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How will DePaul fit in new Big East Conference

2013 NCAA Tournament Bracket

2013 NCAA Tournament Bracket

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Updated: April 22, 2013 12:08PM

It’s new conference is in place, complete with a 10-member alignment including three new partners that are among the best college basketball programs in the nation.

That is both the good news and ominous news for DePaul.

The ``good’’ includes being part of a new league whose emphasis returns appropriately to basketball. The new Big East continues to bind DePaul to the programs that have been part of its history dating to the glory days as an independent, including Marquette, St. John’s and Georgetown.

And by adding Xavier, Butler and Creighton, the new Big East also has imprinted basketball quality on its brand.

But it also raises the stakes for a Blue Demons program limping along instead of leaping along toward rebuilding after an 11-21 season overall and last place 2-16 conference mark.

In some ways, the new league restarts the process for coach Oliver Purnell, who continues to have the support of his superiors with four years remaining on his contract.

``I’m positive about the future because we have Oliver Purnell, number one,’’ university president the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider said Wednesday.

``I actually look at this year as a step forward, though there is still work to do,’’ he said. ``This season came down to three different overtime games [two against Notre Dame and one against St. John’s, all losses.] It could have been a very different season.

``I still watch him building the program. He has to continue with [improved] recruiting, but I like what he’s doing.’’

Athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto also remains confident.

``I’m still optimistic we’ve have some seniors next year [in Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young [and it will be coach Purnell’s fourth year, and we’ll have some [recruits] who will enhance the roster,’’ she said.

``I still think one of the key components to bolster the roster is one or two more big men. We have a couple coming but given the competition in our league, I don’t think we can have too many big men.’’

The incoming big men are 6-10 Forrest Robinson from South Plains (Tx) Community College and 6-8 Greg Sequele from Citrus (CA) College.

But the higher focus is on incoming guards Billy Garrett Jr. from newly crowned Class 3A champ Morgan Park and 6-4 guard R. J. Currington from Mouth of Wilson Academy in Virginia.

Garrett Jr. is the son of assistant coach Billy Garrett. His standout senior year at Morgan Park will only elevate expectations for his freshman year at DePaul. Currington is considered a good outside shooter, an element Purnell acknowledged after the season was lacking as much as defense.

Purnell is still on the recruiting trail, but even at four, there is an obvious dramatic turnover ahead next season because only one senior, Worrel Clahar, is leaving.

It’s likely 6-7 freshman Jodan Price, who never played, and 6-10 sophomore Derrell Robertson Jr., who struggled against stronger big men, will leave. Purnell will have to decide on one or two more changes to make room on the roster.

Critics of the program point to recruiting as a continuing problem. But coaching—or a lack of it this year—was a sore point this season in particular to some alums of the program.

Some have vented their concerns to the administration, frustrated at what has happened at their alma mater.

A staff shakeup is not out of the question. It happened with former coach Jerry Wainwright’s staff in April, 2009, including son Scott, in hopes of jump-starting a rebound. But only nine months later Wainwright also was dismissed.

Purnell’s situation is different with a long-term deal in place. But he admits the third year that was supposed to be a transition point was ``a disappointment.’’

There is an addendum to the season that will play out in the NCAA Tournament in watching Miami and sophomore star Shane Larkin, who was Purnell’s signature recruit in 2011. He had enrolled in DePaul and was working out with the team that summer, but by August requested his release to be closer to his Florida home because of a medical condition.

It was granted, and Larkin joined the Hurricanes.

``Those things happen,’’ Purnell said. ``You can’t make excuses. You have to continue to recruit so maybe next time the basketball gods smile on you.’’

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