By Joe Henricksen
We're not talking Mark Aguirre's days at DePaul. Heck, we're not even talking Stanley Brundy's days -- or the great Ray Meyer coaching on the sideline or regular NCAA Tournament appearances or the old rivalries with UCLA and Notre Dame or a No. 1 national ranking or a sold out Allstate Arena or the days of being broadcast nationally on WGN or ... well, you get the idea. But DePaul basketball, to a lesser degree, has a little something going.
Typically, a new coaching hire will generate instant enthusiasm. Oliver Purnell, who has had success everywhere he's been but has yet to coach a game for the Blue Demons, created excitement for the DePaul fanbase just with his arrival in Lincoln Park. Now Purnell and his staff are working hard to create that enthusiasm and excitement for those that matter most -- the talented young basketball prospects in the Chicago area and all those people that surround those players.
Obviously, nothing will generate enthusiasm and excitement more than wins on the floor and making a move up the Big East mountain. But if this past week was any indication, Purnell and his staff are on the right track. The new staff and the program itself are enjoying a bit of a honeymoon period and taking advantage of it. The DePaul Team Camp at Attack Athletics on Monday and Tuesday had many of the basketball movers and shakers in the city on hand and a long list of talented prospects in the gym. There was such a positive vibe in the gym. It was a happening place. When was the last time "DePaul basketball" and "positive vibe" and "happening place" have all been intertwined?
With the new NCAA rules virtually preventing schools to stray too far off campus in putting together events such as this, DePaul has the ideal avenue to reach out to players and coaches in the city and suburbs. A team camp like the one DePaul ran early this week in the back yard of many of the top high school players and programs is the perfect and ideal opportunity to sell the product. And like with any good sales job, Purnell has a presence about him. Purnell and his assistants worked feverishly and impressively in communicating, connecting, introducing, selling and promoting with so many prep basketball people under one roof. As a result, people are writing and talking about DePaul basketball in early summer, which typically doesn't happen too often following a 1-17 conference season.
As indicated in the Hoops Report's April 6 blog, with where the DePaul basketball program was in both stature and success, the Purnell hire was pretty darn solid. What DePaul has is a reputable coach who has had success coaching in one of the top three conferences year in, year out. He won a lot of games over the last few years at a school that is not exactly oozing with a basketball reputation. The Clemson program was pretty down under former coach Larry Shyatt when Purnell arrived. In the three years prior to Purnell's arrival, Clemson was 40-49 overall and a dismal 11-37 in ACC play. In Purnell's last four years at Clemson the Tigers averaged 23 wins a season, went 35-29 in the ACC and made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. That's a turnaround. And that's something that can be sold to prospects looking at a DePaul program that has been in the doldrums.
There is a new coach. There is a new dynamic. And there are early minutes for these prospects, who will also be assured of the head coach being around for them with the five-year contract Purnell has going forward. Now whether or not DePaul can get a lot done on the recruiting front between now and the early signing period in November, remains to be seen. Purnell, in less than three months, has made progress in a short period of time and has at least put DePaul in a position of being a factor. That alone is a step in the right direction.