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Thursday, April 29, 2010
Purnell already struggling with the locals

By Eamonn Brennan

If DePaul's facilities weren't so bad, and the program wasn't situated in a brutal position in the Big East, the biggest challenge -- and the easiest path -- to making sure the Blue Demons had a competitive local program would lie in local recruiting. Chicago is a lush rain forest of basketball talent. This goes for the city and the suburbs alike; great players for elite college programs (Duke's Jon Scheyer and Kansas' Sherron Collins are two recent examples) routinely hail from both.

Naturally, DePaul does have those problems with facilities and conference affiliation. But if it employed a recruiter capable of snagging just one or two of Chicago's top, oh, 20 prospects every year, the Demons would be as consistently competitive as any program in the country.

As Oliver Purnell is showing us, this is easier said than done. Because not only do you have to convince kids to turn down the offers from the big state schools in lush, hoops-obsessed Midwestern towns to come to your flailing program, you also have to battle a local recruiting cadre that makes realpolitik look downright cuddly. Purnell is finding this out quicker than he would have liked, as Simeon's Robert Smith and Morgan Park's Nick Irvin, two of the major power brokers in Chicago high school basketball, are publicly cutting ties over Purnell's choice of assistant coaches. Seriously.
"My relationship right now is not going to be good with them," said Smith, who has coached Simeon to three state championships in the last five years. "That could change in a month or two months, but right now it is not good.

"Me, personally, I would have kept the whole staff," said Irvin, whose family owns the influential Mac Irvin Fire AAU program. "Billy and David know the city a bit, but they can't attack it by themselves. Maybe they want to be well-rounded and go to different cities and states to find the pieces to the puzzle they are building.

"Everybody wants to come to Chicago to see basketball. College coaches call me every day and want to talk about the talent in Chicago. It is the mecca of basketball, and it's going to be that way for at least the next 10, 12 years. By doing that, I don't know if DePaul knows that. Maybe they are scared of us?"

Chicago's politics have a well-deserved reputation for being brutally cutthroat, if not downright corrupt. Apparently college hoops is no different. Good luck, Oliver.