Arena design, new Big East are talking points at Tip-Off Luncheon

DePaul kicked off a highly anticipated new era of Big East basketball at a luncheon Tuesday with conference commissioner Val Ackerman, coaches and players in attendance.

Ackerman, women’s head coach Doug Bruno, and men’s head coach Oliver Purnell all took the podium to discuss the present and future of Blue Demon basketball with promises of challenge and excitement in a new conference.

“I feel very bullish about what we’re going to be able to accomplish,” Ackerman said. “We have ten fine schools, led by DePaul, that are very committed to each other. It’s really an extraordinary parternship.”

Adding to the excitement were the easels behind the podium, both of which displayed the new designs for DePaul’s new 10,000-seat multi-purpose arena, set to finish construction in 2016. The designs, which will be made reality by Pelli Clarke Pelli, received rave reviews from Purnell and Bruno, both of whom expressed enthusiasm about the direction of their respective teams.

“It’s a new day,” Bruno said. “We have a new season, a new league, a new Big East… a new arena.”

Bruno was also thrilled about the women’s Big East Tournament coming to Chicago to be played at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.

“To understand and comprehend that we are going to be able to host this tournament… we’re not here to make this tournament a one-hit wonder. We’re here to make this tournament in Chicago the same way that this tournament is at Madison Square Garden in New York,” he said. “We want this tournament, we want this tournament to succeed.”

Purnell was also ready to sing praises for the new stadium, particularly in relation to how it shows that DePaul basketball is ready to take the next step toward relevance.

“I was brought here to turn this program around,” Purnell said. “This will be the fifth program I’ve been a part of turning around, and at every one as we’ve gotten close, one of the things we’ve decided not to do is stand pat.”

Purnell took the time to thank various attendees, including DePaul president Fr. Dennis H. Holtschneider, whom Purnell credited with having the acumen to go ahead with the plans for the new arena.

Then, it was time to talk basketball, and Purnell discussed how close he feels his team is to getting over the hump to win some Big East games.

“We are close, and we can go through the number of close games that we lost last year, the shots that we had to win,” he said. “But we clearly didn’t do that enough, or at least no enough to declare our program turned around.” Purnell also took the time to introduce some of his new players, whom he hopes will provide enough depth so that returning seniors Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young don’t have to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the load.

“We’ve added seven new players. You almost need a scorecard to count all of these guys we’ve got. These include three freshmen and all three of them are from the Chicagoland area.”

Those freshmen are Tommy Hamilton, R.J. Carrington, and Billy Garrett, Jr., whose father is one of the assistant coaches for the team. In addition, the team will get back redshirt freshman DeJuan Marrero, who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in practice.

In addition, several returning starters will play a key role in the revitalization of the team. “We’ve got a tremendous core coming back,” Purnell said.

“We’ve got two of the top five scorers in the Big East last year coming back in Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin. We also have Charles McKinney, who is probably the top defensive player in the Big East coming back. We’ve got Jamee Crockett, the young man that I’m sure was disappointed in his injury plagued year last year.”

Hearing the prospects for a successful new season was exciting but there was nothing more important to the coaches than the new arena and the new conference.

“With new league comes new responsibility,” Bruno said.

Purnell, Bruno, and Ackerman all agreed that DePaul will be looked at as a leader as the new conference tries to find its footing. DePaul is by far the largest of all the schools in the conference, with an enrollment about 4,000 more than the second- biggest, St. John’s.

“Again, we have ten fine schools, led by DePaul. It’s an extraordinary group of presidents and schools and they are really committed to excellence,” Ackerman said.

This was not your typical DePaul basketball media event. With the promise of a new arena and a new era of Blue Demon athletics, this was a special event for all.