Although DePaul’s current roster only includes two former top-100 recruits from Chicago, neither took the traditional route to Lincoln Park. Senior forward Myke Henry, who scores a team-high 14.7 points per game this season, transferred from the University of Illinois after his sophomore campaign. Junior point guard Billy Garrett Jr., who leads the squad with 3.6 dimes per contest, is the son of DePaul assistant coach Billy Garrett Sr.
Now, though, the program has a new toy at its disposal: the McCormick Place Event Center, located in the South Loop. Instead of driving 34 minutes from the Sullivan Athletic Center, where the team currently practices, to Allstate Arena, the Blue Demons will arrive at their new arena in just over half that amount of time. Plus, the new arena will be loaded with cutting edge workout facilities.
“It gets a new face to the program, and it gives them a kind of appeal that they haven’t had in awhile,” Scott Phillips, a national college basketball and recruiting writer for NBCSports.com said.
According to Phillips, while on their way to the new arena during an unofficial visit, the coaching staff can take a potential recruit on a tour of the city and show off its many landmarks. In Rosemont, where Allstate Arena is located, hotels and strip malls makeup most of the sightseeing.
Under Jerry Wainwright and Oliver Purnell, the past two head coaches to pace DePaul’s sideline, the Blue Demons were unsuccessful with reeling in blue chip recruits or undervalued talent from Chicago. Wilson Chandler, the last player from the program to reach the NBA, played under Wainwright but was recruited by head coach Dave Leitao in his first stint with the team.
“Since the time they were seven or eight years old, these current high school kids have had nothing positive to associate with DePaul,” Phillips said.
Yet, with the new arena on its way, Mike Oliver, the current head coach of Curie men’s basketball, one of the top high school programs in Chicago, believes that inner-city recruits will love the opportunity to compete in an area that has been starving for success at the collegiate level.
“This young group of kids needs to understand that if they stay home and build this program, they can have a successful rest of their lives because people will know them,” Oliver said.
Curie Metropolitan High School is just a 14 minute drive from the McCormick Place Event Center, as opposed to 39 minutes away from Allstate Arena. Many of the other elite high school basketball programs in the city are located closer to the new arena, too, giving recruits from these parts a chance to play near home.
Additionally, not only can players begin imagining what it’d be like to play under the lights in the South Loop, but their families can as well.
Devin Gage, the starting point guard of the Curie Condors, committed to DePaul last summer. Gage’s coaches, including Oliver, helped him achieve his dreams of playing basketball at the Division I level, but he has also built up his confidence on the court by seeing his family members in the stands.
“When I’m on the floor and lookup at my family, I know not to worry about anything,” Gage said. “I can see a smile from my mom, a head nod from my dad and my brothers acting silly.”
Another part of the signup sheet that enticed Gage was how the student section will appear at the McCormick Place Event Center. On the second level of the arena, which is located above the basket, the students can create havoc for the opponent at the free-throw line and while the Blue Demons are on defense. For Gage, though, he dreams about the crowd going into a frenzy when DePaul operates on offense.
“I’m always imagining myself bringing the ball up the floor, coming off a pick, knocking down a three and sending the game to overtime,” Gage said. “I just want to hurry up and put my jersey on.”
Gage wishes other talented stars in Chicago would join him at DePaul’s new arena, trusting that the current coaching staff, which is loaded with experience, will continue to improve the program. Nonetheless, players, like Morgan Park’s Charlie Moore, who committed to Memphis, want to see results on the court first.
DePaul head coach Dave Leitao, who’s with the Blue Demons for the second time, knows Gage can push the ball in transition but obviously still has areas that he can improve in. Leitao’s eye for talent and development shouldn’t go unnoticed, as he’s the last head coach to take DePaul to the NCAA tournament back in the 2003-04 season.
“I think he has been honest with Devin,” Oliver said. “Leitao has said things like ‘if you don’t start doing certain things, you’re going to have problems at DePaul,’ and a lot of coaches don’t tell [recruits] what they want to hear till they get there.”
After leaving DePaul following the 2004-05 season, Leitao began his head coaching career at the University of Virginia by unveiling a new stadium. Thus, he understands how big this opportunity is for himself, as well as the commits of the future.
“There’s no better time to have a new direction than to have a new arena that we’re playing in,” Leitao said.
Now, the program hopes that recruits will believe in the same perspective.