The DePaul Blue Demons got an early jump on practice this year, thanks to a NCAA rule change. In the past, the official start of practice has been in mid-October. This season schools are permitted to start practicing six weeks before their first game. This change enabled the Blue Demons to hit the court on September 28th.
"We started early this year," said Purnell. "So, it's really a weird thing. What I'm trying to be really cautious about is burnout. So, we gave the kids two days off. Normally if we were starting on October 15th, I wouldn't do that. I just think we have to give them some time off. It's going to be a long season. The season was from the middle of October to March, now it's going from September to March. I'm concerned about that."
Purnell returns five players from last season including the top three leading scorers Brandon Young (16.7 ppg), Cleveland Melvin (16.6 ppg), and Jamee Crockett (8.7 ppg). He welcomes in seven players who didn't see action last season in freshmen R.J. Curington, Billy Garrett, Jr., Tommy Hamilton, redshirt freshman DeJuan Marrero, junior college transfers Forrest Robinson and Greg Sequele, and Purdue transfer Sandi Marcius.
Overall the team has been mostly heathly, but there have been a few bumps and bruises in the early going of practice.
"By and large, it's going pretty well," said Oliver. "We have a few bang-ups. Sandi's nose is broken. Peter's nose is broken. (Illinois transfer) Myke Henry can't play, he's got a cracked toe. Jamee strained a groin. Everybody should be back with the exception of Myke, when we get back together. Giving them some time off and paying attention to those things, I think is prudent right now."
"It's clear that we've got some new guys to the system," Purnell said. "So I've got to be patient as far as that's concerned. I'm really anxious to see what happens when we play (exhibition opponent) Lewis and then we scrimmage Wisconsin the week after that."
One challenge Purnell faces is blending in the newcomers along with the returning cast.
"I think we've got some good pieces," Oliver said. "I'm trying to figure out with so many new players where they all fit. Size and strength is important. Sandi is somebody we're really going to be counting on. We're looking to bring Tommy along. He's going to be good, hopefully sooner than later."
This roster gives Purnell the size and depth in the frontcourt that he's been looking for. It's a change that will allow Cleveland Melvin to spend some time at the small forward position.
"At least one of the junior college players (Robinson and Sequele) plays at the four, maybe both of them do," said Purnell. "We want to play Cleveland a lot more at the three, depending on the inexperienced guys coming along, because that gives us that size and rebounding was a problem for us (last season). We'll play him at both the three and four."
While in the backcourt, with the addition of Billy Garrett, Jr., Purnell has two guys that can lead at point guard.
"Brandon's been playing great and has been leading," Purnell said. "Billy, we need him to make shots for us, which he can. We need that. I'd like him at the point, but we need him to make shots. So we've got to kind of figure that out, between him and Brandon, what's the best fit there. Billy will probably play both positions for us."
"We're figuring it out. It's fun."
Another change we might see this season is a change in defensive styles. Also, with this group, Purnell may be able to go big at times with his lineup.
"We're not locked in to which way we're going to play," said Oliver. "We've got to figure out what system, what style, best fits this team. We're certainly going to look at pressuring. We're going to look at a little more zone, because we've got a big strong team that we could play. We've got three guys at 6-10 or better. There are times you're going to want to have two of them out on the floor. Does that lend itself to a lot of pressure? No. It might lend itself to a lot of zone. So, that's an ongoing process. We're definitely evaluating the way we need to play to bring the best out of this group."
Whenever you have a mix of newcomers and veterans, achieving good chemistry is paramount to success, which is something that Purnell is working on getting with this team. This year's team appears to be mixing well both on and off the court.
"They really seem to be getting along well," said Purnell. "The chemistry is good, it's not where it needs to be. Just like dribbling, shooting, or defense, you have to continue to build that. I think we got a real chance of being in a good place as far as that's concerned."
DePaul Gets Early Start on Practice
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