Chicago college basketball previewed a luncheon

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Five universities in the Chicagoland area held a press conference Friday to preview the upcoming college basketball season. The schools in attendance – DePaul, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago State, Loyola and Northwestern – all spoke about one common theme: taking the next step.

“Chicago historically has always been a great basketball town,” DePaul women’s head coach Doug Bruno said. “I always believe Chicago basketball starts and ends with DePaul basketball.”

Both Bruno and men’s head coach Oliver Purnell discussed getting better, albeit in different ways. Purnell said that the team’s seven new players would have an impact in the new Big East conference, while Bruno said that his team has to get better to “remain on top of Chicago basketball.”

“We’re only one of nine schools in the country that have gone to 11 straight NCAA tournaments,” Bruno said. “We’re only one of two (tournament) schools to finish in the top 25 academically, so that’s a tribute to these young women and my assistant coaches. So it’s a whole program from top to bottom, and now we also want to win.”

With all of Bruno’s success, Purnell is still striving to reach the NCAA tournament with his squad. DePaul hasn’t played in the tournament since 2004 and has finished last in the Big East during the three years of Purnell’s tenure.

Men’s basketball senior Cleveland Melvin said that the team’s outlook for the season is to work harder in practice to translate it into victories.

“Over the last three years, we haven’t had a lot of success,” Melvin said. “Coming into (my) senior year, we have a lot of expectations. We want to make a statement and win games, and make the tournament.”

If there’s a team just as desperate to make the NCAA tournament, if not more so, it is Northwestern. The Wildcats have never participated in March Madness and are hoping that first-year head coach Chris Collins provides a much needed impact.

Collins, who is the son of former NBA head coach Doug Collins, grew up and played high school basketball in Chicago, but spent the last 13 years under legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski as an assistant. Collins was hired in March.

“Right now, it’s the small victories,” Collins said. “You can’t get ahead of yourself. You’re still learning as you go along. Every new game will be a new experience for me. I’m blessed that I have an experienced staff to help me as I continue to get better as a coach.”

“There’s no win totals I put out there on the guys,” Collins said. “My whole thing with our guys, especially right now, is let’s get better each day and feel like we’re better than they day before. If we can do that, wins and losses end up taking care of themselves.”

To build their programs, both Collins and Purnell often face the same challenge of keeping local talent home.

“One of the big sells for both of us is ‘Hey you have DePaul, which is in the Big East and Northwestern, which is in the Big Ten,'” Collins said. “You have the opportunity to stay home and play against the best with the best, and do it in your hometown. The best city in the country. It’s a huge sell for both our programs.”

DePaul and Northwestern face off Dec. 27 in Evanston, Ill. While Purnell has yet to plan for the matchup, the fourth-year Blue Demons head coach said that he was able to pick up on things from examining the press conferences.

“(Northwestern) is an experienced basketball team so it’s particularly going to be a tough out, especially at their place,” Purnell said. “Today was an interesting press conference because I learned a little about the schools, just from a standpoint of personnel and that kind of thing.”