The Blue Demons have not posted a winning record since 2007, have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2004 and have not finished a season ranked in the AP Top 25 since 1991.
Despite these shortcomings, however, the future of DePaul basketball is surprisingly bright, with a talented incoming recruiting class to thank.
The Blue Demons’ 2016 recruiting class features a local high school star in point guard Devin Gage, as well as a pair of former teammates in shooting guard Brandon Cyrus and power forward Al Eichelberger, all of which are listed as three-star prospects. The trio has DePaul sitting at No. 70 in the 24-7 Composite team rankings, its highest-ranked recruiting class since 2013.
Each of the three incoming recruits brings their own unique attributes to the table, but one thing remains constant: high hopes for the future of the Blue Demons basketball program.
Cyrus, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard out of the La Lumiere School in La Porte, Indiana, is particularly optimistic about a roster that will be composed of both seasoned upperclassmen from the highly-touted 2013 class, and an influx of talent from the incoming trio.
“We’ve got great recruits coming in with Devin Gage and Al Eichelberger,” Cyrus said. “Plus with the great players already there right now, the sky is the limit for this team.”
Cyrus is listed as the No. 25 shooting guard in the class of 2016 by Scout.com.
Joining him in the backcourt will be Gage, a playmaking point guard that is making a strong case to be considered the top high school basketball player in the city of Chicago. Gage has led Curie High School to a 16-4 record this season, and has his team eyeing a state championship. Back in December, Gage hit a 22-foot buzzer-beater to topple Simeon Academy, who entered the season ranked 16th in the country in the USA Today Super 25, proving his capability to thrive on the big stage.
In addition to their duo of guard commits from the class of 2016, the Blue Demons will retain star point guard Billy Garrett Jr., a former four-star prospect from the team’s heralded 2013 recruiting class. Both Gage and Cyrus are enticed by the opportunity to learn from one of the top guards in the Big East.
“It will mean a lot,” Gage said. “Billy went to Morgan Park near me, and he's been doing great things this year. He's got a ton of accolades during his time at DePaul, and it means a lot to be able to learn from him.”
But while Garrett will provide DePaul with a senior presence in the backcourt, the pending departure of senior forward Myke Henry provides large shoes to fill for the next man up. Henry has averaged double-digit scoring figures each year since joining the Blue Demons in 2014 after transferring from Illinois following his sophomore season, and is currently leading the team with 14.3 points per game.
Eichelberger is not fazed by the added pressure of joining a front court that will be losing its top offensive contributor, though, crediting the coaching ability of head coach Dave Leitao as the reason why.
“It’s going to be big shoes to fill for sure,” Eichelberger said. “But Coach Leitao knows what he's doing. He's going to get me right, and teach me the right things to do so that I can step in immediately.”
The 6-foot-7 forward has recently transferred from La Lumiere to Saginaw High School (Saginaw, Mich.) to finish out his senior year, and is placing a heavy emphasis on preparing to make a seamless adjustment from high school to the college game.
“My versatility and toughness are two things that I bring to the table right now,” Eichelberger said. "But I definitely need to improve my mid-range shot, and getting used to the pace of the game. I know the pace is much faster at the college level, so I'm just doing everything I can to get up to par with that.”
While this year’s impressive recruiting class is a significant step in the right direction, it does not signal a complete transition from the Big East cellar to being a legitimate contender. Doing so will require winning on the court, and continued dominance on the recruiting trail.
Especially in the basketball hotbed that is the Windy City.
“Recruiting all the local kids is huge,” Gage said. “And why not stay home and play in Chicago?”