New year, new teams: DePaul basketball enters fresh era with teams relying on young talent


Eva Epley

A new court was designed for DePaul’s games at Wintrust Arena for the upcoming season. The men will host Loyola (MD) on Nov. 4, and women will open against American University on Nov. 9

Men’s and women’s basketball is less than two weeks away from tipoff at Wintrust Arena and expectations remain high. The excitement surrounding both teams are different, but coaches, players and fans believe that DePaul basketball is on the rise.

Women’s basketball head coach Doug Bruno leads a squad coming off a solid 22-11 season along with an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2021. Head coach Tony Stubblefied and the men’s team look to take the next steps forward after finishing his inaugural season with a 15-16 record, the team’s best since 2019.

“I just really want people to stick with us, come out and support this team,” Stubblefield said. “I think they’re going to like what they see and this team has great depth, lots of versatility and a team with great character that will lay it out on the line every time they step out on that court.”

Bruno is entering his 37th season as the head coach of the women’s team and his message this season is “sustained success.” 

“There’s three reasons, and there’s constantly three reasons,” said Bruno. “First and foremost are talent and players and great people that are players.”

The team surprised many last season by making it to the NCAA Tournament, but unfortunately, their journey ended just as quickly as it started. DePaul lost 88-57 in a lopsided first round matchup to Dayton. 

The team seems more focused than ever, and they will want to build off their success from a year ago. Still, the most important concern is that everyone on the team buys in and is ready for the grind and adversity that comes with a long season.

“It’s obviously tough losing the way that they did last year, but I think it’s going to be about communication, stamina and buying in for the season,” graduate student guard Jade Edwards said. “It’s a long season, and you get tired halfway through, and it’s really about just pushing through toward the end.”

DePaul’s radio play by play broadcaster Zach Zaidman interviews Jade Edwards, Jalen Terry and Eral Penn during Thursday’s tipoff luncheon. (Eva Epley)

Bruno and the Blue Demons recruited well this past offseason and the reason for optimism is partly because of the talent that was brought in. The newcomers have already caught the eye of a few experienced players.

“We have five freshmen,” Edwards said. “Unfortunately, two of them are hurt, but Madisen Wardell is a 6-foot-1 shooter, and I think if she continues to develop, she’s going to be really special. Tara Daye is ultra quick and ultra fast and ultra competitive, and I see them developing over the next three years putting DePaul in a good place.” 

The Blue Demons know that expectations are raised for the upcoming season. Being one-and-done was not good enough for Bruno and his squad who have their eyes set on a deep tournament run come March..

“I think this is a new era,” Edwards said. “[Bruno] has been talking everyday about how we’re going to bring DePaul ball back and how the last few years hasn’t been DePaul ball. I think this is like the launchpad to the new era. We have new uniforms, a new court, and I think it’s going to be exciting.”

The DePaul women’s basketball season starts Wednesday, Nov. 9 when they host American university at Wintrust Arena with tipoff set for 7 p.m. CST.

A lack of success over the last two decades has left the men’s basketball program with little respect among Big East teams.

DePaul’s men’s basketball team has not finished above .500 since 2018 and have not made the NCAA March Madness Tournament since 2004. With little surprise, the Blue Demons are once again projected to finish last in the Big East Conference.

“You gotta take respect and go out there and earn it,” Stubblefield said. “We have to continue to work hard everyday and there can’t be any wasted days. We need to get better everyday we step on that floor and give maximum effort.” 

There are several changes to DePaul’s roster as the team has welcomed in six new players, highlighted by four-star recruit Zion Cruz, Oklahoma transfer Umoja Gibson and South Florida transfer Caleb Murphy.

The biggest adjustment for DePaul entering the season will be trying to figure out how to replace Javan Freeman-Liberty. He was the Big East’s leading scorer a year ago, averaging 21.7 points per game, which ranked eighth among all NCAA Division I players.

“Javon [Freeman-Liberty] was a very good player,” Stubblefield said. “He led the Big East in scoring and I don’t think there’s just one guy that’s going to come right in and do what Javon did. I think we’re going to have to do that from a team standpoint, being a more balanced team and having multiple guys that average 13 to 16 points per game. I don’t foresee one person being able to come in and do the heavy lifting all by themselves.”

There might not be another Freeman-Liberty this upcoming season, but there is a lot of buzz surrounding guards Zion Cruz, redshirt freshman Ahmad Bynum and Caleb Murphy, as DePaul’s key foundational pieces moving forward. 

Unfortunately, Murphy’s anticipated debut will have to wait. The team announced Wednesday, Oct. 19 that Murphy underwent a surgical procedure on his wrist and will be sidelined for at least six weeks. 

“Obviously, losing a guy like Caleb [Murphy] does hurt,” Stubblefield said. “He had a great summer and was having a really good fall, but I think one of the big pluses on this team is the depth and getting guys like Ahmad Bynum, Zion Cruz and KT Raimey gives them more opportunities right away. I got all the confidence in the world in those guys, and I’m sure they’ll step up.”

The biggest storyline from last season was DePaul’s midseason collapse. The team started off 9-1 and then lost nine of their next 10 games, resulting in them ending 15-16 on the season. Staying consistent and bouncing back when adversity hits will be a key factor for a successful 2022-23 season

“We just hit some adversity,” senior guard Jalen Terry said. “Sometimes we would just get down on ourselves when we go down 10 points and we just put our heads down. To avoid that this year, we just need to be the exact same team. I saw a bunch of teams play together for all 40 minutes as the exact same team, whether they were winning by 20 or losing by 20. They stick with it, and that’s what we need to do.”

When times get tough, this year, DePaul will have veteran leadership to lean on, especially with multiple players entering their fifth or sixth year at the collegiate level. Incoming graduate student transfer from Long Island university Eral Penn could be someone for younger players to look to for leadership this season.

“An advantage I have [for young players] is that I’ve played college basketball for a long time,” Penn said. “That does help out a lot being experienced and I understand the game and watch a lot of basketball. 

The Blue Demons have an opportunity to exceed expectations, with many people believing this might be the deepest team DePaul has had in years. Only time will tell, but it all starts on Monday, Nov. 7 when the Blue Demons host Loyola (MD) at Wintrust Arena with tip-off set for 6:45 p.m. CST.