DePaul athletics fields concerns of season ticket holders during meetings

The DePaul athletic department hosted a series of meetings with season ticket holders to discuss the past and future for the men’s basketball program over the course of four different dates.

Season ticket holders met with DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto and Coach Oliver Purnell on June 18, 19, 24 and 25. Each session was scheduled for 90 minutes and allowed for a question and answer session for ticket holders to voice their opinions about the program.

Three different season ticket holders who attended the meeting June 19 said the meeting was very informative with two adding that it exceeded their expectations. The meetings held around 50 people per session.

“A lot of people like myself were interested on what was going on,” Joe Ferrari, a season ticket holder, said. “It was an outreach to keep the season ticket holders that they have and for those who are frustrated to ask questions.”

Purnell said the meetings were productive and a good experience. He indicated that the athletic department is likely to do them again next year because of the feedback.

“It gave us a really good opportunity to interact with those who are part of our basketball family,” Purnell said. “A lot of those fans have been there for years through the thick and thin. They’re having a chance to talk with them and let them know — and get to know them personally better in an intimate setting of 40 to 50 people — what I saw and where we’re going to go (as a program).”

For the first half of the meetings, Ponsetto and Purnell each had a slideshow presentation to discuss the current state of the program and how it’s arrived there. Since hiring Purnell in 2010, DePaul has gone 42-77 and 9-57 in conference play.  The program has failed to reach the NCAA tournament in a decade, last making it in the 2003-2004 season.

Season ticket holders said that Purnell reflected on some of the recruiting challenges DePaul has faced.  Purnell initially focused on the departure of commitment Shane Larkin and how that set the program back.

In 2011, Larkin, now an NBA guard with the New York Knicks, transferred to the University of Miami due to an undisclosed medical condition. Larkin chose Miami to be closer to his family because of his condition, according to multiple reports.

“One thing that kind of irked me was how saying losing Larkin was a giant step back,” Justin Hucek, a season ticket holder with DePaul since 2009, said. “Things happen, you know? You can’t say that you lost one player and then have your program suffer for years. It’s just unacceptable.”

Purnell also focused on this last season, citing chemistry issues on why the team didn’t perform as expected. The Blue Demons acquired six new players prior to the start of the season, but finished with a pedestrian 12-21 record.  It was also a season where multiple players were suspended, including the departure of leading scorer Cleveland Melvin.

Instead, Purnell shifted his focus to next season by introducing the additions of the incoming players. DePaul will have five new players — Myke Henry, Aaron Simpson, Darrick Wood, Rashaun Stimage and Raymond Doby —on its roster next season.

Video highlights of each player were shown of each player for season ticket holders to get an idea of the players’ abilities. In addition, Purnell also discussed that a large number of players on DePaul’s roster next year have ties to the Chicagoland area.

Part of the problem for DePaul’s recruiting is that they haven’t been able to secure commitments from local prospects. Purnell said that it’s starting to change with the roster next season, having 10 of their 16 players from Illinois.

DePaul hopes it can increase recruiting efforts with the use of a new stadium being built in the South Loop near McCormick Place.  The stadium is scheduled to open for the 2016-2017 season and construction is scheduled to begin this winter.

Ticket season holders were also shown how seating was going to be configured for the new stadium, a season ticket holder said. The holders were shown where student seating was scheduled to be and how the general seating would be.

Some season ticket holders were concerned with the accessibility of the new stadium, pointing that many season ticket holders drive from the suburbs to attend games. One season ticket holder said that Ponsetto said that the move will help increase the attendance among students. Ponsetto noted the difficulties of DePaul being a commuter school, saying that students had jobs and other entertainment options in the city that made it a challenge to get students to attend games.

“The people I know, won’t drive to the city at 6 p.m. on a weeknight, but they’re probably going to switch the suburban fans for the students,” a season ticket holder, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “I was expecting them to say that the arena was going to be when they would start winning, but they didn’t’ say that and I’m glad. They were just saying the facilities are going to be better.”

Ferrari added that some season ticket holders asked if there were going to be different types of packages for those who had to now drive into the city from the suburbs.

“Instead of purchasing a full season, (people from the suburbs) asked if they were going to offer weekend packages for games,” Ferrari said. “For those always used to going, traffic is an issue. At this point, (the athletic department) said that may happen, but they still are formulating a lot.”

During the question and answer session, concerns of the season ticket holders were heard. While the tone of the questions weren’t hostile, season ticket holders said the line of question was very direct and honest. Season ticket holders took issue with the team’s performance and asked basketball related questions to Purnell.

“I kind of called Purnell out (on the chemistry issues),” Hucek said. “(Purnell) is the leader of this team. That falls on him. I asked him how do we know that the players in four years from now won’t fall into that same trap? What’s going to change?”

Purnell said he doesn’t remember questions about the team’s chemistry specifically, adding that the questions he remembered were more about playing time and schemes.  Purnell told The DePaulia he did bring up needing to have better chemistry.

Purnell cited the team’s lack of leadership and disruptions with the team’s roster, such as injuries and suspensions, were the reasons for the team’s chemistry issue. Purnell said he recognized the team’s issues early on.

“You’re always trying to help your team chemistry by having team building activities,” Purnell said. “For example, meeting with players, listening to players, stressing communications between coaches and players and practicing with them — making it an emphasis point.

“Chemistry is like developing dribbling and shooting,” Purnell said. “You have to work at it, emphasize it and those are the kind of things you do to build it. Once you have it, you also have to nurture it.”

Hucek said Purnell said in the meeting how discipline is a big deal going forward. Three players were suspended this season with Melvin, Charles McKinney and Jaime Crockett were all suspended this season. Brandon Young was also benched for a half.

Other season ticket holders said they felt some players were trying to pad their own statistics and asked why weren’t players being benched because of it. Hucek said Purnell pointed to injuries and players missing time and that there were only so many guys who could play.

“He kind of danced around a lot of it,” Huceck said. “There was a lot of fluff involved … (Purnell) kept reiterating (his reputation for) rebuilding programs, but it’s been four years. We haven’t really seen that.”

Another season ticket holder, however, felt that Purnell did answer the questions directly and said, “I didn’t expect it.” Ferrari said that he felt a lot of the questions were “Monday Morning Quarterbacking.”

“People expect these kids to be professionals, but they’re 18 to 21 year olds,” Ferrari said. “But you still want them to win. I want them to. I want to follow a winner. I think we can.”

Hucek said he was surprised that there wasn’t more focus on how the team will build a winner in the long term. He said that Purnell and Ponsetto listed goals of wanting to win a Big East championship, but there wasn’t necessarily a long-term plan laid out.

“I was a little turned off by them not saying, ‘we have a goal and we’re close,’” Huceck said. “I didn’t hear any goals of wanting to make the NCAA tournament for the next five years. Not hearing any of that makes me think that Oliver Purnell is an ‘A-to-B’ guy and he’s going to take us to the cusp of taking us to the tournament. And then we’re going to have to bring somebody else in to take us to the next level.

“Getting us to rebuild, they just focused on getting better prospects in the area,” he said.

Still, for all the concerns that season ticket holders had, Huceck was glad that he was just able to attend.

“I don’t want to totally bash it because it was nice that they did this,” Huceck said. “It was an intimate environment and I don’t know another school that has a one-on-one with season ticket holders. It was nice of them to do and to let season ticket holders be heard.”