When the seven seniors on the men’s and women’s team’s rosters take the court for their first game of the season, it will surely be bittersweet. Graduation represents the next step in the lives of everyone, but there’s something to be said for the memories created after representing DePaul in some capacity in the last four years.
Some players have been here since the beginning. Some have transferred recently. Some have played hundreds of minutes, some only a few. All will leave DePaul as successful Blue Demons.
They come from all sorts of backgrounds. Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young have each put together two of the finest careers in DePaul history and represent the first recruits secured by head coach Oliver Purnell. Kelsey Reynolds and Kelsey Smith were overshadowed by the stars gracing head coach Doug Bruno’s roster, but were still integral pieces to the Blue Demons’ impressive tournament run. Jasmine Penny has been one of Bruno’s best players since she arrived, churning out doubledoubles and playing tough every night. Sandi Marcius is a recently transferred senior who will add size and help the Demons clear the tournament hump. And Edwind McGhee walked on to the team as a freshman and has solidified his role as a team leader.
On the women’s side, success has come often. The Blue Demons have won significantly more than they have lost over the past four years, and the three seniors have had a very big part in that.
Penny in particular has been instrumental in leading the team. The senior has posted career averages of 10.1 points and 4.1 rebounds, including a career-best 12.8 points per game last year.
“I know I have to take lead now of this team because this is my team,” Penny said. “I am a senior so I have ownership and have to do that-lead by example. Setting good examples for my teammates.”
Unlike Penny, Reynolds and Smith never starred for DePaul-but that doesn’t make their contributions any less important, especially as senior leaders on a young basketball team.
“You try and lead them (the freshmen) by example and I think it’s a big emphasis in this program that the seniors have to lead,” Reynolds said. “My expectation as an individual is to do everything in my power to make the team successful and to really just enjoy this last year and savor it because I don’t get another season.”
Smith knows that working with her fellow seniors will be a huge part of keeping the team above water as the season rolls on.
“I think that we all (the three seniors) have a different leadership role so we can work together and make sure that we have all the bases covered in leading on and off the court,” she said.
Simply having the experience on their resume is impressive, but the three seniors on the women’s team are so much more. Penny, Reynolds, and Smith have all been recognized by either the Big East or the Big 10 as student-athletes who excel in the classroom, as well.
As for the men, the 2013-2014 season marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Young and Melvin were the first recruits to play for Oliver Purnell and they didn’t disappoint. Though their respective careers have included very few conference wins, the duo will graduate as two of the most successful offensive players in school history.
“Over the last three years with us not winning a lot, we still fought every game,” Melvin said. “I’ve been battling with Brandon Young. We’ve both been in this together since our freshman year, and we haven’t had much success. Coming into our senior year, we’ve got a lot of expectations and we’re ready to make a statement. We’re going to win games this year and make the tournament.”
Young is also looking forward to his final year, and ready to make amends for the mediocrity that has clouded his superb career.
“We’ve got a great group of guys, and hopefully this will be our best season,” the star point guard said.
Two of those guys are Marcius and McGhee, both of whom have interesting stories.
Marcius is at DePaul to pursue his master’s degree after spending his collegiate career as a Boilermaker at Purdue University. McGhee walked on to the team and has remained a steady presence since his first days as a Blue Demon. Marcius, despite not having the same familiarity with DePaul as his teammates, still feels the same about his final year.
“Definitely it’s kind of bittersweet. It’s special, you have to enjoy it every day,” the Croatian native said.
For McGhee, it’s particularly special. Not only did he walk on to the team, he was also voted by his peers as the president of the DePaul Athletic Department’s Captain’s Council. Playing time has been sparse, but McGhee has made his own impact nonetheless. “It’s pretty special,” he said. “I’ve accomplished a lot, but I still have a lot I want to accomplish before I leave.”
Purnell feels a particular responsibility to do his part to make his players’ last season a memorable one. DePaul has won just 30 games in the last three years and the fourth-year coach wants his seniors to make 2013- 2014 special.
“One of the biggest things I want for them is for them to go out on a winning note,” Purnell said. “That’s really the only thing they haven’t accomplished, having a strong season as a team.”
It will be a long road. In the new Big East, nothing will come easy even though traditional powers have fled to new conferences. The women were picked by the coaches to finish first in the conference; the men were picked to finish last. High expectations could lead to complacency and no expectations create an air of uncertainty. But for these players, it’s all about leaving a legacy that hasn’t been fulfilled yet.
“As a senior you’ve gone through so many ups and downs and so many new experiences that if you look back at everything you’ve been through it makes you confident,” Smith said.
The women have to realize that even though former stars Anna Martin and Katherine Harry are gone, there is still enough depth and talent to win big. For the men, a close loss can’t be looked at as devastating.
That’s where the seniors come in. It’s up to the veterans of these two teams to lead DePaul in a new era.