At the beginning of the summer, the DePaul men’s basketball team was primed for smooth sailing into a highly anticipated season—Head Coach Oliver Purnell, in his sophomore season at the helm, took on a six-player crew of freshmen talent, and it seemed the Blue Demons were headed in the right direction with their young squad.
Then, in the course of a week, three key players were announced to miss the entire 2011-12 regular season. Junior Tony Freeland, and freshmen Macari Brooks and Montray Clemons will all be unable to compete, putting the rebuilding team on damage control.
Purnell is optimistic the team will be able to look past losing Freeland, Brooks and Clemons, though he showed concern with the team’s current status.
“I think we’re most affected in practice,” said Purnell. “The past couple days, we’ve been to practice with less than 10 guys, which obviously makes it difficult to practice five-on-five situations.”
Not only does the team lose bodies for practice situations, but each player also brings a number of specialties to the table that could have been beneficial to the team’s success. Freeland, who will have season-ending surgery due to instability in his right shoulder, has perhaps the most to contribute.
“Tony’s a guy with some experience and plays good basketball, and we were counting on him,” Purnell said. “Montray happens to be a similar type of player – from a depth standpoint that hurts, since Cleveland Melvin has to play that position as well. Knock on wood, he’ll be just fine.”
Just three days after DePaul physicians announced Freeland’s surgery plans, Clemons ruptured the patellar tendon in his left knee while slipping in warm-ups before Blue Madness. Being similar players, Freeland and Clemons also have similar abilities.
“Tony and Montray are both big players,” said Purnell. “Both of them are active, and they can guard two or three positions. They’re both very physical players.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Macari Brooks will miss the regular season due to an NCAA ruling on his status due to a Clearinghouse issue. An athletic slasher, Brooks will be unable to compete, but will have four years of eligibility starting with the 2012-13 season.
Senior guard Jeremiah Kelly expected Brooks’ ineligibility, though expressed his disappointment at not being able to have Freeland and Clemons out on the court with him.
“Macari, we pretty much expected him to be out because he didn’t go to France with us,” Kelly said, referring to the Blue Demons’ 10-day overseas excursion in August.
“But Tony and Montray, they actually went on the trip and played with us, so it was kind of hard to lose them. Moving forward, we’re down to 12 guys, so it’s time for everyone else to step up, and that’s when people make a name for themselves.”
Among the players who will look to make an impact this season is newcomer Worrel Clahar, who was recruited from Lawson State Community College in Alabama. Clahar was ranked among the nation’s junior college assists and steals leaders last season and will have two years of eligibility at DePaul.
“I think [signing Clahar] was a steal,” said Kelly. “He can contribute his athleticism and experience, and I think he’ll have a breakout year. I think he’ll be a sleeper for us this year.”
Purnell will have Clahar’s quickness and defensive ability to back up his two point guards, sophomore Brandon Young and Kelly, in the starting lineup. Should one go down an injury or get in foul trouble, Purnell will be able to bring in Clahar for stability.
but both Purnell and Kelly are hopeful the team can move past the situation to get their ship righted.
“We started the summer with 15 guys, and to be down to eight a couple days in practice is kind of unnerving,” said Purnell. “But in the end, you only play five guys on the court, and since we can’t bring [Freeland, Clemons, Brooks] back, we’re just focusing on getting the ones we do have prepared.”
“I still think we have enough players to make some noise,” said Kelly. “Losing those guys is big, but we can’t dwell on it. I’m a big fan of everything happening for a reason; instead of just crying about it, we should really just keep playing because we have the entire season ahead of us.”Clahar may not be able to make up for losing three players,