Hey frustrated Demons,
In the wake of DePaul's 84-63 loss to St. John's in a widely panned Saturday matinee at Allstate Arena -- the Demons' fifth 20-point-plus Big East home defeat this season -- the beat writers requested some of AD Jean Lenti Ponsetto's time to discuss where the program is going.
I'll provide Jeannie's key quote now, then get back to things in a little bit. Basically, she repeated the vote of confidence she offered in late January:
“I think we’re pretty committed to standing by what we said,” Ponsetto said. “I have to evaluate Jerry on 20 different things _ and winning and losing is one of those. Absolutely. But when you look at all the other phases of the program, from behavior and the quality of the young men we have in the program and how they perform academically to the recruiting aspect and are we recruiting the right kinds of kids..."
Speaking of recruiting, one of DePaul's best recruiting pipelines is with the AAU Michigan Hurricanes run by Will Smith. He helped the Demons to land Wilson Chandler, Jabari Currie and Dar Tucker -- and has a junior point guard (Isaiah Sykes of Detroit Finney HS) who's considering DePaul.
Smith woke up early Saturday to get to Chicago and be the only person to accompany Currie when he was introduced during the pregame Senior Day ceremony. Because I've heard from two people that Dar Tucker decided at midseason to turn pro -- only to backtrack recently and consider staying at DePaul -- I decided to get Smith's take on things.
"It's still early to tell all of that," Smith said. "As of right now, we have all intents of coming back. The major thing for him, I want him to get his degree (like Jabari)."
When I told him what I'd heard, Smith disagreed with my sources.
"From a standpoint of Dar Tucker and that decision, I'm going to be very involved in that decision as far as him making the next steps. I'm very close to his mom and dad and I haven't even talked to Debra (Adams, Dar's mom). That's not even anything we're discussing right now."
If Smith and the other people in Dar's decision-making circle take some time to poll NBA scouts, they'll discover that his stock isn't nearly as high as you might expect for someone with his physical gifts.
If they want to know how that opinion is founded, they can watch the tape of Saturday's game. Tucker scored a game-high 24 points and his shooting line was better than his averages (8 of 18 from the field, 1 of 4 on 3-pointers and 7 of 9 from the line), but his single-mindedness was amazing.
--First time he touched the ball, he missed a drive to the hoop.
--Second time he touched the ball, he missed a 19-footer.
(At that point, Wainwright tried to send Mario Stula into the game, but Stula couldn't figure out how to put on the clear mask he just got to protect his broken nose, so Jerry sent him back to the bench).
--Third time he touched the ball, he hit nothing but air with his drive.
--Fourth time he touched the ball, he tried to drive to the hoop but had the ball stolen by power forward Sean Evans.
It took until his fifth touch -- I noted 16:56 on the clock -- before Dar tried his first pass. When Dar missed a 3-pointer on DePaul's sixth possession, Wainwright sent the finally-assembled Stula to the scorer's table.
I started this season really eager to watch Dar Tucker play. How can it not be an intriguing process to track such an absurd athlete who spends half his time on the floor smiling? But it has been a slog this year as his can-do spirit has warped into a must-do attitude.
My spirit was renewed on Wednesday against Villanova when Tucker handed out several assists late in a tight game rather than take every shot. But he reverted into assault vehicle mode on Saturday, where no amount of defenders in the paint were too many to try to beat. He didn't have a single assist on Saturday after getting a career-high 5 in each of the Demons' previous two games.
OK, enough on Dar except for this: I'll be quite surprised if he stays at DePaul another year, but if he was my kid or my blue-chip stock I'd have him spend another year in school and figure out how to play within the context of an offense.
Now, with that sentence, I can hear DePaul fans screaming at their computer screens, "context of WHAT offense?"
Believe it or not, DePaul has run some decent sets down the stretch. Will Walker has gotten free for 3-pointers, Mac Koshwal has done good things when he gets the ball around the free-throw line with the lane clear, etc.
What's missing? We'll get back to Jeannie now and allow her to say.
"Certainly I think one of our goals (for next year) would be to try to get to the middle of the league," she said. "I think you've got to get there incrementally, though...Our goal would be to get ourselves to the top of the bottom half for next year.
"Will Walker will be a senior next year and if we can add a good point guard and Dar and Mac both return -- I think that's one of the things that has to happen. I'm guardedly optimistic that that would be the case, because then you'd have some experienced players returning. We'd have some juniors and seniors then."
Throw in 6-foot-6 Ohio State transfer Eric Wallace, who gives as good as he gets in daily practice battles with Dar, and Devin Hill's prospects as a 4 man who can shoot 3-pointers, and you can paint a decent picture of DePaul's 2009-10 prospects.
To solve their inexperience issues at point guard, DePaul is looking at junior-college guys including Miami Dade's James Beatty. The 6-foot-2 Wilmington, N.C., product averages 11.6 points and 6.6 assists with 69 3-pointers for one of the nation's top JC programs.
"I really believe that our time is coming," Jeannie said. "And I don't think it's that far off."