With the DePaul basketball program seven years removed from its last winning season, the Blue Demons haven't had much to celebrate recently, but that could all change with sophomore point guard Billy Garrett Jr. leading a revival.
Though the private school from Chicago has been the butt of many jokes in recent years, things could be changing. They have a legitimate big-time player in Garrett, and while the results have not been there for the Blue Demons of late, he provides the Big East team with some hope.
You see, Garrett is the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year. Last season he averaged 12.4 points, 3.0 assists while shooting .825 from the free-throw line, leading all Big East freshmen in those categories.
From a previous report I filed at WeAreDePaul.com (subscription required):
"It's an honor" Garrett said upon winning the award. "When I won the award I thought about all the great players that passed through the Big East, and to be in the same category as those players, like Johnny Flynn, Carmelo Anthony (who also won Rookie of the Year) and guys like that. It's an honor."
Playing with decorated seniors in Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young (who are both among DePaul's all-time top-10 scorers) last season, Garrett had to defer to the upperclassmen, so he could have had a bigger year. With Melvin and Young gone, this Blue Demon squad will undoubtedly be Garrett's now.
Simply put, Garrett is a winner, and if there is one player who can turn DePaul's misfortunes around, it is him.
Garrett was a sought-after prospect out of Morgan Park High School in Chicago, and was ranked the 96th best player in the country, according to Scout.com's final 2013 rankings. However, he was going nowhere except DePaul, as his father Billy Garrett Sr. is an assistant coach on the DePaul staff.
Garrett ended his high school career winning Illinois' Class 3A boys basketball state championship. Morgan Park was also was one of the few teams to knock off Illinois high school powerhouse Simeon, led by Jabari Parker, in the 2012-13 season.
The Morgan Park team would beat Simeon in the Chicago Public League semifinals before falling in overtime to Whitney Young, led by Jahlil Okafor (who is headed to Duke), in the city championship.
When you watch Garrett play, you see an absolute warrior who hates losing. On a DePaul team that finished 12-21 last season, he took losing badly. But he at least went out on a high note.
In the first round of the Big East tournament, Garrett led DePaul to an upset over a heavily favored Georgetown team. It was Garrett's team-high 17 points and clutch free-throw shooting (four in the final minute) that carried the team past the finish line.
Although DePaul has lost a lot in Young and Melvin, the Blue Demons return some quality talent.
Along with Garrett, the Blue Demons return 6'10” forward/center Tommy Hamilton, who averaged 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds (tops among Big East freshmen), and who was also named to the Big East's 2013-14 All-Rookie team.
DePaul also adds Illinois transfer Myke Henry, who was a consensus top-100 recruit (according to RSCI composite rankings) in 2011. Although he did not flourish at Illinois, averaging just 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game as a sophomore, a fresh start could be what's needed for Henry.
"We have to gel," Garrett said. "We have some talented guys coming in and we have a talented transfer (Henry) sitting out now. I think we'll be a good team. If we can bring it together, we'll be pretty good."
Oliver Purnell, head coach of the Demons, also adds a few intriguing junior college transfers to the mix this year in Aaron Simpson, Rashaun Stimage (both of whom played high school ball in Chicago) and Darrick Wood.
Maybe an infusion of new talent can help DePaul overcome some bad habits and play with a new edge.
Make no mistake, though, this DePaul team is all about Garrett.
"I'm getting ready to embrace that (leadership) role," Garrett said. "Brandon (Young) and Edwin (McGhee) are great leaders and I learn(ed) from them. I pick(ed) up on the things they do, so next year when it comes to my chance to lead this team I'll be able to do so effectively."
Garrett will be the engine that drives this DePaul team. Any success it may enjoy this year or during his three remaining years in Chicago, he will be at the forefront.
Of note is the the fact that he will be a senior when DePaul is set to open a brand new arena at the McCormick Place Events Center in Chicago's South Loop. If DePaul plans on building momentum and buzz as they head into a new era with a new arena, it all starts with Garrett.
These next couple of years should signal whether or not DePaul is heading in the right direction, and Garrett may be just the guy to lead them out of the darkness.
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