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Beyond the Numbers: The Legacy of Billy Garrett Jr.

Billy Garrett Jr.’s impact on the DePaul program is something that isn’t measured by wins, losses, or statistics.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Drake Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It's the type of finish no college basketball player would ever dream of.

Ideally, you would hope to hold up the Big East Tournament trophy and enjoy all of the championship fanfare that comes with achieving such a feat.

Instead, Billy Garrett Jr. and the DePaul Blue Demons were handed the finishing blow to their rough season. On Wednesday night, they were bounced out of the opening round of the Big East Tournament, falling at the feet of seventh-seeded Xavier.

With a 9-23 record, there will be no last dance later in March for the senior guard, or his teammates.

The last four years haven't been ideal for Garrett, who entered the league as the conference's Rookie of the Year. That glimpse of a bright future after the 2013-14 season was only realized with hardship, as DePaul continued its downward spiral. The Blue Demons compiled an abysmal 42-86 record, with each struggling year faded to obscurity in the national college basketball landscape and one that was met the reputation of being a Big East basement-dweller.

During this stretch, he's been asked countless times if he regrets or wishes he played someplace else.

"From a pure wins and losses standpoint, it hasn't been ideal," Garrett said. "People ask me if it was a bad experience. No, not at all...I met a lot of great people and learned with a lot of valuable lessons, and dealt with a lot of other people. I'm coming out of here as a lot stronger person, and it reaches beyond basketball."

While the lack of team accomplishments and winning seasons have only contributed to the blur of losses over the last decade, ask anyone with ties to the program and they will consistently tell you the 6-foot-6 guard will stand as a beacon of hope for the team moving forward, even after he graduates.

"The biggest thing for me right now is having to say goodbye to not only the team, but Billy most importantly," said DePaul head coach Dave Leitao in reflecting over the finished season. "He's a guy that we've talked a lot about him. He came here and what he has not gotten in terms of success on the court, he epitomizes what you want a man to be about. And I'm going to miss him dearly."

During his time at DePaul, he racked up 1,632 points and shot 38.6 percent from the floor for his career. He saved the best for last, averaging a career-high 14.9 points per game.

However, his number might not be what is most impressive. He's battled sickle cell anemia his entire life and continues to play sports at a high competitive level, despite the advice from doctors.

He wasn't supposed to be on the court leading the huddle or commanding the floor.

He wasn't supposed to be a four-star recruit, or a standout on the gridiron, court, or diamond coming out of Morgan Park Academy. (Chicago, Ill.)

He wasn't supposed to finish his collegiate career. His sickle cell disease had hit him in various times throughout his life, in what doctors refer to as a crisis. Red blood cells mutate into a sickle-like shape, restricting blood flow and clogging vessels, which may cause extreme pain in joints or organs, and cause serious complications. Typically, these crises may be caused by a number of factors, such as fatigue, stress, cold, dehydration, and high elevation.

There was that one time in sixth grade he spent four days at an Iowa hospital after overexerting himself at a summer basketball tournament. Most recently, he suffered a crisis midway through his freshman season, as the team traveled to New Jersey to play Seton Hall. On the team flight, he experienced stabbing pain in both of his legs, the beginning of an episode--the color of his skin was fading, he was vomiting profusely, dropped 10 pounds, and required an extended stay at a Newark hospital. It was by far the scariest episode of his life, but one that he persevered through to pick up Rookie of the Year honors that season.

As his career came to an end, he was also given the Big East Sportsmanship Award and the Scholar-Athlete of the Year title.

"It really doesn't do justice to who he is," Leitao said. "It's sad, on one hand to see him complete his career and then the other hand to not enjoy this tournament for a longer period of time and have more wins under his belt, but we all have faith and knowing that here's a reason that he's been tested like this because he's set up tremendously, and especially now because he's gone through some really difficult times as an athlete to enjoy some of the things that come along with having to persevere."

Garrett's battles off the court are reminiscent of what the conference deems "The Big East Way"--being tough, gritty, and putting in 100 percent effort. It hasn't been easy for him or the program, but as the leader of the team he has remained steadfast in the face of struggling seasons. It's the character that makes Leitao, who just wrapped up his second season as the team's head coach, so optimistic for the years to come.

"I'm going to try to make some significant strides forward between this spring and next fall to put us in a much better position," Leitao said. "But I know when you get guys like Billy here to my right, you know it becomes a standard of how you want people to be part of. The definition of going to DePaul University means we educate you. And as a student-athlete, the way he's come through it, then all I have to do is make sure I go out and find as many Billy Garretts as I can."

DePaul now turns its eyes to Eli Cain, who will be a junior next season. Cain led the Blue Demons this season with 15.6 points per game. There's also Tre'Darius McCallum, who showed some promise after transferring in from junior college, and young Brandon Cyrus.

"Hopefully, I set a good example for those guys, on the court and off the court as far as the work is concerned and everything you've got to do to be a good player," Garrett said. "So hopefully, I'm confident with those guys that they'll take that and everything the coaching staff gives and bring it to next year."

The Chicago native has stayed in the Windy City all his life. So it's only fitting that, although DePaul will miss seeing No. 5 on the court, he remains a part of the university and the city he has called home.

"I've got confidence in the program," Garrett said. "I've got confidence in the coaching staff. I'm going to be sad that I won't be a part of it, but I'll be around. Wish the best of luck to everybody."