Cruz shows potential to be DePaul’s next breakout star


Quentin Blais

Freshman four star recruit Zion Cruz plays defense against a Marian guard in Wintust Arena on Nov. 1.

Entering his second season, Tony Stubblefield continues to make an impact on the recruiting trail, landing four star recruit Zion Cruz. A player of Cruz’s caliber choosing DePaul shocked plenty, especially since the Blue Demons haven’t landed a recruit with the skillset as special as Cruz in some time.

“He’s probably the biggest freshman recruit we’ve gotten since I’ve been here.” Athletic Director DeWayne Peevy said. 

According to 247Sports, Cruz was ranked second nationally for shooting guards and was a consensus top-15. In his senior season at Donda Academy, Cruz averaged 12.6 points per game.

Cruz’s final choices come down to DePaul, Auburn, Oregon, Alabama and Arizona State, with a crystal ball prediction expecting Cruz to commit to Auburn, according to 247Sports.. Fortunately for DePaul, Cruz shocked a lot of experts and chose Tony Stubblefield and the Blue Demons.

“He gave us a heads up a couple days before,” said head coach Tony Stubblefield. “He let us know a couple days before that it was looking good for us… and that this was the route he was leaning on and I’m glad he just followed his word and followed through on it.”

Stubblefield has had his sights set on Cruz for years, going back to the coach’s days as an assistant at Oregon.. The head coach sees Cruz as a guy that fits DePaul’s culture and someone that Stubblefield and the rest of the program believe could be the start of something special. 

“First seeing Zion [Cruz] play AAU basketball and even before that, Zion was a guy on my radar when I was at Oregon,” Stubblefield said. “Watching him early on in his high school career and then watching him over the course of some summers playing AAU basketball, I got the chance to really realize how talented of a young man he was.”

Stubblefield says that what many don’t know about Cruz is his heightened sense of confidence and a high basketball IQ that not many possess as a freshman. The coach thinks Cruz  made an immediate impact on coaches and teammates after being on campus for a couple months.

“The thing that attracted me about Zion [Cruz] is his versatility of being able to play multiple positions, his competitiveness of really going out there and competing when I would see him play and his basketball IQ,” Stubblefield said. “Zion is a man that has been very well coached and has a great feel for the game of basketball and really picks up on things very easily.”

Cruz’s teammates were excited about the news once it broke, and as soon as they did some research and watched his highlights, they could see why Cruz was such a big get for the basketball program.

“I was excited, that’s my young bull,” said senior center Nick Ongenda. “I see a lot of Zach Lavine in his game…He’ll be very good on the offensive end of the floor and I’m excited to see how he’ll adjust to Big East play. He plays some really good defense, so he’ll help us on both sides of the floor.”

The biggest question has and always will be, what type of impact a player like Cruz can bring to the program, especially in the win column, in his first year? The plan is for Cruz to have a role right away and the expectation is that he’ll have a huge effect on the Blue Demons this upcoming season.

“I think he’s going to be very impactful to our team,”  Stubblefield said. “He has the talent, work ethic and the competitiveness in him to do that. We’re looking forward to Zion having an immediate impact for our team right away.”

The 2022-23 season begins tomorrow, and with starting guard Caleb Murphy sidelined for the upcoming month plus,there’s an opening for Cruz to sneak into the lineup on a nightly basis if he impresses on the court.

“When you lose a guy like Caleb for a short period of time, it gives more of an opportunity for Zion [Cruz] to step in and play a bigger role from the start as a freshman,”  Peevy said. “I think the biggest thing it says about this staff is that they’re not afraid to recruit anybody.”

Time will tell if Cruz can be DePaul’s next breakout star, but he has all of the talent to do so. Plenty of coaches and players in the locker room believe Cruz has a high ceiling and the sky’s the limit.

“I think Zion [Cruz] has a very high ceiling,” Stubblefield said. “We keep pushing him everyday in practice and he’s done a good job at responding to that. He’s coming in as a really good player, but there’s much more in the tank.”