Blue Demons Ready to Tip-Off Season

DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell met with the media at the team's annual tip-off luncheon this week and spoke about the Blue Demons for the upcoming season. Purnell sounded optimistic about the outlook of the 2014-15 team and gave a glimpse into how practices were going, the style of play, injuries and his thoughts on the year.

"I think we've got nowhere to go but up,” said Purnell. “Not many predict us to do much, so I think that serves to motivate this group even more. The new group, I like what they bring in terms of athleticism, talent to score the basketball, but also the toughness to build a good defense."

One of the things Purnell focused on during the media session was the team's improved leadership.

"The key is good leadership. Our leadership was not good last year, clearly." Purnell said. "We want good leadership. There's nothing that says that sophomores or juniors can't be outstanding leaders. Billy Garrett Jr. is someone we're counting on a good deal in that area."

Another player expected to step up and contribute in a major way this season is junior Myke Henry. Henry sat out last season and practiced with the Demons after spending his first two seasons at Illinois.

"He's another guy who's very talented. We had an opportunity to look at him a lot last year because he practiced with us every day," Purnell said of Henry. "Some days he was the best player in the gym. We're certainly counting on him to be a big contributor."

The emergence of players like Garrett and Henry are a testament to how hard Purnell has worked to recruit the Chicagoland area, something he mentioned.

"We've got eight players from the Chicagoland area on the roster, four from the Chicago Public League,” said Purnell. “Everywhere I've ever been I've believed in recruiting inside-out. We've placed an emphasis on that and built relationships in the area."

In terms of style of play this season, Purnell is emphasizing a NBA-like philosophy of layups or three-point shots. The defense will also be extended into a press as the team gets more comfortable with it in practice.

"We like the three or we like lay-ups. We want to play an uptempo style,” said Oliver. “The ball in Billy Garrett Jr.'s hands pushing forward or working inside-out to Tommy Hamilton. Defensively, we're on 3/4 court [press] on practice this week. We'll see how it goes from there."

In practice so far, Purnell cited a number of players that are looking good in the opening days.

"I think practices have gone very well,” Purnell said. “Billy's been really good and we expected that. Tommy Hamilton has been great. He's at 254 pounds after being much heavier last year. Forrest Robinson has been good and a bit banged up. He missed three or four practices with a sprained wrist and an achilles' injury. A number of the new guys, Stimage, Simpson can score the ball. Probably the guy who has looked the best since last year is Jamee Crockett. He's in the best shape he's ever been in and he's playing like it."

Indeed, multiple members of the coaching staff sang Crockett's praises this week and there is a lot of optimism that the senior will contribute on a consistent basis.

On the injury front, a few players are banged up and the biggest news comes that sophomore guard Darrick Wood will have to be monitored this season thanks to some torn cartilage in his knee.

"We've had some injuries,” Purnell said. “Greg Sequele has been out all summer with a sprained ankle. He's back and at about 85 percent. Forrest missed three or four practices with a sprained wrist and a sore Achilles'. (Walk-on) Peter Ryckbosch is out for the year with knee surgery. Darrick Wood, we're going to have to nurse him along. He's got torn cartilage in one knee, which they say they don't have to operate on right now. As long as we manage his minutes he'll be fine. We've got a couple guys that are banged up, but it will be fine."

The day provided a lot of optimism on the upcoming season and for the future. DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti-Ponsetto said that the project to construct a new arena for the Blue Demons in the South Loop is on track for an opening in time for the 2016-17 basketball season.

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