Chicago Colleges: Oliver Purnell
Phillips had been at Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington D.C. since 2012. Friendship Collegiate Academy went 20-7 and reached the semifinals of the Beltway Independent Playoffs last season. He has also been a prep coach at Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Fla., Progressive Christian Academy in Temple Hills, Md., Georgetown Prep in Rockville, Md.
Phillips was also involved in coaching DC Assault, a club program in Washington D.C., since 2008.
Phillips replaces Brian Ellerbe on the Blue Demons' staff. Ellerbe wasn't retained by Purnell after DePaul went 11-21 overall and 2-16 in the Big East last season.
"We appreciate the efforts of these four players," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said in a statement. "We support their decisions to look for other opportunities."
Morgan, a 6-foot-6 forward, played in 29 games, including three starts, and averaged 5.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 18.9 minutes as a junior. He made a team-high 32 3-pointers last season.
Robertson Jr., a 6-foot-10 center, played in 32 games, including two starts, and averaged 1.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 13 minutes as a sophomore.
Price, a 6-foot-7 swingman, played in eight games and averaged 2.4 minutes as a freshman. Clemons, a 6-foot-7 forward, played in 19 games and averaged 1.3 points, 1.1 rebounds and five minutes as a freshman.
The Blue Demons have three players signed and one committed for next season. Morgan Park (Chicago) senior point guard Billy Garrett Jr., who is ranked No. 90 in ESPN's Class of 2013, South Plains College (Texas) sophomore center Forrest Robinson and Citrus Junior College (Calif.) sophomore power forward Greg Sequele are signed. Oak Hill Academy (Va.) senior guard R.J. Curington committed to DePaul in January.
DePaul went 11-21 overall and 2-16 in the Big East last season in Purnell's third season with the program.
"That would be an improvement for us to get in the middle," the third-year coach Purnell said prior to practice on Wednesday. "The difference is when you're in the Big East along with several other great conferences in the country, then you got a chance to compete for everything. If we can move up to the middle of the Big East and be competitive with everybody, get some more wins along the way and do a good job in non-conference, now we're talking."
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.”
CHICAGO -- Basketball didn’t feel like basketball to Brian Ellerbe when he left coaching 10 years ago.
Ellerbe’s coaching career began when he was 22, and he learned at an early age the job wasn’t worth it unless you really loved where you were at. Yes, the money could be good and belonging to certain programs brought notoriety, but Ellerbe never wanted to be a coach for the fame and fortune. Few do.
Up until 1997, his coaching career had been all he wanted. He enjoyed the schools he worked at. He liked the people he worked with. He had been a successful recruiter. He loved teaching players and seeing them develop.
Coaching fulfilled him, and he never envisioned doing anything else. He was a basketball coach. It was his life.
Four years at Michigan ceased those feelings.
Michigan opened his eyes to the ugly side to college basketball. His tenure began with the scandal of booster Ed Martin paying players, which led to Steve Fisher being fired and Ellerbe becoming the interim head coach and later the permanent coach. One athletic director retired and another resigned during his time there. He was forced to sit Jamal Crawford without explanation.
And in the end, he was fired after four seasons, and he felt different about basketball.
“It wasn’t pure,” said Ellerbe, who is now in his second year as a DePaul assistant coach. “The game wasn’t pure. The business wasn’t pure. You become paranoid in a lot of respects. Nobody really understands unless in you’re in those shoes.
“It really tests you psychologically. It tests your belief in the business. It tests a lot of things. It was a passion. It was like the air got let out of the balloon.”
So Ellerbe stepped away from it.
Like his nine other siblings, Ellerbe was going to put his college degree to use. He studied urban planning at Rutgers, and he found a way to utilize it while helping various construction projects, including the Motor City Education Sportsplex, in the Detroit area and then later taking a vice president of corporate development position with Madison Grace Construction in Las Vegas.
Ellerbe wasn’t completely detached from basketball. He was a consultant for college teams, high school players and showed up to the occasional AAU tournament to see his old colleagues.
All of it was enough to satisfy his basketball hunger. He wasn’t dying to get back into coaching even if others were saying he should consider it.
Todd Bozeman was one of those who attempted to draw Ellerbe back. They had known each other for years, having growing up in the Washington D.C. area. Bozeman had a unique outlook on what Ellerbe was going through too because he had sat out 10 seasons between college coaching positions.
“When Brian went through his situation, I understood the language,” said Bozeman, who is his fifth season as Morgan State’s head coach. “I understood where he was coming from. I kept trying to make him think of it as not so bad. ‘You went through a tough time. It jarred you. You got stunned. It’s just a speed bump. You’ll be back from it, and it’ll come around.’”
Ellerbe didn’t see it that way. He told Bozeman he was done with coaching. Bozeman disagreed.
“I kept telling him, ‘You’re coming back,’” Bozeman said. “He kept saying, ‘I’m not coming back.’ I knew he had too much to offer, and it was just a bump in the road, and it was a matter of time.”
Bozeman was right.
Ellerbe and his associates sold their business in Las Vegas, and he returned to the D.C. area prior to the 2009-2010 college season. Karl Hobbs, who was then George Washington’s coach, asked Ellerbe if he’d be interested in joining his staff.
Ellerbe liked Hobbs. Ellerbe and his wife had ties to George Washington. He knew he’d enjoy coaching there and being around the people. Plus, he was going to approach the job differently this time around.
“Totally different,” Ellerbe said. “The one thing I do realize is I know why [DePaul coach] Oliver Purnell can coach until he’s 80 because he has the ability to turn it off and keep it in perspective. You control what you can control, you work hard on what you can work on, and then you move on.
“But not a lot of us can do that. It eats at us to no end. I think stepping back I don’t let it bother me like I used to. I tried to create some of the normalcy.”
Bozeman has witnessed that change in Ellerbe.
“It’s not life and death,” Bozeman said. “I think that’s what you see of Brian. He has a whole different perspective on it now.”
Ellerbe was happy living back in his hometown and coaching. Life was good. Then one day, he received an unexpected phone call.
Ellerbe can recall the day precisely. He was home alone. His wife and children were out. A baseball game was on the television, and he was falling asleep. The phone rang, awoke him and Purnell was on the line.
“He said, I’m taking this DePaul job. You’ve been in the Midwest. You need to come out here with me,’” Ellerbe said. “I said, ‘God, Oliver. What are you talking about?’ I always had so much respect for Oliver Purnell. I knew that was a real call. When I hung the phone up, I’m like, ‘What am I going to tell my wife?”
Within days, Purnell had his man.
“It was just his overall resume and body of work,” Purnell said. “Obviously he was at Michigan and won a Big Ten championship. Michigan is obviously in the Midwest. He grew up in that Baltimore area, worked on the East Coast, which is an area I think we can recruit as well. He’s an X’s and O’s guy. If you look at his resume, it’s just impeccable.”
Now in his second year at DePaul, Ellerbe is as happy as he’s been coaching. He and his family enjoy Chicago, especially its food. He recruits mainly the Midwest and the East Coast, and his list of contacts in those places go back to when he began as a grad assistant at Rutgers in 1985. He works predominately with DePaul’s big men in practice.
Ellerbe also loves the challenge DePaul has presented. It’s been a while since the Blue Demons have made headlines in the college basketball world, and Ellerbe is confident Purnell and his staff can return it there.
“Everyone’s like, ‘Boy, that’s a tough job, you got an uphill climb,’” Ellerbe said. “Yeah, that’s what Oliver has done wherever he’s been. We want to get it back to the days you remember. That would be the most satisfying thing. To get it back to that point and let the chips fall where they may.”
If those chips dropped into Ellerbe being offered another head coaching position, he would at least listen.
“If it happens, it happens,” Ellerbe said. “I’m not a guy who is actively seeking, on the phone touching everyone I know. That’s not how I would approach it. If an opportunity came about, I definitely would look in it. It’s one of those what-you-know-now kind of scenarios.”
For the record, Bozeman never told Ellerbe he told him so.
“I’m just glad B’s back,” Bozeman said. “I’m not just saying him by himself, but college basketball needs guys like that. I’m glad he’s back. I’m glad he’s happy.”
“I just think you got a strong, strong league,” Purnell said.
Purnell’s confidence stemmed from his previous experiences with conference changes. He went through adjustments when at Clemson, Dayton and Old Dominion.
“I’ve done it before,” Purnell said. “When I was at Dayton, we were in the Great Midwest Conference for six months. That league blew up and became Conference USA. We weren’t invited in, and we went to the Atlantic 10. Old Dominion was in the Sun Belt and CAA.
“Although it seems like this stuff has never ever, ever happened before, certainly there are some things that happened like it before. There have always been changes.”
Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced in September they’re leaving the Big East for the ACC. Purnell expected more changes ahead, too.
“Down the line, I don’t think things are necessarily all settled yet,” Purnell said. “You can say this or that, and it might be different next week. The minute you think everything is settled, it’s not.”
Purnell got a laugh at the Chicago College Basketball Luncheon with a joke about conference expansion on Friday.
“Let’s go ahead and get this behind us,” Purnell said. “I wasn’t supposed to say anything. But this group of schools here will be splintering off from their present conferences and will be the flagship programs in a brand new conference that will be expanding and seeking new members all the times. Crazy times, crazy times.”
"I'm very in-tuned [with DePaul still,]" said Simmons while watching his 11-year-old son practice with the Mac Irvin Fire at Morgan Park High School on Monday night. "Coach [Oliver] Purnell is doing a great job. It starts with the recruiting process. That's key. I think that's a start -- being known in the city and being somebody who wants to help the kids."
Simmons, who starred at Simeon, along with Quentin Richardson (Whiten Young) and Lance Williams (Julian) assembled one of DePaul's strongest recruiting classes out of Chicago back in 1998. In their two years together, the trio led the Blue Demons to the NIT in 1999 and NCAA tournament in 2000.
Since then, DePaul has been to one NCAA tournament (2004), has had six losing seasons and is on its third different coach.
"Whatever university has transitions between coaches, you expect that," Simmons said of DePaul's recent struggles. "Now, they've had 3-4 coaches in a few years in a time span, and you're going to have some up and downs. As of now, you have a set core, and I think from here you move forward."
Simmons thought Purnell was making progress in the Chicago area after securing Rich South's Macari Brooks and Crete-Monee's Jamee Crockett in his 2011 recruiting class and already having Morgan Park point guard Billy Garrett committed for the Class of 2013.
Simmons believed DePaul still has a lot to offer.
"If you think about it, DePaul is still on the national circuit," said Simmons, who owns Succezz, a shoe store in Chicago's South Loop. "It's in the Big East, so you're going to get televised games. If the kid has never been away from home, you have an opportunity to be away from home and still be at home."
This wasn’t one of those moral victories, a loss DePaul could build from, or even a positive sign for the future of the program. Kelly wasn’t cracking any smiles.
No, this was one Kelly believed DePaul had given away. Despite the Blue Demons being in last place in the Big East, having won one conference game and Villanova being ranked No. 14 in the country, Kelly was confident DePaul would win Saturday, and he was crushed when it didn’t.
“Yeah, it hurt,” said Kelly, who scored a career-high 25 points in the loss. “It hurt a lot.”
That mentality in itself is a major step forward for the program. Expectations are changing.
“We know that we can play with these teams in the Big East,” Kelly said. “We know we belong.”
DePaul’s goal is still long-term. The Blue Demons have 15 other conference teams, and probably a season or two of up-and-down performances, still standing between them and what they seek in the Big East.
First-year DePaul coach Oliver Purnell knows that as well as anyone.
One of the qualities that have made Purnell successful wherever he has gone is he understands time is one of the ingredients to turning a program around. From the press conference introducing him as DePaul’s coach in April to Saturday’s postgame one, Purnell has realized the Blue Demons’ rise would be have to be a process. They weren’t going to win a dozen games in the Big East in his first year. He was more hopeful they would win a couple.
DePaul’s ascent would only occur by taking the necessary steps. Those included better recruiting, the players buying into and understanding Purnell’s system, enduring possibly a lot of failures early on, making sure to learn from those failures, tasting a bit success and never losing confidence.
As expected, DePaul’s season has been a trying one. The Blue Demons lost at Indiana State by 22 points. They were beaten by non-conference opponents Western Carolina, Cal State Northridge and Ball State, teams they had no business losing to. They took their lumps in the Big East, losing their first 12 conference games.
But now the Blue Demons are now starting to see the light. In February, they’ve battled with Louisville to a four-point game, lost by three to Cincinnati, cut a 17-point deficit down to seven in the final minutes against West Virginia, defeated Providence on Thursday to end their 25-game conference losing streak and their 28-game conference road losing streak and probably should have beaten Villanova on Saturday.
“We played well enough to win tonight,” Purnell said. “I still don’t think we’re playing to our very best, but obviously we’re playing pretty good basketball over the last four or five games.
“We’re becoming a more dangerous team each and every day. I told the guys, to me it’s clear that if we play better, we can play with anyone in our league. I still don’t think we’ve played our best.”
Not that DePaul is striking fear into anyone yet, but if you’re Pittsburgh, Notre Dame or Georgetown, you probably would like to see someone else in the early rounds of the Big East tournament.
“I still believe that we can do some things,” Kelly said. “I look forward to the Big East [tournament.] We’re going to be some problems for people if we can play like this.”
With DePaul's season on the horizon, ESPNChicago.com had a chance to catch up with coach Oliver Purnell.
Q: What do you know about this team heading into the first practice?
A: I know that it’s a team that’s eager and wants to be coached and has done everything we have asked them to do. I think that’s a unique quality and something to build on.
Q: What do you try to establish first when coaching a new team?
A: There are two things. We want to establish ourselves as a team that is known as a very good defensive team and one that gang rebounds. I think that’s really, really important. I think it’s important to try to put some premium on building confidence with a group. We don’t want to overload them and not play effective basketball. We could throw 11 or 12 pressure-type defenses at them, but that doesn’t make sense. You ease them into things you do. You want to get them comfortable and play effective basketball as they learn the system better. I think that’s better.
Q: How soon can you expect this team to start playing your style of basketball?
A: I think the goal every year is to get better. I think the first year it’s evident you’re not going be where you want to be on Day 1 or the second week of practice. You’re just not going to. Common sense for a basketball coach is you don’t expect too much too early. My expectation is for us to continue to get better. It’s important that we believe in what we’re doing. We got to constantly let them know that anything that is worth having, anything you do well, is worth working for. It takes time and is a process. I expect our players to go through a process, especially with our pressure defense.
Q: What’s realistic to expect from this team?
A: Realistic expectations are to be better. Believe in team, believe in family, play extremely hard, to be known as an outstanding defensive team, known as a team that is a very tough out. That’s it. We want to win as many games as we can. In terms of long-term goals, we want to get better, win as many games as possible and compete for tournaments. The short-term goals are the most important right now. We want to push the ball on offense, gang rebound. The biggest short-term goal is to win our first game.
Q: You have three in-state games scheduled this season. Not all high-major programs will do that. What’s your philosophy in scheduling Illinois teams?
A: If you check out my record, we played every in-state Division I team in South Carolina. We played a lot of Division II teams in scrimmages. It makes sense to me. Obviously, your fans will be interested in seeing those teams. It helps your attendance and following. We don’t mind if fans cheer for two state teams. We don’t mind if fans cheer for Illinois and want to cheer for us or if they want cheer for Chicago State and cheer for us. In tough economic times, it makes more sense to play a Chicago team than Delaware State. It creates interest. It creates a following. I think the media likes it. It just makes too much sense. We want to create a brand that we hope to spread. We have a good product, and we hope to spread it.
HIGHLAND, Ind. -- DePaul coach Oliver Purnell has read what has been written about the Blue Demons and their relationship with 2010 recruit Walter Pitchford.
Purnell realizes it appears as if Pitchford, a 6-foot-10 forward, wants to be released from his letter of intent to DePaul, and the school simply isn't allowing that.
Purnell claims the issue isn't so cut and dry.
Read the entire story.
"You always feel bad, because everybody has an opinion, and everybody has somebody that they're rooting for that they'd like to see get the job," Lenti Ponsetto told Jonathan Hood on ESPN 1000. "And I appreciate what our Public League coaches are saying.
"Many of them weighed in and told me who they thought -- or who they felt -- would have been a good hire in our situation."
Some coaches expressed concerns that Purnell, who coached the last seven seasons at Clemson, is not a "Chicago guy," and could have difficulty recruiting the city.
Read the entire story.
After his press conference, Purnell met with his new players and let them know his vision for the future. Shortly after, he began reaching out to local coaches. On Wednesday night, he returned to his home in South Carolina and met with his former Clemson team to explain his unexpected exit. On Thursday, he was in Maryland to participate in the Seaside Christian Academy Memorial, a golf fundraiser in the memory of his late brother Dwayne, who was an administrator at the school. On Saturday, he will return to Chicago
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They just don't know him.
And that's the problem some of them have with DePaul hiring Purnell away from Clemson.
"I've been CEO of the Fire for the past five years," said Mike Irvin, whose AAU team possesses a good portion of the area's top talent. "I've been at my father's side for the last 15 years assisting him with the team. I've never seen him. I've never seen a Clemson coach. That's bad, because in Chicago it's about the relationships, the ties. Chicago's a different animal, a different city.
"The mistake that [DePaul athletic director] Jean Lenti Ponsetto keeps making is she gets coaches who can't recruit Chicago. Maybe they want to recruit the South. Maybe they don't believe the Chicago players are good enough. Basically, my point is I guess they don't need Chicago. I don't understand how you don't need Chicago when you're in the middle of Chicago."
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"DePaul presents a great opportunity,'' Purnell told ESPN.com Tuesday morning.
Oliver Purnell said the challenge of rebuilding DePaul attracted him to his new job.
The stunning hire -- culminated shortly after the Duke-Butler NCAA national championship game -- salvaged a search for a new coach that lasted nearly three months.
It's a super job,'' Purnell said. "They are very, very committed to restoring a tradition and make DePaul Chicago's team.''
Purnell wasn't on any reported DePaul prospective hire lists throughout the winter. He said Tuesday he was contacted four or five days ago. DePaul had made overtures all over the country and few seemed to know where Blue Demons were headed.
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