DePaul basketball: Cleveland Melvin's departure means the time for change is now
Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014
Updated: Monday, February 17, 2014 14:02
That’s where Ponsetto finds herself. And it might be time she gets the boot.
A common defense is that DePaul is still easing its way into the Big East. Nothing could be further from the truth. The new Big East is weaker than it’s been in decades and the results are the same. DePaul is not the first team to make a switch like this. Missouri and Texas A&M moved to the SEC from the Big 12 in 2012 and have been wildly successful in football; neither team was particularly dominant in their prior conference but A&M has been a perennial Top- 25 team and Missouri played in the conference tournament. Making the switch is tough, but other programs have proved that a quick turnaround is possible. Moving to a better conference is supposed to draw better recruits. It’s supposed to increase your level of play. DePaul’s been working at this for nearly a decade.
Ponsetto can stay in the athletic department—she’s earned it—but someone needs to step in and run this basketball team more efficiently.
Unfair? Yes. But necessary? Certainly. Twelve years of ineffectiveness is far too much. At a major university with big-money sports teams, Ponsetto would have been gone long ago. The men’s team hasn’t just played badly, they've played horridly. And the nail in the coffin is that there have been absolutely no signs of improvement. No signs of hope. Only empty seats and barren box scores, with not even the faintest reason to believe it could change.
Purnell arrived with a reputation for turning teams around. No matter where he coached, he always found a way to win. DePaul was a particularly large challenge—the fan base was waning, the stadium was too far away, and lack of success had tarnished the program’s reputation.
It’s not hard to argue that Purnell has, for all intents and purposes, failed in every way. Despite those challenges, there has been nothing to be proud of. This is especially true on the recruiting side.
Purnell can claim all he wants that the University of Illinois steals all the good recruits, and that programs like Kentucky and Duke poach the highest-ranking Chicago talent. DePaul has a rich basketball history and the Midwest is the hotbed for high school talent. If Purnell can’t recruit Chicago, Indiana, and Michigan - three areas with enormous amounts of talent— how can he possibly lead this team into the future? His highest-rated recruit, Billy Garrett Jr., likely would have gone elsewhere if his father was not an assistant coach on the team. Purnell’s most prosperous recruits, Melvin and Brandon Young, are both from Baltimore and, despite putting together a pair of decent careers in Chicago, would likely be role players on most BCS conference rosters. They have been good for DePaul, there’s no doubting that, but there’s also no question they haven’t improved in the slightest over the last four years. Melvin, in particular, has failed to get better. After winning Big East Rookie of the Year as a freshman, his stats remained static and his defense is still questionable. Purnell simply hasn’t gotten the best out of his players, be it Melvin and Young or former Blue Demons like Moses Morgan and Donnavan Kirk. Purnell needs to go. Similar to Ponsetto, it’s unfortunate and unfair. While the blame on Purnell is inescapable, his track record still indicates that he’s one of the finest coaches in the country. Perhaps his personality doesn’t click. Maybe he’s not comfortable recruiting in the Midwest. Perhaps the program is too damaged for even a coach of his caliber to fix. Still, you can’t convince me or anyone else that teams like Creighton (Omaha, Neb.), Providence (Providence, R.I.) and Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio) have a better recruiting edge in their respective areas than DePaul. Purnell is a proven commodity, but he obviously does not belong in Chicago.
Changes on the horizon
Ponsetto and Purnell each have contracts extending through 2017. I hate to say it, but it would take a huge amount of guts for anyone to keep those contracts on the books for that long. If there was some semblance of improvement, then maybe. But DePaul basketball has become a laughingstock, and things need to change.
A final, damning comparison resides in Dallas under the watchful eye of 73-year-old Larry Brown. Brown took the reigns at Southern Methodist University in 2012 to turn around a program that hadn’t been the NCAA Tournament since 1993. SMU finished 15-17 as a member of Conference USA in Brown’s first year, finishing second to last in a conference that had only two tournament teams and boasted such “powerhouses” as Rice, Tulane, and East Carolina. Like DePaul, SMU made the jump—this time, a move to the newly formed American Athletic Conference, of which they became a member in 2013. The level of play has been much higher in the AAC than SMU played in C-USA. Brown’s squad routinely battles perennial powers like Memphis, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and last year’s national champion Louisville Cardinals. Yet SMU currently stands at 20-5 with three wins against Top-25 AAC teams (including a 21-point rout over then-No. 7 Cincinnati) and is ranked No. 23 in the country.