- Scott Powers, Reporter
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CHICAGO -- DePaul isn’t where Blue Demons coach Oliver Purnell ultimately wants it to be.
That said, Purnell isn’t entirely displeased with where DePaul is after his first two years.
Purnell has repeatedly stated since the day he was hired that shaping DePaul into a competitive Big East program would take time.
After two years, Purnell still stands by that. If Blue Demons’ fans can remain patient a bit longer, Purnell is confident better times are right around the corner.
“I’ve seen these signs before,” said Purnell during DePaul’s high school team camp at Attack Athletics on Chicago’s West Side on Tuesday. “It’s part of being older, I guess. Mainly, it’s part of having done it four times before (at Clemson, Dayton, Old Dominion and Radford.)
“You see the improvement. You see the experience start to kick in. You see bubbling up from inside your team and program the things that you’re teaching is starting to come from within and coming from the players. Then, it’s right there.”
Purnell has witnessed strides within his program the past two years. The Blue Demons took plenty of lumps during the 2010-2011 season, going 7-24 overall and 1-17 in the Big East. Last year, their record not only improved, but they also were competitive in most games. They finished 12-19 overall and 3-15 in the Big East last season.
Purnell admitted losing is never easy, but the past two seasons have been pretty much what he’s expected in the rebuilding job.
“It’s always hard,” Purnell said. “That’s what makes it so gratifying. If it wasn’t hard, I don’t think I’d be excited to do it again. But if it’s hard and you’re succeeding in turning a program around, I just think it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
“But the tough times, the adversity, and the unexpected things that happen, the ability to fight through those along with your guys is what’s it’s all about as far as I’m concerned.”
Purnell expects the struggle to be less come next season. The Blue Demons have yet to climb out of the Big East’s basement, finishing in last place in both seasons, and he believed that needed to change.
“We want to get significantly better,” Purnell said. “At the end of the year if we can look back and say, boy, we took that next step or we got a lot better. To me, one of the big keys in building a program is to get better every year. We have gotten better. We need to get better this year. We expect to. Hopefully God willing, we’ll stay healthy and get a lot better, and from that standpoint things are on schedule.”
DePaul will have the pieces to do just that in Purnell’s opinion. His top two players, guard Brandon Young and forward Cleveland Melvin, will be juniors. Overall, DePaul returns six of its top seven players.
“Now all the kids in the program we have recruited or had a hand in developing,” Purnell said. “They’re our kind of guys. They know what to expect. More importantly, they know how to tell the three incoming guys what to expect. It’s a comfortable feeling they know what you expect and what you’re thinking.”
DePaul will bring in freshmen forwards DeJuan Marrero and Jodan Price and guard Durrell McDonald. Purnell said McDonald was dealing with a slight hernia and needed to be evaluated. Purnell expected all three freshmen to have roles next season.
One of Purnell’s focuses for the upcoming season will be rebounding. It was where the Blue Demons have often been beat in the Big East.
“Rebounding is a big thing,” Purnell said. “It’s hard to convince guys sometime when they’re young players of blocking out and gang rebounding every play is important.
“I think we’ve figured it out now because that cost us some games, and we’ve got to be a better rebounding team overall no matter what in teams of size. A big part of that is everybody taking their responsibility as a rebounder seriously. If you get that from five guys, you get gang rebounding. That’s as important as anything in our front court.”