If he wanted, Billy Garrett Jr. probably could have been playing in the Champions Classic, college basketball's showcase spectacular Tuesday night at the United Center.
The prized freshman point guard could have been wearing a uniform emblazoned with Michigan State or Kentucky, or Duke or Kansas.
Contact information ( * required )
That's how highly regarded Garrett was coming out of Morgan Park High School, where he led the Mustangs to a 33-3 record and Class 3A state championship last year. The 6-foot-5, 195-pounder was ranked among the top 100 players in the nation by Rivals, Scout and ESPN, among others.
But while freshman stars like Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Jabari Parker (Duke) and Julius Randle (Kentucky) were performing under the bright lights in front of a packed crowd, Garrett was back at his DePaul dorm doing homework.
On Wednesday night, the prized recruit played his first game at the Allstate Arena with the Blue Demons in front of a scant crowd of 5,840.
With Garrett coming off the bench early in the game and running the offense, DePaul blew out to a 21-9 lead over Southern Mississippi, which returned three starters from last season's 27-win team.
For a few brief moments, it looked like Garrett might have made the right choice staying close to home while also playing for his father, Demons assistant coach Billy Garrett.
But DePaul being DePaul the last decade or two, the game quickly turned and the Golden Eagles went on to post a 75-68 win.
"It really came down to (defensive) stops and shot selection," Garrett said. "Stops and rebounding, that's where we lost the game. We have to get tougher."
The Blue Demons (1-1) haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2004, and they've once again been picked to finish last in the revamped Big East this year.
You can place the blame on the coaches, including current head man Oliver Purnell, but a glaring lack of talent has been DePaul's biggest downfall.
With Garrett on board, maybe a needed change is in the works.
"I try not to think about that too much," Garrett said of being viewed as a savior of sorts. "I try to focus more on what I can control. I'm flattered if people think I can just bring the program back, but it's going to take a lot more than me. As a team, I think we have what it takes. I don't really feel any pressure because I'm confident in my abilities and I'm confident in the ability of my teammates."
Seniors Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young are nice college basketball players, but they never quite took the next step needed to carry a team into March Madness.
Coming out of the fertile Chicago Public League, the hope is that Garrett helps the Blue Demons attract more local talent.
"I think it plays a role, having gone to high school here," Garrett said. "There's always got to be somebody to start it off. I hope it starts a trend. It would be a great thing for the city, it would be a great thing for DePaul and it would be a great thing for Chicago basketball. If me being here starts a trend of other guys coming here, I would be extremely happy because there's a lot of talent in Chicago year in and year out."
Garrett is still a work in progress, and he was held to 5 points on 1--for-6 shooting Wednesday. On the plus side, he stabilized the Demons' erratic offense with 8 assists and just 1 turnover.
"I was pleased with (Garrett's) ballhandling," Purnell said. "I think he'll shoot the ball better. He's coming around."
Said Young: "He has a very high basketball IQ for a freshman. He knows the game and he just wants to win. You can really see that in him."