may want to start teaching values to their kids and get their own house in order. Northwestern staff, not Chicago guys and that includes Coach Hardy, who has done a great job.Unless of course New Lenox has changed it's area code. Did Drew Crawford come from the Public League? The NU staff were given some time and the results have paid off. Coach Carmody is as good as they come. University of Illinois staff, not Chicago guys. They had a pretty good 2010 class. Any public leagueers in that class? The last one they had, Stan Simpson, could not compete, so he did what the majority of public league players do- TRANSFER. I'm sure the U of I staff is distraught over that choice. Did Rob Smith from Simeon call Coach Weber and apologize that his player left, I don't think so, that would be taking ownership. Coach Webster actually left U of I and everyone thought that the Richmond committment would fall through. It didn't, in fact the class was only enhanced with the Meyer's kid. The only school that lives and dies with public league players is UIC. They are doing a lot of dying. Coach Webster is a great recruiter and great guy. All I'm saying is let Coach Purnell do his job and in the meantime let the Public League "Coaches" figure out how to have a Sophomore and Freshmen basketball program next year.

I can honestly see how coaches get fed up with DePaul. I am a DePaul basketball season ticket holder, a huge fan. And I'm frustrated watching this bumbling program continue to go nowhere. I mean,come on! Nothing changes except the attendance at Allstate Arena that goes down and down and down, along with the overall interest. I am done. It's a joke what this program has become.

City: You make no sense in your defense. You mention Tavaras Hardy. No, he's not a Public League guy. Most people aren't talking strictly guys from the city but a Chicago guy, someone from the Chicago area. Hardy also has Northwestern ties, he can sell the university because he actually lived it, played there. Plus, he played AAU ball and knows people. Come on, City! Same with Jerrance. He is tied into Illinois, played there, from the state. There is a connection. Same with Tracy Webster. He is not a "city guy" but a Chicago area guy with relationships. Your points go against yourself and go with what people are saying .... TO HAVE A CHICAGO AREA COACH, SOMEONE WITH TIES, CONNECTIONS!

I clearly stated that I thought DePaul should have hired a guy with ties to the area. They did- Coach Booth went to DePaul,like Coach Hardy went to NU and Coach Garrett has had 1 season at DePaul and has recruited the area. Now, I agree that these are not real strong ties and they could have possibily made better hires. My main problem is that the Chicago Public League Coaches think that they are entitled to being part of the process in who DePaul hires. They also oversell the importance of colleges aquiring Public League players. The fact is Public League players have proven to be much less valuable than CCL and Suburban players. If Tracy Webster was such a great guy why didn't Rob Smith and Anthony Longsreet have Derrick Rose and Sherron Collins at Illinois. Simple they don't have any power to make that call. They want to be treated with respect, but in reality they can't deliver their top players and they offer NO respect in return. High School coaches should be about teaching life lessons, teaching fundamentals, teaching discipline, teaching teammwork, teaching leadership, teaching humility etc etc etc. All of the high school coaches and AAu coaches I have heard from about this topic are concerned about teaching one lesson- selfishness. DePaul may have made a bad hire and Coach Purnell may have made some bad hires at least they both come off as classy and NOT self centered. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but why is it that only the Public League coaches feel a need to sound off in the media. Long story short, Tracy Webster wasn't hired becasue he wanted the job, had the interim job and that never carries over when someone else comes in.

City: First, everyone needs to quit talking about David Booth being on the staff. I have never seen anything like this before with a basketball program talking about a guy being on staff who really isn't. He's not one of the three assistant coaches. He's not even the Director of Basketball Operations! He is not allowed to be on the road recruiting. Stop talking about Booth being one of his hires. They gave him a made-up job title in administration to keep him around and needed to take care of him after talking him into coming to a sinking ship.

City,
Joe has this topic analyzed with precision from A to Z. You sound like a very uninformed hater. As much as you dislike the Public League and their coaches, they have the best players, and have had them for quite some time. Remember, there are 12 CPS players in the NBA. That'a a phoenomenal number from one place, but it speaks to the talent in Chicago. Unlike you,coaches like Smith, Irvin and Carter know what they're talking about as it relates to recruiting. Some parents take the lead, but it's foolish to think coaches don't have huge influence. You could not possibly be from the city so drop the fake title. The reality check for DePaul will be when they don't get any kids from here, and continue to be the doormat of the Big East. Nice girl Ponsetto is out of touch with what needs to happen to build a program in the Big East (just as you are). Billy Garrett was the worst of the 3 to keep. A new AD will likely fire Purnell. What has Purnell won? I don't see any championships, sweet sixteens or even a NIT final on his resume. As nice of a guy as he may be, he better know the Chicago basketball community won't forget this snub. Ask Illinois and some others about the historical impact of similar gaffs. Oh yeah, City listen here, just shut up and stop embarrassing yourself with stupid posts on this blog. This is grown folks conversing here. I bet you never played or coached. I can tell from how ininformed you are.
I'm just sayin.........................

Let's talk about sinking ships.

Tracy Webster- Leaves Illinois to go to Kentucky,ship sunk! Goes to DePaul- ship sunk. He recruited not one Chicago kid at either place. Don't think DeAndre Liggins counts. He had to prep at Findlay because the world class educators, the heroic Public League coaches could not qualify him. Now, we are talking about Kentucky here. This is a program that since Calipari came in has recruited anyone they want. They obviously have not wanted any Chicago kids.

Lance Irvin- SIU ship is sinking fast. Prior to his arrival borderline Top 25 team, now sub .500 team. Ryan Hare, Public Leaguer- transfered, probably not becasue they wanted him to stay. Don't recall what programs he has been able to change with his magical recruiting.

Paris Parnham- ISU- Class act!! However, facts are prior to his arrival Porter Moser had recruited the team that made the tourney run, including CPL standout Ethridge. Since his arrival the Chicago connection has been 1 Simeon kid who, after further review, could not qualify and had to go to a JUCO.

Dennis Gates- Great guy! NIU ship is sinking fast, he abandoned ship for Nevada. His top Public League recruit- Mike Dinnuno- yep, you guessed it- TRANSFER. Now Rick Ray, who was at NIU with Coach Judson and has now been at Purdue for 4 years would have been a great hire at DePaul, but he would not have passed the "Chicago guy" test. Meanwhile he came in a recruited Anthony Johnson at Whitney Young.

Long story short- The top "Chicago Guys" have not really gotten it done at other schools, including Kentucky. Maybe everyone should be quiet and let DePaul and Coach Purnell try it with "his guys". They seem to have done a pretty good job in the ACC. If the track record of the CPL coaches and their players over the past 5 years is any indication- they have plenty of work to do, educating their own guys.

Yo, City! Chill! You really don't know a whole lot about the recruiting scene, what goes into it or even your examples don't make sense. (don't write about people who you can't even spell their names right, please!). Again, it's only natural to find someone out there who can and has made relationships with the area you want to target and recruit. Enough said. Are you saying there isn't one single assistant coach out there DePaul could have targeted who you would find worthy who is from the Chicago area or has strong Chicago area ties?

This is so stupid, the back-and-forth debate. First question: Is it beneficial to have a Chicago guy on the staff of DePaul, a Big East basketball school located in Chicago? Uh, yes. Is there someone out there in the 50 states who is coaching who is respected enough to be that guy from Chicago to recruit Chicago for DePaul? I would hope so.

Just have to let it go and move on. We will know if Purnell's plan works in 3 or 4 years. Anything less than NCAA Tournament bids at $2 million a year is unacceptable. He has 3 or 4 years to get it done.

Uh-Oh. DePaul assistant job is OPEN for business? Dude left staff to take Howard job. Here we go again.

Sammy, I'm a long time Illinois fan and I have no idea what you are talking about when you say ask Illinois about similar gaffs. I do know we had Tracey Webster who has lot's of contacts and that didn't get us any recruits from the Public League.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on April 22, 2010 10:28 PM.

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