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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
As the summer heat fried Chicagoland and had the locals begging for winter, even though that season is the most unforgiving of all, Jerry Wainwright had a problem. His air conditioning was out.
For a guy who grew up over a take-out chicken restaurant and had to put wet towels over his chest to cool off on sultry nights, a lack of artificial cool air shouldn't be a tremendous inconvenience. But, even the toughest nuts like to be comfortable, especially as the years march on. So, Wainwright had to get the device fixed. He placed the call and waited.
Finally, the job was completed, not without some angst from Wainwright. It was a bad stretch, but
hardly compared to what the DePaul coach endured last season, when he not only began life as the Blue Demons' coach, but introduced his team to the unforgiving ways of Big East basketball. Next to that, the heat wave was easy.
When Wainwright says his first DePaul team made "every mistake a young team can make," he isn't exaggerating. When the Blue Demons weren't struggling on the court, they were fouling up off of it. A total of 10 DePaul players were suspended for at least a half-game in '05-'06. Injuries played a role, too. The final product was a 5-11 league mark that plunged Wainwright's team near the basement and kept it from grabbing a spot in the Big East postseason tournament.
"The team had maturity problems," Wainwright said. "The suspensions we had all involved timing issues [reporting on time for meetings and practices] and academic situations. It wasn't anything criminal; it was irresponsible."
DePaul started the year 7-4 and beat Creighton, Dayton, Wake Forest and California. But a six-game Big East losing streak that included two defeats by a total of four points and an overtime decision reversed any good things that had come from the quick start. Although Wainwright thinks his team "grew up" over the last five weeks of the season, the damage was done, and DePaul's season had disintegrated.
Expect a tighter ship this year -- and more wins. The Blue Demons return a strong nucleus that will give Wainwright many options, and the holdovers now understand what's expected from them, on and off the court. For a team that struggled so mightily with new rules last year, that could be as valuable as any overall improvement of skills.
That doesn't mean some fundamental things don't have to change on the court. DePaul has to play better defense. Wainwright's teams thrived on that during his previous stops, and to allow league rivals to make 36.2 percent of their three-point tries and score 68.8 a night in Big East play is unacceptable. DePaul also has to become more accurate from long range itself, as its season-long 31.5 percent three-point average indicates.
A few things have happened that provide hope. First, the team is stronger. "When we got here, only one guy could bench press 300 pounds," Wainwright says. "Now, only one guy can't do it." There has also been an overall maturing, a carryover from the last part of '05-'06. That's big, too. "We need to solidify off the court, too," Wainwright said.