Blue Demon fans packed into the stands to get a first look of the 2016-17 men’s and women’s basketball teams at their open practice Saturday. The women squared off first in a scrimmage against a practice squad from the men’s team and looked solid.
At the start of every season, new responsibility always falls to the veteran players on the team. This year senior guard Jessica January has taken on leadership roles within the team as a captain, and coach Doug Bruno has high expectations and praise for the 21-year-old.
“I definitely have high expectations for the team this year,” January said. “We played really well last year . . . (and) being able to play behind Megan (Podkowa) and Chanise (Jenkins) last year really helped me develop my leadership skills. I think this year it’s a matter of being a little more vocal.”
Earlier this week, the Blue Demons were picked as the most likely team to win the division by the Big East coaches. The team shares this spot with the Creighton women, both teams splitting the votes 5-5.
The team was ranked high despite junior forward Mart’e Grays’ torn achilles injury earlier this summer that will force her to miss the upcoming season. The 6-foot-2 forward’s injury came as a blow to DePaul’s already guard-heavy team.
“Mart’e was really playing well,” Bruno said. “It’s a really unfortunate injury because she was really coming into her own at the end of last season. I don’t think anybody can replace Mart’e, but that doesn’t mean the team still can’t be good. (However, she) left something that I thought was missing today in our scrimmage.”
With the loss of Grays, senior forward Jacqui Grant will take on a lot of responsibility as the upperclassman forward on the team.
“Since we’re a smaller team and because we’re kind of low on bigs, we need to focus on the little things, and that’s something I definitely need to do,” said Grant. Little things like rebounding, running (and) making sure you’re playing the ball. I think coach is doing a great job of keeping us working hard. We want to do it for each other. With Mart’e out, this year is definitely going to be harder.”
However, other players aside from Grant are going to be needed to step up if the Blue Demons want to repeat and improve upon their successful sweet sixteen season run last year. Incoming freshman and forward Chante Stonewall started for DePaul during the scrimmage, but Bruno believes the freshman still has some strides to take before the season starts.
“Chante Stonewall is quick and athletic and very instinctually a good basketball player. It’s just a learning curve,” said Bruno. “Every freshman tells you that the difference between high school and college is the speed of the game. I thought there was some moments where the speed of the game had her sprinting a bit. (But) I think, ultimately, she’s going to have to play a very important role in this year’s program.”
Stonewall will likely have to play true to her name in order to get play time during the season. Aside from Stonewall, Bruno was impressed with the overall effort of the young players on the team during the scrimmage Saturday.
“(Freshman guard) Kelly Campbell . . . (is) just a really steady, good player,” said Bruno. She got more rebounds than the big guys put together, as a guard. So she’s just a very special player. (Freshmen guards) Claire McMahon and Deja Cage are (also) getting some looks in practice.”
DePaul’s size disadvantage is nothing new for the team who have been playing with shorter teams for the past few years. Bruno says their game plan against larger teams hasn’t changed, and they will up the pace against such teams.
“When we’re undersized we try to make up for that by … making people play a faster paced game,” Bruno said. “We’ve been having to do that for the last four or five years. We’ve been outsized for a long while. It’d be nice to get some big kids back here.”