DePaul still looking for breakthrough

Cleveland Melvin realizes he’s running out of time. He’s not losing hope, though.

As he enters his senior season at DePaul, the 6-foot-8 forward remains confident the Blue Demons can turn things around and end this losing cycle before he moves on.

“We’ve got a better team now, and now is the time to show everybody,” Melvin said. “We can definitely make a statement with the team we’ve got and go far in the Big East and make the tournament.”

Once-proud DePaul hasn’t gone anywhere in recent years.

The program that rose to prominence under Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2004 and last made the NIT in 2007. It’s been nothing but losing seasons since then, and whatever strides they’ve made under Oliver Purnell haven’t shown up in the record.

The architect of turnarounds at Dayton and Clemson, he’s 30-64 overall and 6-48 in Big East play entering his fourth year at DePaul. The Blue Demons — 11-21 and 2-16 in league play last year — haven’t won more than three conference games in a season during that time, but Purnell knew it wouldn’t be easy when he accepted the job.

“It’s tough,” he said. “We knew that when we took over, and every time we’ve been close, we chose not to stand pat. We chose to get a lot better, and that’s the way we went at this offseason.”

Purnell said DePaul now has the supporting cast behind Melvin and senior Brandon Young to take a big step in the revised Big East. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the Blue Demons will soon be playing in a new arena. With that in mind, here are five things to know about the Blue Demons:

THEY’RE BACK: DePaul has its top two scorers back in Brandon Young (16.7 points) and Melvin (16.6 points), who finished sixth and seventh in the conference in scoring last season, and four starters returning in all. Melvin also averaged 6.8 rebounds, while Young turned in 4.6 assists per game a year ago.

HOMEGROWN: DePaul’s roster has eight newcomers, including star recruit Billy Garrett Jr. of Chicago. A point guard and son of a Blue Demons assistant, he led Morgan Park High School to the Illinois Class 3A State Championship last season. And he could be a catalyst to land other prospects.

“Flashes of tremendous potential,” Purnell said. “I think it’s really important we don’t put too much pressure on him early. He’s going to be important to us. He’s going to play a lot of basketball. He’s probably wise beyond his years in terms of basketball IQ.”

NEW DIGS ... SOON: Goodbye suburbs, the Blue Demons are finally coming back to the city. A 10,000-seat facility in the McCormick Place area on the South Side is slated to be completed in time for the 2016-2017 season, and for many, that day can’t come soon enough. DePaul has played most of its home games at Allstate Arena in Rosemont since 1980. Small crowds and an older arena probably weren’t an easy sell to prep prospects.

“It’ll help our recruiting in terms of people who are interested,” Purnell said. “I think it’s even helped us with the incoming class, with Billy Garrett and Tommy Hamilton and R.J. Curington. They’ve clearly bought into that as part of the reason that they came to DePaul.”

NEW-LOOK CONFERENCE. NOW: The Big East will have a different look with Creighton, Butler and Xavier in the mix and heavyweights such as Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut gone after the schools whose main sport is basketball broke away and kept the conference name. The members now have a similar makeup and similar mission, with the focus now on basketball and each team having the opportunity to play everybody else at home and on the road.

“I really like it from a preparation standpoint and from an excitement standpoint for our fans,” Purnell said. “Those games mean something because the fans of those programs have a lot of things in common. Most of them are Catholic schools that have similar missions. These teams have played each other in the past so there’s a lot of tradition and rivalry already established, and there’s a lot of room for more of that.”

FOR STARTERS: DePaul opens at home against Grambling State on Nov. 9. Its first Big East game is at Georgetown on Dec. 31.

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