A Re-Demon Team…
Can DePaul return to relevancy?
DePaul basketball was once of the pride of the city. A birthplace for legends. But things have changed like a Sam Cooke classic.
The Blue Demons rose to national prominence under the guidance of the legendary Ray Meyer, who headed the program for 40 years. Under his direction, the Demons found themselves in 21 postseason tournaments, NCAA or NIT. While the DePaul legacy is by no means that of a Kentucky, Kansas or UCLA, they consistently fielded successful, competitive teams, even advancing to a couple Final Fours. Not only was Meyer a legend in his own right, finishing his coaching tenure at DePaul with a record of 724-354, but he produced them as well, as George Mikan, the game’s first great “Big Man,” and Mark Aguirre, one of Chicago’s most prolific scorers, both donned Demon uniforms at one time.
Meyer left in 1984, leaving the program in the hands of his son Joey. Pat Kennedy and Dave Leitao would both have coaching stints at DePaul from ’97-04, having moderate success at best, though they did produce talented players such as Quentin Richardson, Steven Hunter and Bobby Simmons, who would all go on to play in the League.
Then in ’05, Jerry Wainwright took over, and from there, things have been on a fairly steady decline. Don’t get it twisted, though, this article not about bashing Wainwright in any way.
Some of the struggles can be attributed to the Demons move from Conference USA to the Big East. That’s respectable. But at the end of the day, men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. And save the ’05-06 season when Wilson Chandler and Sammy Mejia were leading the way, every year has been a losing one.
The Demons went 11-19 in ’07-08, going 6-12 in conference. Certainly nothing to boast about, but the Demons had seen worse. Until last year.
And that’s when things hit rock bottom. 9-24. 0-18 in conference. 18 straight Ls. Think about that. Never being lucky enough to catch a team on an off-night. Never being lucky enough to have anybody have a a spontaneous career night. Or win on a fluke, or a bad call, or anything. Hard knock life. (They did win their first game in the Big East tournament, that’s not exactly consolation if you ask me.)
That’s the kind of misfortune that can kill a team’s morale, leaving it damaged for years to come. Especially a group of young men who aren’t professionals, but mere student-athletes.
Ironically, the good thing about being so bad, is that there’s no where to go but up, and that’s how the Demons are looking to approach the coming season.
“As crazy as it sounds, it just made us tougher, you know. Going through a tough time like this, it’s just gotta make you stronger, you know. It can’t make you any weaker,” said junior forward Mac Koshwal.
“It was times when the stands wasn’t too packed, and we were in an empty gym. Or we would have a whole crowd against us, and we were the underdog, but we learned a lot last year, and I think it made us tougher a team,” added Will Walker, the team’s lone senior.
Though a complete 180 is probably out of the question, now is the time for the Demons to look to return to relevancy, as the Big East conference on the whole is down this year. UConn, Marquette, Louisville, and Pitt, four of last year’s top 5 teams in the conference will still be solid, but nowhere near the dominant forces they were last year.
On the contrary, DePaul will be returning most of their parts from last season plus a year of experience, except for Dar Tucker. Tucker was a hell of a player and the Demons leading scorer last year, but to be honest, this could very well be a case of addition by subtraction, especially with the Demons additions of JuCo transfer Mike Stovall, and Ohio State transfer Eric Wallace, who will be eligible to play this year after sitting out last season. Both players are athletic and versatile, standing 6-5 and 6-6 respectively, supplying the Demons with options in addition to Walker and Koshwal, and filling the vacancy left by Tucker.
“I just look to bring another option. [We've got] Will Walker, a great shooter in the Big East as well as the country. Mac Koshwal, a well-respected big man in the Big East and the country,” said Wallace. “I feel like I’ll be a good option playing the 4 or 3 spot, being able to play in and out. Really versatile, athletic, and be a good third, second, first, whatever option.”
That athleticism was on full display during DePaul’s Blue Madness, as Wallace took off for a dunk a step inside the free throw line for the highlight of the night.
DePaul’s struggles have left a void in Chicago, leaving the nation’s third largest city with no college team to root for. But this year’s team has its sights set on fixing that.
“We gotta prove ourselves night in, night out. I think we lost to a lot of teams we should have beat last year, and we lost a lot of games we had in our hands. We coming out ready to whoop everybody. We just wanna be dogs on the floor,” Walker said.
“Right now the chemistry is so perfect, its great. Now, we just learning to take it a day at a time, you know, never lose no days by not going hard,” Koshwal added.
Not only has the teams mentality changed, but some additions were made to the coaching staff, as well, namely Tracy Webster, formerly an Illinois assistant, and Billy Garrett, who was previously at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. They’re even trying to step heir shoe game up, switching over from adidas to Nike.
“My feet feel so much better, you know,” said Koshwal, laughing. “It’s a blessing to get free anything, so I’m not complaining, but Nike definitely. I love it. No disrespect to adidas, but it is what it is.”
So with all that in place, new mentality, new coaches, new players, new shoes, the Demons are set to embark on their journey to become a Redeem Team in their own right. A Re-Demon team if you will.
Walker summed it up: “Everybody that comes in front of us, they gon’ remember they played us every night.”