I admit it might just be local fascination on my part -- I happen to live a few blocks from DePaul's campus in Chicago -- but I find DePaul's basketball program eminently fascinating. It's a former 1980s glory days power with a pretty campus in a nice neighborhood in one of the biggest, most sports-crazed cities in the country. And it can't win.
This has a lot to do with DePaul's facilities; the basketball team plays its games in a dreary old box about 40 minutes away from its campus. But it also has a lot to do with DePaul's Big East affiliation. The school plays in a conference that draws most of its talent from the East Coast, and it's probably fair to say most East Coast players don't grow up dreaming of one day being a DePaul Blue Demon. That's the challenge for new coach Oliver Purnell -- find a way to get solid recruits thinking about the Big East to likewise think of DePaul.
How's this going? As of Monday, not too bad, actually. That's when Purnell managed officially to land 6-foot-8 forward Cleveland Melvin, a hyper-athletic (if raw) Baltimore native. Melvin originally committed to Connecticut before decommitting in order to play more on the wing than in the post. His two choices came down to Rutgers and DePaul, and Purnell won out in the end.
Some perspective is warranted here: It's just one player, of course, and Melvin isn't a top 100 guy; he's the No. 53-ranked power forward in ESPNU's class of 2010. DePaul isn't suddenly a tournament team, or something. But it's good news for DePaul all the same. This is the type of player people assume DePaul can't recruit, a guy from the East whose other options included a Big East power and an East Coast school much closer to his hometown.
Purnell still has issues on the home front -- there is a wealth of talent in the Chicago area, and Purnell has yet to win over the very influential high school and AAU power brokers in the city. That will require a political effort usually reserved for Chicago's infamously sleazy politicians. In the meantime, this counts for something.