Purnell Expecting Breakthrough in Big East

DePaul coach Oliver Purnell didn't mince words when setting goals for his team for the upcoming Big East season.

“Well, we want to win the Big East championship,” Purnell said of his goal for the year at Big East media day. “Most importantly, we want to get better. We want to compete right away. That kind of fire can make you better. By the end of the year, we want to be playing at our absolute best; at a much higher level than we were playing (at) last year.”

Sure, the chances of the Blue Demons going from last to first, are slim given the fact that DePaul has finished in last place for six consecutive seasons. However, Purnell said his team is confident in a turnaround. In the newly configured Big East, Purnell and his team learned a lot and there is hope that there were some lessons learned from last year.

“This league is going to get nothing but better,” Purnell said. “You look at Providence making a run (last year) and getting better and winning the Big East (tournament). We think we'll have something to say about (making a similar run). It's deeper this year than it was last year. Every year it's going to be like that.”

Purnell and the team's optimism revolves around a couple of key returning sophomores who were named to the Big East All-Rookie Team last year.

The most important piece is obviously the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year in Billy Garrett Jr., whose 12.4 points per game and 93 assists led all Big East freshmen last year. Also coming back is 6'11” center Tommy Hamilton, who averaged 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds, and who has also undergone a transformation losing over 30 pounds in the offseason.

“We return a core group of guys that played extremely well down the stretch,” Purnell said referring to guys like Garrett Jr. and Hamilton, as well as guys like Forrest Robinson and Durrell McDonald.

Purnell was especially excited at the prospects of Garrett Jr. having a breakthrough season.

“He's our point guard and floor leader, and he's got to be an extension of me on the floor,” Purnell said about Garrett. “He'll be so much better in that because he understands me more and understands what we want. Billy is bright and he understands that's part of the job. At the same time, he's talented enough and he's going to give us scoring, assists, rebounds and all those other things.”

For Purnell, the Big East has taught him many things and he's counting on fixing a few things from previous years.

“Well, we lost some players from last year and sometimes that could be a good thing,” Purnell said. “We (also) gained some players. Generally, when you gain talented players, that's a good thing. We return a core group of guys that played extremely well down the stretch. Those guys are back and better. The new players athletically fit what we want to do on pressure defense. I don't think offense will be a problem as long as we share the ball. The key for us is to be really committed on the defensive end of the floor.”

Purnell also stressed team character and leadership, especially when it comes to defense.

“Often times that has to do with character,” Purnell said. “You have to come out and work hard every single day and recognize that. It also has to do with leadership. Cause there are days when you don't want to work that hard on the defensive end of the floor. You just don't need leadership coming from the coaches, but you need it from the players who are out there sweating on the floor(and working hard).”

In all, Purnell and the team think they are close to busting out while moving up the Big East ladder. The competitive juices are definitely flowing in Lincoln Park and they can't wait for the season to start.

“We're excited to no end,” Purnell said about the upcoming season in the Big East. “Last year was a frustrating year for everybody. I've done this four other times (and we're close).”

“I can just taste it,” Purnell concluded. “I thought we were ready to run downhill last year, but it was disappointing for a lot of reasons. I can taste this group having a good year and having that gratifying feeling again of being in position to compete every night (and win).”

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