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2021-22 Big East Basketball Summer Check-In: DePaul Blue Demons

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BREAKING NEWS: DePaul made a questionable coaching hire and their outlook for basketball success isn’t good.

Big East Basketball Tournament - First Round Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Team: DePaul Blue Demons

2020-21 Record: 5-14, 2-13 Big East

2020-21 Big East Finish: Dead last, the only team in the conference to not win at least six games in league play.

Final 2020-21 KenPom Ranking: #141, their 14th straight sub-90 ranking, and 12th sub-100 ranking in the past 14 years as well.

Postseason? What, you kidding me with this?

Key Departures: Four of DePaul’s top five scorers, three of their top four rebounders, and five of their top six assists guys are all gone. Obviously there’s some overlap here. The biggest overlap is Charlie Moore, who tied for the team lead in scoring and assists, and his collegiate career is finally over after starting at Cal in 2016 has moved on for one final year at Miami. Romeo Weems (7.3 points, 5.0 rebounds) is gone after declaring for the NBA Draft following his sophomore year. Pauly Paulicap, one of the best names in recent Big East history and owner of 7.2 points and a team high 6.1 rebounds last season transferred to West Virginia in April. Ray Salnave (6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists) was supposed to be a grad transfer for the Blue Demons, but the COVID relief from the NCAA has allowed him an extra season at UMBC.

That’s the four of five scorers who are gone now. Kobe Elvis (5.2 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists) has left the building, Darious Hall (4.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists) was a 13 game starter a year ago and has departed, and I feel we should mention that Jaylen Butz (7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds in 89 career games) and Markese Jacobs (21 appearances in 2019-20) are also not on the roster any more after not playing for the Blue Demons last year.

I don’t know where to slot Oscar Lopez, who played in four games this past year with two starts. His 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game were nice, but he wasn’t a Key Guy due to his limited appearances. The California native was going to transfer to Montana, but something went sideways there and he’s apparently going to be at Salt Lake Community College instead.

Oh, and we have to mention two very notable departures from the “Not Playing” category. Noted “oh right, that guy with the hair and the goggles” walk-on Pantelis Xidas is no longer on the roster, and head coach Dave Leitao was shown the door in mid-March after going 69-110 with just one winning season in his six year long second stint in charge in Lincoln Park.

Key Returners: Javon Freeman-Liberty tied with Moore for the team lead in scoring last season at 14.4 per game, and he added 5.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.5 steals per game to the proceedings. Because of Moore and Paulicap departing, Freeman-Liberty is now DePaul’s returning leader in rebounding and assists. Big man Nick Ongenda (5.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks) returns for his junior year to provide something resembling a solid post presence even if he only averaged 18.4 minutes per game last year. David Jones (5.1 points, 2.7 rebounds) was a top 100 prospect in the Class of 2021, but elected to enroll mid-year and played in all of the Blue Demons’ final nine games of the season. Courvoisier McCauley was a regular rotation guy last season at 11.2 minutes per game, with all of those coming off the bench, but he only contributed 3.2 points and 1.4 rebounds per game in his limited minutes.

And that is it. Heck, they only have two other returning players. Brendan Favre is a Swiss-born former student manager, and Max Williams was a first year walk-on last season. FUN FACT: Both guys list IMG Academy as their high school.

Key Additions: DePaul has made something of a splash in local recruiting by bringing in top 100 prospect Ahamad Bynum. The product of Chicago powerhouse Simeon is a 6’1”, 175 pound shooting guard, and was rated as a four-star prospect in the Class of 2021. He is the only true freshman on the roster.

I have to say “true freshman” on the roster, because DePaul lists transfer Jalen Terry as a freshman even though he played in 20 games for Oregon last season. I don’t care for some teams going with “last year doesn’t count because COVID” and some teams going with “last year was a redshirt year because COVID” because the inconsistency is irritating. Anyway, the 6’0” guard was a top 100 prospect in the Class of 2020, but averaged just 2.9 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 20 games for the Ducks.

Terry is not the only transfer. Brandon Johnson (6’8”, 220 lbs.) has arrived back in his hometown of Chicago after three years in Western Michigan and one at Minnesota, while Tyon Grant-Foster (6’7”, 205 lbs.) has made the move to DePaul from Kansas. Johnson saw his production dip a little bit while going from the MAC to the Big Ten, but he has averaged 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 121 games of college hoops. Grant-Foster was a junior college player at Indian Hills for two years before landing in Lawrence. He appeared in 22 games for the Jayhawks, but ended up averaging just 3.1 points and 2.2 rebounds per contest. Finally, there’s Philmon Gebrewhit, who is a junior college transfer from South Plains College in Texas. The 6’7”, 190 pound guard is listed as a sophomore by the Blue Demons even though he played in 32 career games in two seasons with SPC. 11.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 19 contests last season doesn’t really knock your boots off, but 41% from behind the three-point line is pretty good stuff.

Finally, there’s one more very key addition, although you have already figured this one out.......

Coach: Tony Stubblefield, in his first season as a Division 1 head coach. His tour of assistant jobs since 1993 includes Nebraska-Omaha, Texas-San Antonio, Texas-Arlington, New Mexico State, Cincinnati, and Oregon... so we can just go ahead and say out loud that he pretty much just brought Jalen Terry with him to Chicago.

Outlook: Okay, look, I just want to get this out in the open and then we’ll move on to actual sports analysis. DePaul should not have hired Tony Stubblefield.

ITEM THE FIRST — From OregonLive.com in October 2018:

The father of a top college basketball recruit testified in federal court Tuesday that he does not remember receiving $3,000 cash from Oregon assistant basketball coach Tony Stubblefield during an unofficial visit to Eugene in May 2017.

...

A defense attorney asked Bowen Sr. if he remembered meeting with Stubblefield during his son’s unofficial visit to Oregon last year.

“He was there, yeah,” Bowen Sr. said.

Bowen Sr. was then asked if he was given $3,000 cash from Stubblefield.

“I don’t recall that,” Bowen Sr. responded.

Bowen Sr. was then shown a transcript of previous statements he made to the FBI. Those statements were not publicly disclosed. It’s not clear what Bowen Sr. may have told investigators.

Asked if reading his past statements refreshed his memory, Bowen Sr. said, “No, it doesn’t.”

The defense attorney for Dawkins sought clarity. Attorney Steve Haney asked Bowen Sr. if that meant he had never received any cash from anyone at Oregon.

“I just don’t recall,” Bowen Sr. testified.

ITEM THE SECOND — From CourthouseNews.com as linked to by the Chicago Tribune reporting on Stubblefield’s hiring at DePaul, and a heads up for you if you don’t like reading about violent personal crimes:

A University of Oregon student who sued the school in January claiming it and head basketball coach Dana Dean Altman let three basketball stars skate after raping her settled her claims Tuesday for $800,000.

...

Doe claimed the school recruited Brandon Austin, the “clear instigator” of her assault, for the basketball team and ignored knowledge of his previous suspension for allegations of sexual assault.

...

Ten days after she was raped, Doe said, “The Wall Street Journal reported that Austin had been previously suspended at Providence College following an allegation of a gang rape occurring on or about Nov. 3, 2013.”

Providence College accepted Austin as a “prized recruit” in 2013, according to the complaint. But before the season began, Austin and a teammate “were suspended from the team indefinitely for a reported gang rape of another Providence student,” Doe said in the lawsuit.

”Austin’s indefinite suspension became a season-long suspension on Dec. 23, 2013, when Providence officials found him responsible for sexual assault,” the complaint said.

Providence officials changed Austin’s punishment to allow him to transfer to another school, Doe claimed. But his season-long suspension from the Providence basketball team remained in place, a fact “widely reported in the media,” she said.

Doe claimed that UO head coach Dana Altman and his assistant, non-party Tony Stubblefield, knew about Austin’s suspension for sexual assault but recruited him anyway.

The conclusion to draw from the Bowen case is that Brian Bowen, Sr., originally told federal investigators that Stubblefield gave him $3,000 but then he refused to testify to that once on the stand. He is clearly lying in one of these circumstances, and hey, if Oregon says “everything is fine,” then I guess it’s fine if DePaul athletic director DeWayne Peevy lets it slide.

The Brandon Austin settlement issue is atrocious. It would be bad enough if DePaul hired a guy who actively ignored a sexual assault issue where a player was found responsible for the assault at the other school to recruit said player. It’s an entirely different problem to hire a head coach who ignored a sexual assault issue with a player that happened at another Big East school.

Here’s Stubblefield talking about it at the Final Four in 2017 as reported by CBS Sports:

“It was a very stressful situation because I was very involved in recruiting those kids,” Stubblefield said inside Oregon’s open locker room. “For me, it was very personal. This was more than basketball. This was way bigger than basketball.”

Stubblefield said he still talks with Artis, Austin and Dotson. He’s exchanged text messages with them this week.

“Those kids are like sons to me,” Stubblefield said. “It was a very hard and dark time for me to go through that with them young men.”

Those kids, who committed an act that put Oregon in a position to make a nearly seven-figure settlement to make a lawsuit go away, are like sons to Stubblefield.

Back to the Tribune:

Stubblefield was one of 37 candidates Peevy interviewed, including seven in person. DePaul used the Chicago-based search firm DHR International to help identify and vet candidates.

You interviewed 37 candidates, seven in person during a pandemic, and paid a search firm God knows how much money to identify and vet your prospects, and you ended up with a guy with what could generously be called major question marks and could easily be called giant red flags.

More from the Trib:

Peevy said he carefully vetted Stubblefield.

Liar.

DeWayne Peevy should be ashamed of himself.

On to basketball.

DePaul’s going to be bad again.

If I’m counting right — and I’m pretty sure I am since I hand wrote out a list of Back/New/Gone guys relative to last year’s roster — they have nine scholarship players. Four are returning, five are new. Of the four returning guys, only one played more than 19 minutes a game last season for the Blue Demons. One of them — not the one who played more than 19 minutes a game or the one who played almost 19 minutes a game either — hasn’t actually been on a college campus for an entire year yet. Four of the new guys are transfers, but only one has played a notable amount of Division 1 minutes in the past and another one hasn’t played any Division 1 minutes at all.

I mean, the good news is that it’s not last year’s roster, because they were out loud awful. And yes, before you Blue Demons fans start: I’m aware that they beat Marquette. Trust me, I’m very aware, to the extent that it was at least some part of the reason why I thought it was time for Marquette to make a coaching change.

The point is, though, that making a nearly clean break with last year’s .... whatever .... can not be viewed as anything but a positive for the Blue Demons. Sure, they’re probably not going to be anything resembling good due to their roster composition issues and relative experience both at playing Division 1 basketball as well as playing Division 1 basketball together as a team. But “not going to be anything resembling good” has been pretty much the standard operating procedure at Wintrust Arena and at the Rosemont Horizon before that for years and years now. They’ve had one winning season overall and zero winning records in conference play since since 2007-08. They haven’t been in the NCAA tournament since 2004 and haven’t been to back-to-back tourneys since 1991 and 1992, and that 1992 one was their third most recent NCAA tournament appearance.

So they’re probably not going to be good. So what! At least it will be a different kind of no good than it was for the last few years.