Big East Media Day with Jerry Wainwright

It was the calm before the storm. The stage was Madison Square Garden, inside were 16 coaches and hordes of reporters crammed together in one room. It was Big East Media Day, the unofficial start of the hoops season where all teams were 0-0 and people were looking for answers and where the pressure to succeed was put to test. Perhaps a new coach on a team newly put into the fray of this mega-conglomerate of a league would be rattled? Well you haven't spent time with DePaul Coach Jerry Wainwright

"It really is not as big an adjustment as people would think, for two reasons," Wainwright rebuffed. "One is, I coached in a league much like the Big East, as an assistant for nine years (at ACC power Wake Forest). So I think I know how intense the games are going to be that we have to face." Wainwright added, "second would be, is that the biggest adjustment ultimately will be is dealing with the current level of players that you have, and really the kids have been great. They've improved. They have gotten stronger. And they are young. At this point of my career, the adjustment is more internal than external."

You see coaching is not something new to Wainwright, as he has been part of the coaching ranks (including being an assistant) for nearly 20 years. And being a Berwyn, Illinois native, the move to Chicago was all so comfortable and perfect for Wainwright. But Wainwright does face a challenge. He inherits a team that lost three key seniors (including the top two scorers in Drake Diener and Quemont Greer) that were largely responsible for the team winning 68 games in three years (including an NCCA tournament berth in 2003 and an NIT run last year). If that is not enough, the move to the Big East with fellow Conference USA stragglers (Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, and South Florida) has placed DePaul in an already formidable conference into perhaps the biggest and best that ever was. Is Wainwright ready for this? Well, talking with him at media day, you don't get the impression he is not one who gets rattled ever so easily. His calm demeanor brings about cautious optimism. So what is it about this team that has caught the eye of Wainwright?

"The proven aspect of our game, are our inside kids. Obviously I got a winner here in Marlon (referring to Marlon Brumfield seated next to him). Marlon is a big time person, big time player. Wesley Green is down to 275 (pounds). He's been really working hard. Lorenzo Thompson is down to 255 and he is benching 320. Marcus Heard has gained 25 pounds. He is about 240 right now. So our inside kids have really done a great job," Wainwright acknowledged. As for the guard play? Well, Wainwright mentioned that has been a little harder to assess with guards Sammy Mejia and Draelon Burns a little nicked up with some minor injuries. However, Wainwright did say "by far the most improved player is Karron Clarke. Our perimeter players are starting to come together."

Perhaps the play of freshmen Wilson Chandler (6-7 Forward), Rashad Woods (6-5 guard), and Jabari Currie (6-4 guard) is reason for more optimism. "Well they have to play. They're going to get knocked down and beat up and they are going to have to learn to get up off the ground. They're physically very talented. They're all physically ready to play, but we all know that this is the big league now. They're going to learn some tough lessons. But they're good kids, good players and they just need to get some experience."

What about Wilson Chandler in particular? Is he what he is cracked up to be? Wainwright thinks so. "He's got a chance to be as good as player that ever played at DePaul. But we all know what the word potential means." That's quite some praise, but Wainwright has faith in his team. Wainwright, when also asked about Currie had more good things to say. "He's great. He is by far the biggest surprise of the freshmen class. I thought he was good, but he's really good. He works hard and (is) a better offensive player than I thought. I think he's got a great future."

Wainwright will look to a bevy of players to contribute, playing 10 to 11 players. His rotation will be deep and ready for the rigors of conference play in February into March. "Well I hope I've played a lot of people, that helps. You build your depth (that way). If you don't have guys ready to play at the end of the year, you're not going to be a good team. But I'd like to think that we could look anywhere on the roster and find somebody who can play."

As for team strengths he points to team quickness and length. He insists though, no one player will be above anyone else. "I think if we have a go to player, we'll really struggle. I think Sammy, by far, will be our most guarded player. I think he'll be on the top of everybody's scouting report. If you let him just run around, now he's going to score points. Sammy averaged almost six rebounds a game last year. What I'd like to see Sammy do is average six assists. And what I'd like to hopefully have is five kids average double figures." As for a starting five, you better sit tight. "I would like to work through that over the next couple of weeks. And, in all honesty, I think what people should be more interested in, is who is in at the end," Wainwright remarked.

However, one concern may be a lack of a consistent outside scorer? Wainwright doesn't deny it may cause a problem, but I wouldn't say he's ultimately worried. "What's interesting is, probably our best shooters are our big kids." Wainwright went on to say. "You know Marcus and Lorenzo are legitimate three point threats. But we're going to have to do it as a team, rather than look to one player. You know, Drake (graduating) really leaves a great hole. I don't think you fill it with one guy on our team. I think everybody (will have to step up). We have to continue to shoot outside shots, and I think we have to have it spread out over more of our players."

Still, like I said, this is the calm before the storm, everybody is on equal footing and everybody is prepping for the storm that will be Big East Basketball. And by the demeanor of its captain, DePaul looks ready to ride the wave to shore. Making it back to New York and Madison Square Garden in March and compete in the Big East Tournament and make its imprint in its inaugural year of Big East Basketball.

The season will tip off on November 19th when the Bradley Braves stop by Allstate Arena for the season opener for both schools. Stay here at WeAreDePaul.com for all stories and features on DePaul Basketball.

Keith Butler Update: While Wainwright couldn't talk about Will Walker and what his impact will be like next year, Wainwright did have plenty of nice things to say about 7-1 Temple transfer Keith Butler. "I think he's going to be a terrific addition. We only have one senior, Marlon. For us to try and find somebody to fill his shoes that late would have been hard. I know Keith, know his family, he's been great in practice and I think he'll have a great senior year next year"

Why so many non-conference road games Jerry? Everybody under the sun has asked this, but truth is three games (Dayton, Old Dominion, and Northern Illinois) were part of binding contracts and Wainwright knowing exposure is crucial in luring recruits signed up for road games at Wake Forest and California knowing those teams will be back in Chicago the following year.

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