‘We will become Chicago’s team again’: Tony Stubblefield shares his vision for DePaul men’s basketball

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DePaul Athletics/Steve Woltmann

DePaul men’s basketball head coach Tony Stubblefield was introduced to the media at Wintrust Arena on Wednesday.

Tony Stubblefield knows about the challenges of rebuilding men’s basketball programs. He helped do it at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Oregon, where he spent the previous 11 years as an assistant coach.

Now, Stubblefield is tasked with trying to restore the DePaul men’s basketball program to its former glory days. He officially became the Blue Demons’ next head coach on Tuesday. 

The 51-year-old coach was introduced to the media at Wintrust Arena on Wednesday. In a 25-minute press conference, Stubblefield went through his vision for the program, which includes competing for Big East championships and making the NCAA Tournament on a yearly basis. 

“There is no reason, and I shared this with DeWayne [Peevy] in the interview process, that DePaul University shouldn’t be playing for Big East championships on a year-in, year-out basis, going to the NCAA Tournament and making deep runs in the NCAA Tournament,” Stubblefield said. 

Stubblefield was an integral part of Oregon’s resurgence in the last decade. Under his and head coach’s Dana Altman’s leadership, the Ducks made the NCAA Tournament seven times and reached the Final Four in 2017. 

DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban was also part of the search for a new head coach. On Wednesday, he welcomed Stubblefield and his family to Chicago.

“[Tony Stubblefield] knows what it takes to excel in the classroom, in competition and in service in our communities,” Esteban said. “He will be an excellent mentor and leader for the men’s basketball program.

Stubblefield, who grew up in Clinton, Iowa and played college basketball at Nebraska-Omaha, said he used to watch DePaul on WGN 9 and “fully understands the expectations of this program.” 

DePaul, however, has not had the best of luck in the last decade, with the program last making the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and finishing in last place in the Big East for five straight seasons. DePaul fired Dave Leitao, who was 69-112 and 21-85 in the Big East, on March 15.

“We will become Chicago’s team again,” Stubblefield said. 

Stubblefield will have his hands full right away with rebuilding a roster that has seen seven players enter the transfer portal since December. He did mention that he briefly spoke to the team on Tuesday, but will have individual meetings with them later in the week. 

“We obviously got to start recruiting and recruit very hard, with the transfer portal being as it is with transfers being eligible immediately, I definitely think we are going to look at that route,” Stubblefield said. “We are going to look at the high school route, so I’m not going to eliminate any options at this time. I’m just looking forward to putting the best roster that we can put together to be very competitive in the Big East next year.”

Athletic director DeWayne Peevy talked about one of the reasons why he hired Stubblefield was because of his proven recruiting track record. Oregon had five recruiting classes — 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021 — ranked among the top 12 during Stubblefield’s tenure. Under Stubblefielf, the Ducks also had multiple players go on to play in the NBA. 

“I see why he’s a great recruiter; I see why people really like him and he has such great relationships in college basketball,” Peevy said. “Quite possibly the most compelling factor that led me to Tony is that he’s an elite recruiter, with extensive relationships throughout college basketball. He has an impressive knowledge of recruiting in the Chicago area, an area that will be pivotal in our success.”

In the past, DePaul was able to keep some of Chicago’s best high school players at home. But as the program began to struggle since 2004, the Blue Demons have struggled to land some of the city’s best talent. Stubblefield will now be in charge of trying to convince some of those players to come to DePaul instead of leaving for other programs. 

“When I look at a job, the one thing I look at is the talent base in the area, and, obviously, there’s great talent in the city of Chicago, the suburbs, the state of Illinois and I look at DePaul as being a national program we can recruit nationally,” Stubblefield. “But, again, I think you got to start at home, you got to try to keep the local talent at home.”

Part of Stubblefield building his first roster for the 2021-22 season and beyond is getting players that will fit his style of play. He talked about pushing the ball in transition and playing “hard-nosed” defense. 

“I want DePaul to be a team other teams fear playing,” he said.