The new millennium has not been kind to the DePaul Blue Demons.
When it comes to the first decade of the 2000s, one can count the number of Blue Demons winning seasons on one hand (4), as well as NCAA Tournament appearances (1). Hard times have fallen on this once-great program, but despite all of that, the Blue Demons have seen a number of skilled players make their mark on the team. Arguably the best player they've had in that time is Sammy Mejia, the 6-foot-6 guard from The Bronx, New York.
Mejia first arrived in Chicago, Illinois in 2003 as a three-star recruit who declined offers from Seton Hall, USF, and Miami in order to play ball for Dave Leitao. The Blue Demons had not made the NCAA Tournament since the 1999-00 season, but all of that would change soon enough. The 2003-2004 season was perhaps the last truly successful season they have had.
It was also full of DePaul players who could contend with this article's titular award.
That season, they won the Conference USA regular season title due to the play provided by players such as Delonte Holland, Andre Brown, Drake Diener, and Sammy Mejia. Mejia provided for roughly eight points per game that season, but he added extra support on the glass, averaging 4.3 rebounds per game, as well as 4.4 assists per game. Pretty good stats for a contributing freshman.
Later that season, DePaul lost in the Conference USA championship game to Cincinnati, but still managed to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, where he scored seven points en route to a double overtime win against Dayton in a great game. DePaul ultimately lost to the eventual national champions that year, Connecticut, by seventeen points.
From that point on, Sammy Mejia went nowhere but up. The 2004-05 season brought wins at Notre Dame, against Marquette, and a win against Dayton in a rematch of an NCAA tournament game from the previous season. That season didn't end in up with an NCAA tournament bid for the Blue Demons, but they did end up in the NIT, where they lost to a Billy Gillispie-led Texas A&M Aggies team. That season saw Mejia begin to increase his role on the team and improve his stats, scoring 11.8 points per game (3rd-most for DePaul that season). That season, however, was the last for Drake Diener and Quemont Greer, DePaul's top two scorers, meaning that the brunt of the scoring load would be put squarely on the back of Sammy Mejia. The question was whether or not he could handle it.
Mejia's scoring improved greatly after his sophomore season, but the win total unfortunately took a dive for the Blue Demons. In this season, DePaul managed to pick up a third straight win over Dayton, as well as wins over California, Northwestern, Creighton, Old Dominion, and Wake Forest.
Nevertheless, it was a 5-11 record in their first season in the Big East that sunk the season, including a streak of losing nine out of eleven games, as well as losing six in a row at one point. Despite that, Mejia was playing his best basketball yet, scoring 15.1 points per game, shooting a career-high 48 percent. He even provided help on the boards, snagging four rebounds per game. As his junior year came to a close, Mejia was prepared to make one final push for greatness in his senior season, his swan song.
After the 2005-2006 season, DePaul was in the process of climbing back from a losing record. New faces like Wilson Chandler and Draelon Burns emerged as offensive forces for the Blue Demons, but the team was relying on Sammy Mejia to provide senior leadership. Mejia had proven himself as one of DePaul's best players in his first three seasons, but he was about to prove it in his final year in Chicago.
DePaul came out in the 2006-2007 season and got off to a disappointing 2-4 start. They were blown out by Bradley, held to 39 points by Northwestern, and lost a hard-fought neutral site game to Kentucky by six points. Their next game was a home match-up against the number five ranked team in the land, the Kansas Jayhawks. In the first half, Kansas, coming off of a win against the defending national champion Florida Gators, held DePaul to 17 points, leading by nine. The second half proved to be a completely different ballgame, as the Blue Demons' charge back was being led by none other than Sammy Mejia. In the final three minutes of the game, Mejia scored eight straight points for the Blue Demons, capping off a 14-point comeback to beat Kansas 64-57 in front of a packed house at Allstate Arena.
After that win, DePaul found their groove and the momentum they needed to make their way through the season with a respectable record. They finished eighth in the Big East, but they ultimately ended up in the NIT, set to face off against Hofstra in a first round match-up. DePaul won that and then won their next game against Kansas State. The next team in DePaul's path was Air Force, a team that they ended up losing to in heartbreaking fashion, 52-51. Sammy Mejia's time at DePaul had officially come to an end, but he had made his mark on the program.
In the time since Sammy Mejia's departure, DePaul has yet to see a winning season or a postseason game. The program has taken a downturn, but one cannot help but have hope for the future. The past shows us that a special player can come in and take a program from the bottom to a respectable position. There are many young players on DePaul now that may be capable of doing what Sammy Mejia did at DePaul, showing that his example would be a great one for current Blue Demons players to follow. That is why Sammy Mejia is the greatest DePaul Basketball player in the 2000's.