Purnell Has Optimistic Outlook on Season

The NBA lockout may be in effect, but one phrase that's rung so true this summer: "basketball never stops," and certainly not in Chicago.

The absence of pro ball, however, should allow for plenty of attention to be directed toward the city's crop of hungry and ambitious college programs, a point that was made several times at Friday's Chicago College Basketball Luncheon.

DePaul, Chicago St., Loyola, Northwestern and UIC broke bread at Maggiano's in Chicago's Little Italy, as each schools' men's and women's head basketball coaches came together to give a brief outlook on the upcoming season, and offer up well-wishes.

All signs look to be pointing up for the Blue Demons and head coach Oliver Purnell.

"Last season was a really good foundation year for us," Purnell reflected. "You wouldn't know it from our win-loss record in the Big East, but I thought that we really put some things into place in terms of work ethic, style of play, our guys understanding what we needed to do to move forward -- to win at the highest level."

Coming off a losing but productive season, the team's summer trip to France helped them maintain momentum. Spending 10 days overseas, three goals provided the groundwork: get an educational and cultural experience; preparation and practice (they had 20 practices and won all four games); build team chemistry.

"We got a chance to do something that I hope all of the student-athletes in this room get a chance to do," said Purnell. "We got a chance to take our team to France on a cultural and educational trip, and along the way we got a chance to play some basketball"

With new faces joining the team, the extra time was much-needed, no doubt, and thus what has Purnell and company so optimistic.

One key ingredient has been added to the dish this season that can provide some much needed kick for the Blue Demons: athleticism.

On Friday, Purnell spoke of the team's athleticism and depth,

"As I look forward to our team this year, we're gonna be much more athletic, and we're gonna be deeper. With our style of play, pressure defense as well as pressure offense, depth and athleticism is really important."

However, 24 hours later that depth was reduced by three scholarship players. Junior Tony Freeland faces season-ending shoulder surgery, freshman forward Montray Clemons is scheduled to have season-ending knee surgery and freshman guard Macari Brooks is ineligible to play, but will remain on scholarship this season.

"With the foundation of our defense and offense already in, we get a chance starting tomorrow morning to really build on that [experience from the summer], take advantage of it and move forward," said Purnell.

Accompanying Purnell to the luncheon were DePaul AD Jean Lenti Ponsetto, Andy Farrell (director of basketball operations), Kevin Edwards (director of community, corporate and professional relations) and Mac Calloway (director of strength and conditioning), among others.

Forward Cleveland Melvin -- last year's Big East Rookie of the Year -- and guards Brandon Young and Jeremiah Kelly were also in attendance, as well. Sharing Purnell's optimism, all will be expected to be major contributors this season.

"Everybody wants to go out with a bang this year," said Kelly, a senior. "Everybody wants to win. I want to leave DePaul remembered [as being] on the team that turned it around. I think we have a real chance this year to do that.

"I've got a feeling that we can really do some things in the Big East this year," said Young.

With a season of experience and a summer of bonding under their belts, the players and coaches clearly on the same page. While the route to success won't be getting any easier, the Blue Demons are simply better equipped, entering the 2011-2012 campaign with their shelves fully stocked.

"The Big East conference will be every bit as tough," said Purnell. "The difference is, we're gonna be a lot better."

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