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New arena brings some optimism to DePaul basketball

Here’s what we noticed at DePaul’s open practice over the weekend.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Georgetown Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been ten years since the DePaul Blue Demons had a winning season. It’s also the last time since they’ve made a postseason tournament (They made the NIT that year). You can state more and more stats but the fact remains the same: It’s been a while since DePaul has had some success with its men’s basketball program.

We are now in the second round of the Dave Leitao era and it got off to a tough start, with the Blue Demons finishing dead last in the Big East in each of the last two seasons. Even with the rough finishes, there’s still some optimism heading into the 2017-18 season, and rightly so. There are some new faces and of course, a brand new stadium.

Over the weekend DePaul held an open practice for fans which took place in their new home, Wintrust Arena. It gave season ticket holders a chance to look at the new home of DePaul hoops, along with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Even with the tough finish last year, there is still a lot of optimism within the team, starting with their best player in Eli Cain.

“They are really high. We got new freshman coming in that are really going to be impactful. We got the returning players as well and even walk ons that will bring more energy to the bench.” said Cain when asked about the expectations for DePaul this year.

“We are really excited about this year” he added.

Cain also pointed out the play of point guard Devin Gage when discussing how the open practice went, saying “As he goes, we go”.

With Billy Garrett Jr. having graduated, there is a vacancy alongside Cain at the point guard spot. After a tough freshman year (3.7 points per game and 0.9 assists per game) this is a huge year for Gage in terms of proving he is the future point guard of DePaul. Especially with the arrival of four-star recruit Justin Roberts, the pressure is on Gage to be a key facilitator to DePaul’s offense. Although it was an open practice early in October, Gage looked pretty good during the scrimmages.

After being a much-talked about arena in the years it was under construction, Wintrust looks like it has lived up to the hype. It will surely help build some excitement for the program, if not help attendance numbers. Located in the South Loop of Chicago, Wintrust is located much closer to the campus of DePaul than their previous home, which was located almost an hour car ride away from the city. It also helps that DePaul is playing some big programs in their nonconference schedule at home with Notre Dame and Northwestern coming into play the Blue Demons.

The buzz of the new arena also seemed to give the Blue Demons a lift and that sentiment was repeated by Leitao when he was asked about his thoughts on the new stadium.

“Phenomenal. You have so many things that are positively affected (by the new arena).” said the head coach.

He also noted how the new place would certainly help DePaul’s attendance when it comes to basketball games.

“Starting with the student body and their ability to get down to the arena. I don’t if there is a successful college basketball program that doesn’t have a great student section. You can hang around the South Loop or downtown and come to games with your friends.”

In terms of the practice itself, Leitao said there was a “natural energy boost” from the event overall.

“I’ve got to back and look at the film but overall just to get in here and especially with fans here is a good way to get us rolling on what the season is going to present for us.”

It’s going to be an uphill climb for DePaul basketball this season, especially when they enter conference play and their first two games are against Villanova and Xavier. Everyone knows that the Blue Demons are going to have to work hard this year, but there is positivity in the air. With new faces and an arena, it’s a time of change for DePaul as they continue to rebuild their program.