After three pauses and 10 games canceled or postponed, DePaul is gearing up for Wednesday’s opener


Ryan Gilroy | The DePaulia

Charlie Moore drives in during the second half against UIC. His 26 points helped DePaul improve to 10-1.

If college basketball has taught anyone anything during the 2020-21 season, it is that there are no guarantees when it comes to playing games. 

The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing teams to go on pause for almost two weeks even with only one positive test result, which is making teams cancel and postpone games on a near daily basis. 

A team can have a game scheduled for one day and then have to canceled it the next day because of Covid-19 protocols. And if there is a team in college basketball that has experienced all of the disruptions this season has brought, it’s the DePaul men’s basketball team. 

The Blue Demons have been on pause three different times since Nov. 19, and they are the last power-5 team to play a game this season. One of the impacts of having to restart and then go on pause again, besides canceling and postponing games, is the mental and emotional toll it takes on the student-athletes.

DePaul men’s basketball players have been on campus since the summer, and they have to adhere to all the different protocols in order to stay safe. 

“I don’t know that America as a whole, especially as it relates to college sports or in this case college basketball, has been adherent to what they’ve been through and what they are currently going through and what they will go through,” men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao said on Tuesday. 

The players have been away from their families for a couple of months now, and won’t be able to go back home during the holiday period because DePaul has three games scheduled between Dec. 23-30. 

The Blue Demons have already had to cancel or postpone 10 games this season, including five Big East games. And when the team was finally ready to play at Iowa State on Dec. 6, the game was canceled an hour before tipoff because Covid-19 protocols in DePaul’s program. 

“I think when we talk about Covid-19 we talk about how to keep [the players] safe, and there’s a million measures across the country to try to keep them safe,” Leitao said. “But there are not nearly the same type of measures to talk about how to keep them well. So, if you look across the board and in sports general and you see that there’s some really weird scores to competition. I don’t think anybody factors in what’s going through any person, or persons or teams emotional state of being that forces in some cases to play well, or a lot of cases not to play well. We are just looking at the end of the road, the score, and we are making assumptions or comments after that and I don’t know that that’s the right thing to do without understanding where everybody is at.

DePaul athletic director DeWayne Peevy also talked to the media on Tuesday, and he shut down the notion of the possibility of the Blue Demons canceling or postponing their season. Even though the team has yet to play a game, Peevy says he feels comfortable that they can still play a full season. 

“That never came up,” Peevy said on either canceling or postponing the season. “It was never discussed, it was never talked about as a possibility. I think when we talked to our students, first and foremost, they wanted to play before the season. I think that was the biggest focus from coming in late summer to now talking to all of our student-athletes they have all wanted to play.” 

Unlike some other programs that have experienced major outbreaks in terms of positive cases, Peevy said that DePaul has been having isolated cases instead of a large number of positive tests. But that still requires the Blue Demons to shut down for at least seven to 10 days in order for contact tracing to take place. 

“We have actually got a much better situation; it has just been unfortunate timing,” Peevy said. “There’s no risk, there is no high risk, there are no safety issues, we are doing the same exact protocols for men’s and women’s basketball. I really pretty much take the staff out of it, we are managing it with our medical personnel from our contact tracers to our medical team to our trainers.”

The goal now for DePaul is get its season underway against Western Illinois, the team the Blue Demons were supposed to face on Nov. 25 before it was initially canceled, on Wednesday at Wintrust Arena. 

Leitao also mentioned that he will not have everyone available for tomorrow’s season opener, but did not get into exact details, citing medical privacy rules. He also talked about the fact that the team has had about 34-35 practices this season, but only half a dozen of those practices have included the entire roster.

“Yesterday was our first day back together, so we will have yesterday and today to play to get ready to play tomorrow,” Leitao said. “I think the challenge has been monumental from the standpoint of a traditional practice. You have your guys that are on scholarship, you may have some non-scholarship guys, and you create different situations from there. I will honestly tell you today will be practice No. 34-35, and of those 34-35, I’m going to guesstimate maybe a half a dozen practices of which I mentioned we have everybody in the gym and you are competing, growing, learning and figuring yourself out.”

The reasons vary as to why players have to miss practice, but it’s the current nature of college basketball where teams can be without multiple players for an extended period of time. 

Currently, the Western Illinois game is DePaul’s only non-conference game on the schedule, but Peevy said the goal is still to play 25 games this season. That would require four more non-conference and 20 Big East games in order to reach that number.

But the Blue Demons’ current focus is getting through Wednesday’s game and then looking ahead to their Big East opener against Providence on Dec. 27. 

“We have a game tomorrow so we can’t act like we have a week to 10 days or two weeks to get ourselves back up on our feet and get us ready,” Leitao said. “There’s an oddity to this there’s not a complete answer for and it’s not an experience you can go back to say ‘Hey, this is what I did when we went through Covid-19 five or 10 years ago.’ You are just going to have to manage it as best you can and read the tea leaves as to where the physical and emotional state of being of each individual player.”