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Can The DePaul Blue Demons Be Saved?

Mark Aguirre threw up a little in his mouth. Terry Cummings bowed his head and said a silent prayer. Skip Dillard turned over in his prison bed. (Is he out? If you are, I apologize Skip) Last Thursday night, I was watching ESPN well past my bedtime when I saw something incredibly disturbing scroll across the ticker: GARDNER-WEBB 71 DEPAUL 59

What? Are you kidding me? Sam Cassell is ugly. This is beyond ugly. This is downright embarrassing. And the saddest part is, no one cares. Not Mark Giangreco. Not Rahm Emanuel. Not Oprah Winfrey. We worry about public schools and education, poverty and unemployment, healthcare and budget deficits, but we don’t give a second thought to the fact that the DePaul Blue Demons, the team that defined Chicago basketball for decades, is now a laughing stock of the college game and it will take more than a downtown arena to change that. Don’t blame Joey Meyer’s heinous wardrobe. Don’t blame Jean Ponsetto’s lack of vision. Blame yourself, people, because we are all responsible for this ugly mess.

Once upon a time, the Blue Demons mattered. And while they never challenged the Dallas Cowboys for the title of America’s team, in the 70’s and 80’s DePaul produced NBA stars as fast as Hostess made Twinkies. Led by the world’s friendliest, gap-toothed grandfather—Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer—the Blue Demons were one of the only teams in America that rocked jerseys you didn’t tuck into your short shorts. Clyde Bradshaw. Gary Garland. Mark Aguirre. Curtis Watkins. The Afros. The uniforms. DePaul basketball was hip-hop before hip-hop existed. For Christ’s sake, George Mikan went to DePaul. You know George Mikan, the guy who taught every big man in America how to make layups with both hands via The Mikan Drill.

We’ve reached a new low. A loss to Gardner-Webb, the juggernaut from the Big South Conference that features such legendary programs as Presbyterian and Longwood, is a definite sign. Something must be done. If President Obama won’t declare DePaul basketball a national disaster zone and allocate federal funds to help lure a new coach and recruit better players, here are a few practical things the university should do to return the program to prominence in the next 3-5 years.

  1. BIG COACH. Either hire a famous alum to coach the team or find the next John Calipari. Mark Aguirre has been an assistant in the NBA for God knows how long. Why hasn’t he been given the keys to this car? Because Oliver Purnell has so many contacts in the Chicago Public League? I have no idea if Aguirre is a great motivator or a great X’s and O’s guy. But does it really matter? He was a star in the NBA and knows the league inside and out. Players want to play for coaches who can get them to the next level. (see Calipari) Aguirre can do that. Plus, he still has a fan base in the city that hasn’t died and recently figured out how to use the Internet.
  2. OLD-SCHOOL GEAR. Bring the old school jerseys back. Have you seen the Adidas website? #allinforBlueDemons #culturallyrelevant.
  3. REAL ARENA. Don’t accept Reinsdorf’s offer to play games at the United Center. Sure, the rent is free but the cost is your collegiate soul. The United Center doesn’t offer a college atmosphere. It’s a pro atmosphere, which means when the players come out of the tunnel they look smaller than life and a burger and fries requires a small line of credit. Move the team back to the city, build a small, cozy, on-campus stadium, and give Oprah naming rights. Call it Oprah’s House. Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, arguably the best venue in college basketball—along with Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse—seats 9,314. Depaul’s old Alumni Hall held 5,300. Build a better Alumni Hall, in the city, and start a new tradition in Chicago. It’s a goldmine waiting to happen.
  4. LOCAL PLAYERS. Recruit the next Fab Five (or just find the next Jabari Parker) from the Chicago Public League and start from scratch. DePaul tried this strategy in the late 90’s when Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons, and Paul McPherson, all Chicago Public League stars, breathed life back into the program.
  5. D-ROSE. Get Derrick Rose involved. Yes, he went to Memphis, but that’s only because its coach slicked his hair back and provided the best training ground for future NBA stardom. Rose (just like the guy who took his ACT) has no real ties to the Memphis Tigers. Get him on the DePaul bandwagon and the whole city will follow.

If you’re still reading, you either have way too much time on your hands or you’re Dave Corzine. Either way, thanks. The point is, there are three things I’d like to see happen before I die:

A. Israelis and Palestinians living in piece.
B. Ryan Seacrest unemployed.
C. DePaul basketball returned to national prominence.

Let’s hope this message helps with at least one of those.

Important Note: Garner-Webb lost by one point to Illinois at Illinois yesterday. We realize this could mean Gardner-Webb is a rising power capable of making a run to the Final Four this year, or that Illinois has problems of its own. Doesn’t change the fact that the Blue Demons need to make major changes quick, fast and in a hurry.

Correction: Yesterday’s story mistakenly stated DePaul’s tournament appearances in the late 90’s were vacated by the NCAA when in fact the school’s tournament appearances from 1986-1989 are the years stricken from the record books.

STORY ART: Photo of Ray Meyer courtesy AP Photo.

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