The DePaul men’s basketball team wants to win now


If there’s one commonality the 2021-22 DePaul men’s basketball team has in mind going into their first full season since the beginning of Covid-19, it’s winning.

After checking in following the end of their summer training camp, no one player had their own individual goals, outside of doing their part to help the team win.

From the words of players and Coach Stubblefield, winning is what’s most important to them right now.

“We’ve been instilled with losing,” junior center Nick Ongenda said. “My goals are to get our team to win. I’m tired of this losing stuff. Obviously, I’m trying to do the best I can and throw my body out there and get this win for all of us.”

“We need to win, we want to win,” sophomore transfer Jalen Terry said. “That’s all we talk about is winning. Everybody knows what to expect, so we’re in it together.”

The Blue Demons haven’t had a winning season since the 2018-19 season, when Max Strus, Paul Reed and Eli Cain led the team to a 19-17 record.

On a similar note, the team hasn’t had a winning record in the Big East conference since the 2006-07 season, back when Wilson Chandler was leading the Blue Demons.

However, this year’s team is unlike past seasons the Blue Demons have encountered. The university’s head coach, assistant coaches, director of player development, strength and conditioning coach and half of the players are all going into their first season with the program.

DePaul lost 11 players from last year’s roster. While it took some time to mesh this summer, the team is finally starting to gel together.

“It was different at first,” Terry said. “Everyone had their differences at first, but now everybody likes each other. Everybody is getting used to everybody.”

“We have a lot of new guys,” Ongenda said. “Pretty much everyone is new, especially the coaches, who play a huge role in development. I feel like the culture is much more serious. Everyone’s down to work.”

While the team is new to each other, there are some ties from the past. One stems directly from Terry himself since he and Stubblefield were both at Oregon last year before coming to DePaul.

“[Stubblefield is] a great coach,” Terry said. “He pushed me, at Oregon, as an assistant. He pushed me to do better and I need that. He knows what I’m capable of and he wants to push me to do that.”

With a fresh roster going into its first year of playing together, the team reiterated the fact that their unselfish style of basketball is vital to the success they have this season.

The team is adapting to a faster pace of play, including a full-court offense, with more inclusion and emphasis on taking smart shots, according to Ongenda.

This will be imperative to DePaul’s success, considering the team ranked 10th in the conference in points per game with 65.4 points and 11th in offensive rating with a rating of 91.9 last season.

Even though the team is coming off of last year’s losing record – 2-13 conference, 5-14 overall – and the program being overhauled with new coaches and players, there’s still plenty of optimism surrounding the diversity of the team and the different experiences each of them has had.

“From a competitive standpoint, the guys have been challenged and have played against high-level competition,” Stubblefield said. “You have a very historic program like Kansas, where Tyon (Grant-Foster) comes from. He’s seen success at a very high level playing under Bill Self, a hall of fame coach. Yor (Anei) coming from Oklahoma State with that great tradition. Brandon (Johnson) has been in the Big-10. I think all of those things play a big factor.”

With all eyes on the team and an overflow of optimism about the start of a rebuilding program, the Blue Demons announced the first twelve games of their first season with fans since pre-Covid. The first nine games all take place at home, Wintrust Arena.

The Blue Demons’ nine-game home stretch to begin the season is highlighted by matchups with Central Michigan, Rutgers and crosstown rival Loyola, who upset Illinois in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.

“I think it’s a very challenging non-conference schedule that we’re playing,” Stubblefield said. “Obviously, we’re fortunate and I’m excited that we’re playing the majority of those games at home. If you look at it, Loyola at home is a very challenging game, Rutgers at home. Both of those teams went to the NCAA tournament last season and had a lot of success in their leagues. It’ll give us a chance to be at home and see what we’re made of.”

The schedule only gets more exciting on the road after their nine-game stint at Wintrust. Louisville, University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern represent the following games on the road after the home stretch.

The regular season presents interesting challenges for the team to find out who they are. However, that is not the main focus of the season.

What do the Blue Demons have their eye on this season?

“UConn,” Ongenda said.“They came to the Big East and really killed it. I really want revenge on them.”

Last season, after advancing past the first round in the Big East tournament by beating Providence, the Blue Demons fell to UConn at Madison Square Garden by a score of 94-60.

The Demons are planning to ‘dream big,’ as athletic director DeWayne Peevy would say, this season and turn around the stigma of having a losing basketball team.

If there’s one contingency on the team’s success, Ongenda defined it perfectly.

“As long as our fans pull up, that would be great,” Ongenda said. “Fan support can really switch the mindset and can turn a ten-point game into a five-point game.”

The Blue Demons’ first game is less than two months away versus Montevallo, on Nov. 4.