The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

New team, new hope for redemption: men’s basketball preview

Will Long
KT Raimey drives to the hoop in an exhibition game against North Park Thursday, November 3 at Wintrust Arena.

DePaul men’s basketball is striving to reclaim its past success since its last NCAA Tournament victory in 2004. However, despite numerous efforts, the team remains at the bottom of the Big East conference, unable to recapture its former glory.

The Blue Demons are consistently ranking within the bottom three of the Big East for nearly two decades, with the team’s last finish outside of that range dating back to the 2006-2007 season. 

Entering his third season, head coach Tony Stubblefield is filled with optimism and excitement as he works with the team he has envisioned since his arrival. This group is distinguished by a blend of camaraderie, enthusiasm, athleticism and versatility.

“I think our guys have been working extremely hard over the course of about 28 practices and I like the camaraderie of this team,” Stubblefield said. “This is a group that will get better throughout the course of the year and get familiar with playing with each other. We got guys that can guard multiple positions that I think can really help us.”

DePaul finished in second to last place at the conference, only placing ahead of Georgetown, ending the season 10-23 overall and 3-17 in Big East play. The team encountered challenges, including multiple key starters facing injuries and a tough stretch of 12 consecutive losses to finish the regular season.

“It’s a hard experience with a lot of sleepless nights,” Stubblefield said of the impact of last year’s injuries. “But, it’s part of the game and things happen and that’s why you recruit accordingly.”

However, the team managed to end the season on a high note by upsetting Seton Hall, 66-65 in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. This triumph came after senior Nick Ongenda made a game-saving block at the final buzzer to secure the win for the Blue Demons.

“I knew it was a block,” Ongenda said after the game. “They made great plays, but that’s what I do, I block. I block everything, that’s my specialty.”

Following the Blue Demons’ unexpected victory, they matched up against Xavier but were defeated 89-84, resulting in the team’s elimination from the tournament.

This offseason, DePaul lost 10 players from last season’s roster due to graduation and the transfer portal, which includes four starters in Ongenda, Javan Johnson, Umoja Gibson and Eral Penn. 

The biggest surprise this offseason was the team losing four-star recruit Zion Cruz to the transfer portal in September.

Just a year ago, Cruz was viewed as the next great Blue Demon and potential star, but is now enrolled at Pratt Community College in Kansas for the upcoming season.

The program faced a significant setback with the departure of arguably its most prominent recruit since Wilson Chandler, but what was even more astonishing was Stubblefield securing a commitment from Texas Tech transfer Elijah Fisher on Friday, May 19.

“I’ve recruited Canada for a long time going back to my days at Oregon, so Elijah was someone that I was already familiar with coming out of high school,” Stubblefield said. “Once he became in the portal, he was a guy that I had a real high level of interest in because of his versatility and ability to play multiple positions and guard multiple positions.”

Fisher, a two-way guard out of Ontario, Canada, is viewed as a five-star recruit by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. He also held 21 offers from leading national programs and was ranked as the No. 15 player in the country by Rivals before opting for the reclassification.

“It’s been amazing,” Fisher said of his experience at DePaul thus far. “I feel like we have more of a culture here and really gel with one another. The coaching staff understands me and they know how to push me to get me to be better.”

Along with Fisher, the Blue Demons added UCLA redshirt sophomore center Mac Etienne, Minnesota sophomore wing Jaden Henly, Wyoming senior center Jeremiah Oden, Triton junior guard Keyondre Young and South Carolina graduate guard Chico Carter Jr. from the transfer portal this past offseason.

The 2023 recruiting class included four-star guard Dramane Camara from NBA Academy Africa and fellow teammate Churchill Abbas.

The team is welcoming back five returning players from last year’s roster, which include senior guards Jalen Terry, K.T. Raimey, Caleb Murphy, sophomore guard Mo Sall and senior forward Da’Sean Nelson.

Nelson entered his name in the transfer portal earlier in the offseason intending to play elsewhere, but ultimately had a change of heart and decided to return to DePaul.

“I look at this [team] as a family,” Nelson said of his decision to remain at DePaul. “It was just more of starting over and trying to build a whole new family. It will just be something that would have been mentally challenging for me and I feel like I belong here. So it wasn’t a big, obvious choice.”

DePaul’s outlook remains unchanged as the Blue Demons are once again predicted to remain at the bottom of the Big East conference, and were ranked 11th in the preseason coaches’ poll.

“I love the fact that our backs are against the wall and everyone is doubting us,” Fisher said of the team’s expectations this season. “I feel like this is a big year, not just for me, but for the team because we’re taking big steps forward in creating a whole new culture.”

The start of the 2023-24 regular season for the Blue Demons’ kickoff home game against Purdue Fort Wayne at Wintrust Arena Tuesday, Nov. 7. The game is set to start at 8 p.m. and will be broadcasted on FoxSports2.

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    jim fNov 14, 2023 at 3:20 pm

    Face it. DePaul’s roster again is loaded with a bunch of misfits that look like a pick-up team in a Chicago playground.
    You have the best young, successful coach (Klienschmidt) at DePaul Prep High School. He was a star at the U. He’s won a state championship and he knows Chicago and how to recruit it! Quit screwing around and bring in a true Chicago hero! I’m a former season ticket holder and I remember the early 80’s!! This year will be another disgrace!