Wainwright Not Looking over Shoulder

Jerry Wainwright is a library of slogans, signs and sayings, many of which decorate his colorful office overlooking the intersection of Belden and Sheffield Avenues.

It is one rule, though, that guides Wainwright as he enters a new phase of DePaul basketball filled with promise, uncertainty and enthusiasm.

"Don't look over your shoulder."

Wainwright has done anything but since he was hired April 28 as Blue Demons coach. He has embraced a fresh start with a young team, refusing to forecast or look back during the lazy summer months.

"I've only looked at about 15 minutes of tape of last year," Wainwright said in a recent interview. "It doesn't mean anything to me. I've spent 99 percent of my time with the current players and the current (freshmen). Before we add anything, I want to make sure of what we've got."

"You've got all new players, a freshman class that's new, a new coach, a new step into a league. So those are unique opportunities to be a part of."

Wainwright has devoted much of his limited time with the players to strength and conditioning. All three incoming freshmen – forward Wilson Chandler, swingman Rashad Woods and guard Jabari Currie – now weigh more than 200 pounds. Several beefier players, namely forwards Lorenzo Thompson and Wesley Green, have lost weight. Every player passed Wainwright's three-mile conditioning run in the spring.

Wainwright's coaching philosophy is no secret, and he expects the Blue Demons to embrace rebounding, defense, fundamentals and versatility. Last season DePaul outrebounded opponents by an average of 4.9 boards a game.

"This is, without question, the fastest team I've ever been a part of," said Wainwright, who coached several top-20 defensive teams at Richmond and UNC-Wilmington. "We're not real big, but Wesley Green's 6-10 and 280 (pounds). Lorenzo Thompson's 6-8 but he's 250. (Marlon) Brumfield's only 6-8, but he's 260. So I've got two great tackles and a guard. We could run the ball and I think we're going to be able to pass protect."

"And you look at the rest of the kids, other than Clifford (Clinkscales), everybody's 6-5 to 6-7 and really fast. They're long. I've challenged them to get stronger. So out of the blocks, if they embrace defense, they could be one of the best defensive teams I've ever coached."

DePaul lost 40.1 points per game, 14.2 rebounds per game and 5.4 assists per game when forward Quemont Greer and guards Drake Diener and LeVar Seals graduated. Wainwright identifies only two returning players, junior guard Sammy Mejia and senior center Marlon Brumfield, who have played meaningful minutes.

But the inexperience won't stop Wainwright from having 10-11 men play 10 or more minutes at a variety of positions. He will use three guards or three big men and plans to encourage bigger players such as Thompson and Marcus Heard to venture outside the lane.

"You really need that fourth guy on the perimeter," he said. "I know these guys have never done anything. Even Marlon Brumfield (4.8 ppg last season) has never been asked to score. Wesley Green is an unproven commodity."

Wainwright sees an enhanced role for Brumfield, who played in all 31 games last season and averaged 6.4 rebounds in 23.1 minutes. Brumfield's commitment to the new staff has been unmatched, though Wainwright acknowledged that it's difficult to draw leadership from the center position.

Mejia, who was closer to former coach Dave Leitao than perhaps any other player, has warmed to Wainwright and his assistants. Consistency is the top priority for the junior, who scored 15 or more points in 14 games last season but finished with 5 points or fewer in eight games.

"Sammy is one of the most gifted, physical players I've been around since I've been in coaching," Wainwright said. "So can he go from being a lounge act to being a headliner? What a guy like Sammy has to do is become a go-on-to-the-next-play guy. You have hangover from mistakes, you have hangover from good plays."

"By the same token, now is the time to invest more in his teammates. It's very important that he mentor our freshmen in some way. His communication is probably going to be more important off the court than on the court."

With Brumfield as the only senior on the roster, DePaul will need younger players to step up immediately.

Wainwright has been encouraged by Karron Clarke's athleticism and said the Miami transfer could be the team's top offensive rebounder. Clinkscales, who led DePaul with 104 assists last season, will play much more than 15 minutes a game this year.

Heard, who averaged just 4.3 minutes a game last year, could be one of the team's biggest surprises.

"The kid's put on 16 pounds," Wainwright said. "His body looks great, he shoots the ball. He's just got to have some confidence. Just play, man. He's one of those post-player types that can step out and create space and shoot. We can use him on pick-and-rolls."

Leadership will be critical for DePaul, especially after the losses of Diener and Seals. Wainwright has targeted Green and Thompson to take charge.

Green left the team after the coaching change but returned and has since re-committed himself. The forward played in only three games last season.

"Everybody on this team respects Wesley's talent," Wainwright said. "He's not had a chance to demonstrate it, whether it be (because of) injury or other factors. If he plays at the level he can play at, he will be a leader."

All three freshmen are expected to play significant minutes. Chandler, a top-50 recruit out of high school, likely will start at forward. Currie and Woods will spell Mejia and Clinkscales.

"The freshmen have to act like freshmen, but they can't play like freshmen because they're going to have to play and play well," Wainwright said. "They've got to look at themselves as young teammates."

Wainwright took a you'll-thank-me-later approach with DePaul's 2005-06 schedule, which features five NCAA Tournament participants before Big East play begins. The Demons travel to Wake Forest and Old Dominion and host NCAA notables such as Bucknell (upset Kansas) and Alabama-Birmingham (beat sixth-seeded LSU).

A native Chicagoan, Wainwright recognizes the choices sports fans face in town but hopes to attract the casual fan to the Allstate Arena with intriguing matchups. DePaul will host Wake Forest and California next season.

"People are going to look at that (schedule) and say, ‘What in the hell are you doing?'" Wainwright said. "But in all honesty, if you're worried about who you're playing nonconference, how are you ever going to be successful in the Big East?"

In other words, don't look over your shoulder. Just play.

"We can't put reigns on ourselves," Wainwright said. "I want our kids to be aggressive. I want them to attack and try things because that's the only way they're going to learn."

"The only two things we can control are our effort and our preparation. The other stuff will follow."

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