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Commentary: Give me someone to cheer for

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Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto made a rare media appearance in the form of a 45-minute interview with the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, where she once again said almost nothing of value while taking a great deal of of credit for the success of her rivals.

Lenti Ponsetto said it was fair to question whether or not DePaul could replicate an NCAA Tournament run like Loyola’s dance to the Final Four simply because the Rambler’s run was so “magical.”

“What (Loyola) did this year was magical,” Lenti Ponsetto told the Chicago Tribune. “When a Big East team makes the NCAA tournament, I don’t think they look at it as magical.”

And, to a degree, she’s right. Seven of the Big East’s 10 teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and six qualified for the 2018 tournament. Not to mention that, as Lenti Ponsetto reminded us, all ten teams were ranked in KenPom’s final top-100 for 2018. So yes, Big East teams qualifying for the NCAA Tournament are not Cinderella stories, but just because your conference is stacked with perennial powerhouses doesn’t mean you’re a perennial powerhouse — let alone relevant to the conversation.

What makes Loyola’s run so “magical” is its rise from irrelevance to relevancy. The Ramblers made the 2018 tournament for the first time since 1985 (led by head coach Gene Sullivan, the namesake of DePaul’s athletic center). Since then, nobody thought about Loyola-Chicago in the grand scope of college basketball – but they do now.  The Blue Demons haven’t been dancing since George W. Bush’s first term, and they have spent almost their entire time in the Big East in last place — a perennial laughing stock, if there is such a thing.

If you look at the circumstances and the numbers, DePaul is just as irrelevant as Loyola was prior to the 2018 tournament. At the end of the 2017 season, Loyola-Chicago was No. 97 in the KenPom rankings and DePaul was ranked No. 183. Loyola earned a berth into the 2018 tournament by winning the Missouri Valley Conference, an accomplishment that pales in comparison to emerging through the Big East conference.    

Few DePaul students can remember the last time their team was even remotely close to being a contender, creating a crippling level of apathy around the program. We are DePaul, and we are the runt of the litter. If DePaul were to make a deep charge next March — battling through a conference of top-tier competition — only a fool would deny the magic.

It all boils down to a crisis of leadership. When high-quality, endearing leaders emerge, success almost always follows. When the face of an institution fails to draw a positive, supportive crowd, all bets are off.

“It’s not like we didn’t hire good coaches,” Lenti Ponsetto told the Chicago Tribune. “Jerry Wainwright had been successful. Oliver Purnell knocked it out of the park at Clemson and Dayton. They were qualified. It’s all about recruiting. We just weren’t getting the student-athletes we needed to be competitive and so much we heard was about facilities. It’s a much different sell with Wintrust Arena.”

Whether it’s a head coach, like Porter Moser; an Athletic Director; or a nun, like Sister Jean; fans and recruits will flock to their feet. Concrete and steel won’t ignite the soul of a successful program — and neither will Lenti Ponsetto.

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Commentary: Give me someone to cheer for