Can a New Arena Save DePaul Basketball?

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The DePaul men's basketball program used to mean something in the city of Chicago. Now, after more than three decades in Rosemont, can a new $173 million ticket back to the city save the once proud Blue Demons?

DePaul used to be Chicago's team.

They once occupied the corner of Belden and Sheffied, in the days of the legend, Ray Meyer. The old ball coach was so revered throughout the city, he could barely walk down the street. He was Ditka before Ditka was cool.

In Lincoln Park, he assembled one of the top programs in the nation. The Blue Demons made the NCAA tournament eight of 10 times in the 70s and 80s, highlighted by a 1979 Final Four squad led by the greatest Blue Demon ever, Mark Aguirre.

In the years since they moved outside of Chicago to nearby Rosemont, they haven't remained rockstars. DePaul has still produced some quality NBA talent (Terry Cummings, Quentin Richardson, Wilson Chandler), but where is the fascination in a struggling program playing a 40-minute train ride away from campus?

But there may be a way to get the fans back, while also attracting some major high school talent, mainly in the Chicagoland area, where they have missed out on many big name recruits.

That way may come in the form of a 10,000-seat, $173 million arena in the South Loop.

A beautiful new multipurpose arena, apart of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's $1.1 billion "Enhance Chicago" plan, is scheduled to open near McCormick Place by the start of the 2016-17 season. The proposed arena will attract major concerts and conventions, among other things. However, the main attraction will be the Blue Demons' return to Chicago, which will not only triple student attendance, but hopefully draw in some top local talent.

Nobody wants ground to break on this new arena more than head coach Oliver Purnell.

Purnell has a reputation of turning programs around. He led Radford to a 15-win turnaround in his third season, made the postseason in all three seasons with Old Dominion, made Dayton a top-25 program, and took a Clemson team that hadn't make the Big Dance in a decade to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

It is his fourth year with DePaul, and he has amassed just eight Big East wins, and some are calling for his head. This has been his most daunting task to date, but he has DePaul on the up-and-up. Young freshmen Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton are exactly the kind of recruits Purnell needs to get this rebuild off the ground. If he can get a shiny, spanking-new stadium in the heart of Chicago to show off to prospects, there would be no more excuse for futility with DePaul basketball.

Taxpayers won't like it, as they'll front more than half of the bill for the new arena, but in the long-term, it's a payoff for the city, and the program it coveted so much long ago.

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