However, momentum may take a hit this year after DePaul lost a tremendous amount of scoring and rebounding with the loss of NBA Draft picks Sammy Mejia and Wilson Chandler (not to mention other departing seniors Marcus Heard, Lorenzo Thompson, and Keith Butler).
Wainwright won't allow the loss of Mejia and Chandler to temper his expectations. Jerry still believes he has a good squad and that the goal is to make the NCAA tournament. "I think we should have high expectations, we're in the Big East," Wainwright declared. "I think we need to get off to a good start. Hopefully we will continue to build on what we did last year, and if we can avoid any injuries of a serious nature, I think we got a chance to be a lot better basketball team than we were last year."
Last season DePaul went 20-14 and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT before losing to Air Force. They finished eighth in the Big East with a 9-7 record and knocked on the fence of the NCAA tournament for the better part of 2007. It was a marked improvement from the previous year, where the Demons finished 12-15 and missed out on the Big East Tournament.
Although Wainwright likes the makeup of the team, it will be a challenge since he is relying on six newcomers to fill the void left by the departures of Mejia and Chandler.
Wainwright has liked what he has seen in practice thus far and highlights two players who have improved. "I love the effort of our younger guys," explains Wainwright. "Our kids are showing exceptional effort. The thing that I appreciate most about practice is the leadership of our seniors. Probably the two guys who have shown the most improvement would be Will Walker and Jabari Currie. I think they have really stood out in practice."
Wainwright's main mission this year is to blend the six newcomers (Freshmen Michael Bizoukas, Mac Koshwal, Kene Obi, Mario Stula, and Darquavis Tucker along with Junior College transfer Matija Poscic) with a solid veteran squad that showcases four seniors (Draelon Burns, Karron Clarke, Cliff Clinkscales, and Wesley Green). So far in practice they have meshed very well together says Wainwright.
Jerry went on to explain that he is very happy with the play of the frontcourt and that it is much better than last year. "Our inside play is much better, maybe we can get a basket in the lane now," Wainwright joked. "Obviously (Green) is in better shape and hopefully he stays healthy. I think our team has kind of changed more from a perimeter team to an inside-outside team. Our skill level inside is much better than it ever was. I think we got a good rotation"
Wainwright later explained that Green will be a key contributor. Wainwright was pleased with his off-season conditioning and he believes Green is one of the better players in the Big East when healthy and focused.
Jerry gushed about the impact Koshwal may make. "I think when all is said and done, people are going to look at him as one of the best freshmen to come into this league at the end of the year," discussed Wainwright. "He's a terrific young player."
Wainwright was also eager about the production he expects to get from Poscic as well. "(He's) long armed and he's about 240, and he plays extremely hard," commented Wainwright.
The Blue Demons coach also was hoping to get Kene Obi cleared so they can give him some minutes up front and use his size for fouls and rebounds. Wainwright said he also is hoping Stula, at 6-7, can play some forward and stretch defenses with his solid perimeter shooting.
The backcourt is in good condition with the return of Burns and Currie among others, and Wainwright is pleased with the backcourt he has. "We bring back two guys who started, Currie and Burns," explained Wainwright. "We went a little bit smaller last year. Wilson was really a perimeter guy. Karron Clarke started as a sophomore, and Draelon came off the bench. They kind of reversed that last year. There has to be an impact by two players, one of them is Walker, who I think is one of our most improved players. He started some last year but I think he kind of found a niche with this year's team and I think he's going to have a big year for us. The other one is Dar Tucker. Dar is a young Draelon. He's a 6-5, 210 pound guy who can shoot and dribble. He's very aggressive taking it to the basket. He's a great rebounder, but he's young. Cliff has been a great guy off the bench for us. Mike Bizoukas is a promising young small guard, and I think we can do a lot of different things with them."
An area of concern for the Demons last year was the play of the point guard. Wainwright knew it was a problem last year and feels things are now falling into place. "Ultimately we kind of shifted the ball handling to older players like Sam and Draelon and we went with a different lineup," Wainwright said. "Jabari, I think, has made a great transition. If you look at turnovers versus assists, both Cliff and Jabari have really been good. They really have been high in the league. They need to be better leaders, they certainly need to be better defenders. I don't think we've been very good defenders at that position."
Wainwright conveyed that Burns guarded too many point guards last year and that can't be the case this year and the improvements the guards have made on defense is noticeable.
Jerry has a sense of confidence with this ballclub and is ready for the season to commence. "I think our biggest strength is we have a proven Big East scorer in Draelon Burns," explained Wainwright. "We have tremendous speed and overall team speed, especially our big players. I think our incoming big kids can really run. And I think the third thing is the experience of the post-season last year will have a very positive effect on how we do this year."
Wainwright did downplay the enthusiasm a bit knowing he is relying on some young players and they will have their ups and downs. "We are going to count on guys that have not played at this level early on to grow up quick," said Wainwright about things the team must work on. "We have to do a much better job at the free throw line. Getting to the free throw line and making free throws. Chandler and Mejia were terrific rebounders, and that's a hole. Those guys gave us a combined 15-20 rebounds a game. That's something on the stat sheet that has to be filled up by other guys."
Wainwright intends to keep the ship sailing while fixing some of the leaks that the departures of Mejia and Chandler left, but he is confident that this DePaul team can contend in the Big East and surprise people while flying under the radar.
Wainwright Dishes Up Outlook on Season
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