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updated: 11/8/2012 11:30 PM

Can Purnell turnaround DePaul in Year 3?

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  • DePaul's Cleveland Melvin is the top returning scorer in the Big East this season.

    DePaul's Cleveland Melvin is the top returning scorer in the Big East this season.
    Associated Press

By Andrew Seligman
AP Sports Writer

When high school phenom Jabari Parker revealed his list of top 10 schools, DePaul was right there alongside the powerhouses.

It was a small victory for the Blue Demons, a sign that maybe -- just maybe -- they can play with the big boys.

Can they beat them, though?

Year 3 of the Oliver Purnell Era is about to begin and DePaul insists it's ready to jump out of the Big East cellar even if it was picked to finish 13th after going 12-19 overall last season and 3-15 in the conference.

DePaul opens its nonconference slate with a game at 8 p.m. Friday against UC-Riverside at McGrath-Phillips Arena (WSCR 670-AM).

The Lady Blue Demons play the second of two Maggie Dixon Classic games at 5:30 p.m. against Nicholls State as part of a tripleheader at McGrath-Phillips Arena (online at Dayton takes on Mississippi Valley State in the first women's game at 3 p.m.

That the Blue Demons were in the running for Parker, the Chicago phenom, turned a few heads even if they didn't make the final round, and it raised hope that the coach is capable of making some recruiting inroads.

To that end, Purnell said, "What it says to us is we've got to keep hitting that rock. We've got to continue to work and recruit the top kids in the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois to start with and then go on out from there.

"We've got to continue to do that. We've had a couple of guys over the last couple of years that were supposedly the top players in the country that were interested and that visited. But we didn't get them. We're going to continue to do that and continue to work at it, and sooner or later, that will pay off."

Clearly, there's work to do.

The Blue Demons are coming off their fifth straight losing season and haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2004.

They're 19-43 in two seasons under Purnell, who has a reputation for rebuilding programs. But the strides he's made haven't shown up in the win column so far.

That's something they're looking to change this season, and they do have four players back that started at least 15 games, including their top two scorers in forward Cleveland Melvin (17.5 ppg.) and guard Brandon Young (14.5 ppg.). Melvin, the top returning scorer in the Big East, also averaged a team-high 7.4 rebounds as a sophomore last season.

They're experienced. They have their top players back. And they believe they could be a sleeper team.

"I feel we should have a turnaround," forward Moses Morgan said.

It's a feeling that any DePaul supporter knows well, particularly the old-timers who remember when the Blue Demons -- not the Bulls -- were Chicago's favorite basketball team, when Ray Meyer was the coach and hometown products Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings were electrifying the city.

It was a different time, a different era.

Now, the Blue Demons are looking to leave Allstate Arena in Rosemont, where they've played most of their home games since 1980, and move back into the city. A new facility on the Lincoln Park campus would be ideal, and sites elsewhere in the neighborhood and downtown as well as one adjacent to the United Center have been mentioned in reports.

"It would be a great idea for the program," said Melvin, who would be gone long before it's built.

Athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto doesn't think there's room to build an arena on campus and finding enough space in the crowded Lincoln Park neighborhood isn't easy, so downtown could be the spot. The Blue Demons could conceivably play at the United Center, at least on a temporary basis while a facility is built.

It would be a huge boost, a potential magnet for college fans in the city and an eye-opener for recruits.

"I'm excited that there are discussions about an arena for our program," Purnell said. "It's clearly a great step that will help us in a whole bunch of different areas, namely recruiting. It would be a great home for not only our players but for our fans. I'm really excited that there are serious discussions concerning the arena."

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