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Rebuilding DePaul Men's Basketball A Slow Process - But Improvement Is There

By Julian Zeng
On March 8, 2012

Rebuilding DePaul Men's Basketball A Slow Process - But Improvement Is There

Brandon Young in a game against Notre Dame. (Photo courtesy Sarah O'Conner | The Observer)

NEW YORK --- Rebuilding is often a slow, gradual process. Teams will enjoy long runs of success, then plummet to the bottom of the barrel, losing players to free agency, having trades go awry, or, in the case of college sports, simply seeing talent depart for greener pastures.

The DePaul men's basketball team is rebuilding.

The 2011-12 campaign, which ended Tuesday with an 81-67 loss to Connecticut in the opening round of the Big East Championship, marked the team's fifth straight season with a losing record. With the program's hiring of head coach Oliver Purnell prior to the '10-11 season and heavy recruiting of potential-laden players like Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, it is clear rekindling their winning ways of the past is priority number one.

Sure, the team recorded just five more wins than last season, finishing with a 12-19 record. But with three solid Big East conference victories and a handful of other losses by the narrowest of margins, the Blue Demons are an improving team.

"DePaul is going to be a tough place to stop...going down the road," said Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun following their win over the Blue Demons Tuesday. "I think DePaul is not going to be an easy stop. They're going to be good in the way they play, and they're different than most of our Big East teams, and as they get other kids and more experience, they're going to be good."

With as much coaching experience as Calhoun has under his belt, it's hard to disagree with him. But even to the casual basketball fan, it should be evident that DePaul has a high ceiling.

Losing only two seniors this season in Jeremiah Kelly and Krys Faber, the Demons will return a strong core of players, anchored by Melvin, Young and Moses Morgan, and should recruit another stellar class. Returning freshman Montray Clemons, who sat out the season with an injury, will be another bonus.

"We've got most of those core guys back, and we've got at least three new guys coming in next year, athletic guys that we like, so we can continue to build on that," Purnell said. "I think with leadership from these guys [Melvin and Morgan, present at the press conference], I think them getting better themselves, and with talent and athleticism, we expect to be better."

The constant effort the players gave on the court all season is further evidence this team has undergone a culture change and -- though wins were often hard to come by -- demonstrated their desire to compete. While games were recurrently mailed in by DePaul teams in the past, succumbing to disheartening margins of defeat, this year was different. Guys would fight for rebounds and dive for loose balls most of the game, whether down two points or 20, really showing their dedication.

"We lost some close games [this season] where we were right there with a chance to win," Purnell said. "You have to think an average team with average-character guys could have and would have folded it up, but these guys continued to come back, work and play hard."

Looking beyond stats and notches in the win or loss column, this team has chemistry. Whether executing good offensive sets on the court or eating meals in the student center off the court, the Blue Demons are a close bunch, a real indicator of a team bound for future success.

"I feel that we've progressed a lot...just our chemistry as a team," said Morgan, following their game against UConn. "This is probably one of the best groups that I've been with, even when I was in high school. I love all the guys, and we just know each other very well."

Inevitably, a team's success is graded by wins, tournament appearances and consistent success over many years. While the men's basketball team still has a ways to go, there's no doubting their potential and a bright future that lies ahead.

"It's a process of building your team or building your program...growing them up with positive experiences," Purnell said. "We would have liked to have a few more of those this year like senior night and conference wins, but there are a lot of positive experiences along the way...and we'll have a lot more positive experiences next year."

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