What now? Men’s lackluster season comes to a disheartening end


Jack Dombro

Head coach Tony Stubblefield hangs his head after the team suffered a 90-76 loss to UConn on Jan. 31.

It’s back to the drawing board as DePaul flew back from New York facing disappointment and heartbreak after its season came to a disheartening end, losing 89-84 to Xavier in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament on March 9.

For a roster in the midst of an overhaul, where does the program go from here?

“I’m proud of these guys and their fight and being a resilient bunch,” head coach Tony Stubblefield said. “These guys went through a lot of adversity throughout the course of this year, and they could have gave into it a lot, dealing with all the injuries that we had and things that happened to our team. It wasn’t what we envisioned it to be over the course of the summer and even in the fall, but these guys really stuck with it.”

Injuries are the story of the 2022-23 season as Stubblefield had a completely healthy team for just four games, two of which being in the Big East Tournament against Seton Hall and Xavier. 

Junior guard Caleb Murphy suffered a wrist injury prior to the season that sidelined him for months. Senior center Nick Ongenda also suffered a wrist/hand injury that required surgery days before the team’s opener against Loyola (MD). 

Ongenda missed a majority of the year but made his return during the final stretch of the regular season, having a significant impact on DePaul’s two tournament games. Ongenda’s game winning block against Seton Hall may go down as one of the program’s most dramatic finishes in recent memory.

As of now, the team has two recruits committed for the upcoming season, which include 7-foot three-star center Babacar Mbengue and JUCO transfer forward Keyondre Young from Triton College.

Babacar was ranked as the No. 19 center in the 2023 class by 247sports.com and is a native of Senegal, where he played with the national team in the 2020 FIBA U18 African Championship.

“Babacar [Mbengue] is a really talented young player with an incredible amount of potential,” Stubblefield said. “He has developed a lot over the last year or so and we are looking forward to getting him on campus and continuing his growth. He is a strong physical presence inside and has a desire to keep learning.”

Young played in 25 games this past season for Triton with 16 starts, averaging 10.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, while shooting 40.1% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc. His best performance of the season was on Feb. 2 against Harry S. Truman College where he scored 25 points and made seven 3-pointers.

“We’re really excited to add Keyondre [Young] next season,” Stubblefield said. “Our staff really values the experience junior college players can bring to our roster and Keyondre is no different.”

Stubblefield and his staff are in line to have a busy offseason as graduate guard Umoja Gibson, graduate forward Javan Johnson, senior’s Eral Penn, Yor Anei, Philmon Gebrewhit and potentially Nick Ongenda are all set to depart.

Ongenda has an extra year of eligibility, but it is unclear if he will return.

Gibson and Johnson were the heart and soul of the Blue Demons this past season and replacing them will be no easy task. Based on how the roster is constructed at this moment, logic suggests that junior guard Murphy and freshman guard Zion Cruz are set to have a bigger role heading into next season.

Jalen Terry and Murphy are the favorites to start in the backcourt in 2023-24, but as a four-star recruit, Cruz could find a spot in the rotation if he takes a step forward in his development. 

Junior Da’Sean Nelson is the logical replacement to take over for Johnson at small forward, but a lot could change once the roster is finalized. The coaching staff has a long offseason ahead with plenty of decisions that could make or break the team heading into the new year from a schematic standpoint.

After finishing the season with a 10-23 overall record and an abysmal 3-17 Big East record, the lack of growth with a veteran-led team was concerning, but Stubblefield has an opportunity to start a youth movement and grow a core that can develop together as a group. 

It’s difficult to say if it will come to fruition, but for the first time in Stubblfield’s coaching career at DePaul, the pressure will be on and if the team does not see a sign of growth of the program moving forward, jobs could potentially be at risk. The time to win is now, not tomorrow, and the fan base, administration and coaching staff are well-aware.