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updated: 11/10/2017 6:31 PM

DePaul set to open new basketball arena vs. No. 14 Notre Dame

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  • DePaul will officially open the new Wintrust Arena in the South Loop on Saturday against No. 14 Notre Dame. The Blue Demons are counting on several newcomers this season and head coach Dave Leitao believes the talent level is rising.

    DePaul will officially open the new Wintrust Arena in the South Loop on Saturday against No. 14 Notre Dame. The Blue Demons are counting on several newcomers this season and head coach Dave Leitao believes the talent level is rising.
    Associated Press

 
 

It will be quite an historic event when DePaul hosts No. 14 Notre Dame for the official opening of the new Wintrust Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Not only is DePaul back to playing full-time in the city of Chicago for the first time since moving to the Rosemont Horizon in 1980, this is the sort of matchup that brings back great memories of what the program used to be.

There was a time when DePaul vs. Notre Dame was among the biggest games of the college basketball season, Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings battling Kelly Tripucka and Orlando Woolridge. It's a shame Saturday's game won't be on the WGN Superstation with Harry Kalas on the call.

Well, that history angle might work for older fans, but Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao knows the reality.

"I find it in my own house and it's true with these guys, they can't go back time-wise that far at all," Leitao said. "Mark Aguirre is around here all the time. They don't know who Mark Aguirre is from Bobby Simmons. They just don't and it's hard for me to get them to know that.

"So I just kind of have them live in the moment. I think they understand what Notre Dame has done in its recent past, so it gets their attention and respect. By doing so, hopefully we understand what that rivalry will mean."

Opening the new arena is a big deal for DePaul's current players. Wintrust seats 10,000, so it will be a more intimate setting compared to Allstate Arena, the building formerly known as the Rosemont Horizon. And the hope is DePaul's students will find the South Loop locale more accessible. A short ride on the red line will deliver fans four blocks from the front door.

"Every time I'd talk to students on campus they would say how far Allstate Arena was," junior guard Eli Cain said. "Wintrust is just 15-20 minutes down the street. It will be real good for our student fan base. The whole building (is great). Honestly, we play some game in NBA arenas. I think it compares to NBA arenas we go to."

Asked to name the best part of Wintrust Arena, Cain pointed to the locker room.

"The locker room is amazing," he said. "Everyone has their own locker, their own space. I'm huge fan of the locker room.

"I'm a huge fan of the whole arena. You walk in and go, 'This is ours.' "

Cain was DePaul's leading scorer last season with 15.6 points per game. Two other starters return in 6-7 senior forward Tre'Darius McCallum and 6-5 sophomore guard Brandon Cyrus. But the Blue Demons are counting on a slew of newcomers to move the team forward.

Leitao is intrigued by 6-6 junior guard Max Strus, a transfer from Division II Lewis University who attended Stagg High School in Palos Hills. He was the leading scorer with 22 points in DePaul's exhibition win Sunday over IU Northwest.

DePaul is also counting on 6-11 center Marin Maric, a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois, and 6-4 shooting guard Austin Grandstaff. Grandstaff was a top-50 player coming out of high school who made brief stops at Ohio State and Oklahoma before sitting out last season at DePaul.

"We're still not where I'd like us to be, but we're in a better place than we've been in," said Leitao, who is beginning the third season of his second stint at DePaul. "We'll be a little more efficient offensively because we have more options and we're deeper. We have more size than we had last year as well."

Notre Dame has one of the top returning players in the ACC in 6-6 junior Bonzie Colson, who averaged 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds last season.

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