Feature: DePaul finds program cornerstone in Billy Garrett Jr.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Garrett Jr. is still adjusting to the college game, but Oliver Purnell may have found the future of the DePaul program in the young freshman.

For years, DePaul has struggled to attract local basketball talent. As the Jabari Parker's and Derrick Rose's of Chicago left the area for greener pastures, DePaul has failed to pull themselves out of the cellar of the Big East.

But DePaul didn't have to look far to find its star of the future. His father was sitting on the sidelines.

Billy Garrett Sr. was a coach at Providence St. Mel High School on Chicago's West Side for six years, in addition to directing the renowned Illinois Fire AAU program. The son of Bill Garrett, the first African-American basketball player in Big Ten history, Garrett made stops as an assistant at Siena, Seton Hall, Iowa and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, before returning to the Windy City to join Jerry Wainwright's staff at DePaul. When Oliver Purnell was hired as the new Blue Demons head coach, Garrett stayed.

Of course he did. Why leave when had a young son entering his sophomore year at Morgan Park? By his junior year, there was no question where Billy Garrett Jr. was committing.

The Garrett's have become the second father-son tandem at DePaul; the first since the legendary Ray Meyer and his son Joey spent 14 years in Lincoln Park (three years as player-coach, eleven on the same coaching staff). Garrett Jr. represented Oliver Purnell's first ESPN Top 100 recruit in his four years leading the program. Since his debut with the program, the third-generation basketball player has provided a fresh start out the gates early for the Blue Demons, averaging 11 points per game while inserting himself recently into the starting lineup. Despite the troubles (35 percent shooting, second on the team in turnovers), Garrett Jr. has been a bright spot in the future of DePaul's program.

And honestly, he almost didn't make it this far.

Garrett. Jr. carries the sickle cell trait, a benign condition that is not as bad as sickle cell disease, but carries the same severe complications. It's a genetic trait that his father had to play though, as did his grandfather before him. The trait has been tied to the death of former Florida State football player DeVaughn Darling, who was found to have the trait after passing away during a 2001 practice at the age of 18. Pittsburgh Steeler safety Ryan Clark had to battle his way back from the trait after experiencing devastating pain during a Monday night game in Denver, as high altitude brings upon a high risk to those with the disease. Clark also missed a playoff game against Denver due to sickle cell.

Living with the sickle cell trait can be devastating for an athlete. Garrett Jr. has made the most of it. Just like his father did, and his grandfather before him.

Billy Garrett Jr. is continuing to defy the odds. He may not be completely there as a ballplayer now, but remember: he is only a freshman. He's not Jabari Parker or Marcus Smart, but give him time and he has the potential to be the biggest DePaul star since Wilson Chandler stepped off of Ray Meyer Court. He's showing glimpses of what he can be, and that is better than anything the Blue Devils have had in years. Soon enough, Garrett will be in Cleveland Melvin's shoes.

Only then, he will hopefully be leading DePaul back to the NCAA Tournament.

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