A 17th century British author and clergyman once said, "The real truth may come right out of the devils mouth." On Wednesday night at the Bradley Center, one of DePaul's demons and bitter rivals stuck a pitchfork in their sides. Marquette pounded DePaul 62-47 and dropped the Blue Demons into 15th place in the 16 team Big East Conference. DePaul has now lost five conference games in a row and still must face Villanova, Louisville, and Syracuse before seasons end. Maybe this is starting to sound a lot more like hell.
The Demons are 8-10 overall and they wont be participants in the NCAA tournament this year, as many believe they should have last season sporting a 19-10 record on Selection Sunday. In Wednesday's game against Marquette, they lost leading scorer Sammy Mejia halfway through the contest to an ankle injury, adding insult to, well, injury. But if Blue Demons coach Jerry Wainwright has anything to do with it, DePaul will rise from the ashes once again.
Wainwright is in his first season at DePaul after successful stays at UNC-Wilmington and Richmond University. In his 11 years at those two schools, he compiled a 186-144 record with three NCAA tournament appearances. Wainwright was brought to DePaul to provide stability to a school that has seen three different head coaches in the past nine seasons.
"Coaching is all about making your team better," reasoned Wainwright when he took the job at DePaul. "It's far more than being better just on the basketball court and better as a player, it's about becoming a better person. Anybody that plays basketball here has a responsibility."
He wasn't kidding.
This weekend at Providence, Wainwright relieved Mejia, Draelon Burns, and Jabari Currie from their starting lineup duties for conduct detrimental to the team. Not surprisingly, DePaul fell behind 41-31 at halftime en route to an eventual heartbreak loss to the Friars 76-75. He didn't care that benching starters might have hurt the teams "on-court" performance.
"Its unfortunate that you have issues like this deep into the season," said Wainwright after the game. "Obviously there are obligations that go beyond basketball that are very important to fulfill. Playing basketball is a privilege. So many people would love to have the opportunity to participate at this level. When you have that opportunity, responsibility comes with it."
Wainwright has the responsibility to build on the success of former head coach Dave Leitao, who darted for the University of Virginia last off-season. While the 8-10 record at this point in the season may be disappointing, Wainwright has worked incredibly hard to clean up the image of Blue Demon basketball. He leads by example, as seen by his quiet and stoic demeanor on the sidelines. His image is also positively projected by his personal life. He and his wife have two children and three grandchildren and appear happy to be back in Jerry's native Chicago.
"Jerry is such a great communicator and I'm impressed with how hard his teams play and how fundamentally sound they are," said Arizona Head Coach Lute Olson of Wainwright. "Jerry is an outstanding coach who is in the profession for all the right reasons."
Added Marquette coach Tom Crean of Wainwright, "He is so close to having a better record right now, a few points here and there. I think those who are following Jerry and his career at DePaul are going to be unbelievably pleased and impressed because he has won everywhere he has been. He is a great coach and he is building a great program over there."
Plainly said, Wainwright cares. As Mejia was writhing on the ground at the 2:24 mark in the first half clutching his ankle and covering his face with his jersey, it was Wainwright holding Mejia's hand. And it was Wainwright who wouldn't let Mejia enter the game again because he feared the risk to Mejia's career. It may be hard to see through fire of DePaul's 1-6 Big East start, but rest assured, Jerry Wainwright will have this team standing when the smoke finally clears.
"We are going to do things the right way," said Wainwright. "I can tell you that we will expect the best and we aren't going to ever settle."
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