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DePaul needs Jamee Crockett healthy

Jamee Crockett has special interest seeing DePaul succeed because he’s local. Crockett was an All-State player Crete-Monee. | Sun-Times

Jamee Crockett has a special interest in seeing DePaul succeed because he’s local. Crockett was an All-State player at Crete-Monee. | Sun-Times

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Updated: January 17, 2013 6:28AM

Resurrecting DePaul’s men’s basketball program is more personal for sophomore forward Jamee Crockett than for most of his teammates.

He and roommate Charles McKinney, a sophomore guard from Evanston, are the Blue Demons’ only local players.

‘‘We do talk about stepping it up for our city,’’ said Crockett, an All-State player at Crete-Monee who was one of coach Oliver Purnell’s first key local recruits.

Crockett is the quiet, athletic talent and McKinney the talkative defensive specialist.

‘‘We’re night and day,’’ Crockett said. ‘‘But he’s my guy. He goes against me in practice every day, so it’s a challenge. But it definitely makes me better.’’

And an improving Crockett could be a difference-maker for DePaul.

‘‘I’d take seven of him,’’ Purnell said of Crockett, whose unassuming demeanor belies a court toughness chiseled through high school and while playing for the Mac Irvin Fire in AAU competition. ‘‘He got to the point last year where he was playing as well as anyone on the team at the end of the year.’’

So when Crockett went down clutching his right knee after he was fouled going up for a shot Nov. 17 against Austin Peay, Purnell and DePaul held their collective breath.

Crockett rolled on the floor in pain as trainers tended to him. He eventually needed their help to hobble off the court.

The injury ended up being a strain of the lateral collateral ligament, far less serious than what might have been. But Crockett still missed the next four games.

‘‘It was scary,’’ he said.

Said Purnell: ‘‘I was as disappointed as he was when he was hurt, but I was very excited it wasn’t serious. We’re trying to work on his conditioning now and working him back in because Jamee is huge for our team.’’

Crockett returned last week against Chicago State, scoring seven points and grabbing three rebounds in 15 minutes. Then he scored 13 points with six rebounds and a blocked shot in 17 minutes against Milwaukee on Sunday.

‘‘I’m feeling a lot better from when it first happened,’’ Crockett said. ‘‘I’m doing a lot of therapy, so it’s definitely better. I was out for three weeks, so I just need to get back healthy.’’

Crockett used the bench time to work on the mental side of his game.

‘‘I learned a lot of things sitting on the bench — what I look like as part of the team,’’ he said.

It was an extension of his freshman year of learning.

‘‘I kind of knew what it was going to be like — the competition, the conditioning and how intense practices would be. And playing in the Big East, you’re facing a pro every night.’’

Crockett learned, too, about the balancing act between basketball and academics.

‘‘Our advisor, Tracy [Moss], does a good job of keeping us on track with what we have to do,’’ he said. ‘‘She’s a big help. It’s definitely stressful balancing school and basketball.’’

There is a balancing act as well in carrying the mantle for local talent for the rebuilding Blue Demons.

‘‘It’s something we point to, that a [highly recruited] local kid can come here and will be coached up and do well,’’ Purnell said. ‘‘And it’s good for him, too, for life as well as for basketball.

‘‘Jamee could be a big-time player. I’m very, very high on his future and pleased with his development.’’

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