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Ode to DePaul

Reminiscing on my experience with the Blue Demons in the 2021-2022 season

Saturday, November 13th, 2021. Little did I know, sitting on my living room couch, that this dreary fall day would end up changing my life.

(Prefacing this article, I am a very sarcastic person. Is that necessary to know in advance? No.)

It all started with an idea. No, not an idea to write, or build up a social media following. Just an idea to go out and enjoy a sporting event, sitting in some good seats at a cheap price. This sparked a frenzy through ticket brokerage apps, trying to find an event to attend.

One team popped off the page: DePaul Blue Demons. How could I have not thought of them? Despite only living 30 minutes away from Chicago, I had never been to a game. So, after convincing a friend to make the short drive south with me, I bought 2 tickets to the Central Michigan vs. DePaul basketball game.

After making the beautiful drive past the city skyline, my friend and I arrived at the 3rd level of the McCormick Place parking garage. Conveniently, all that was left between us and the arena was a skybridge.

Next, is what enamored me to DePaul before seeing a second of basketball. Walking through the security gates, and of course not getting checked, my eyes widened. Immediately, I could see the full array of concessions, seating, and the main attraction — the court, headlined by an outline of the aforementioned city skyline.

Hot dog in hand, I made my way down the aisles, finally settling in a couple rows behind the broadcasting booth. Before the game began, I frantically looked through DePaul’s roster to make sure I was well educated on who would be on the court in white. One name especially caught my eye. Freeman-Liberty. I soon came to realize that his name was not the only eye-catching facet of him.

The actual game was a blast. DePaul blew the Chippewas out by 33 points, on the back of a 22 point, 7 rebound, 7 assist performance from, none other than, Javon Freeman-Liberty.

Coming home that Saturday night, the only thing on my mind was, how can I get involved? 350+ words later, this is where Big East Coast Bias came into play.

For my entire life, I have wanted to have a career in sports. That night, a little light turned on in my brain. Although I had written a couple of short posts in the past, I had never done anything serious in the sports media business. My goal was for that previous statement to change. More concrete, I had set a goal to obtain a DePaul press pass by March. Did I know how to? No.

The search to cover the Blue Demons began a couple of days later. I had always known of SB Nation, so that was honestly the first website I looked at in what I thought would be a labor intensive search. When nothing about DePaul surfaced in my very thorough skim of SB Nation’s plethora of blogs, I saw an opportunity.

The next thing on the agenda was to reach out to Rob and Chris (the managers of Big East Coast Bias; closest blog possible that could be affiliated to DePaul). With a little persistence, I got both Rob and Chris to respond. After some virtual conversation, it was agreed that I would send over a recap of DePaul’s next game as, what I would call, a writing tryout.

Lucky for me, this meant I was going to go to yet another DePaul game. This time, I recruited 2 friends (maximum friend capacity). Less than a week removed from my first experience at Wintrust, I was back for more. Same seats, different food. Have to say that the hot dog was much better than the chicken tenders.

That Thursday night entailed a much better game. DePaul played host in the Gavitt Games against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Although Rutgers finished the season (somewhat) strong, it did not start that way. Regardless, the contest was a thriller ending in a Blue Demons W. The main takeaway for me was not how great the game was, it was the lens I perceived it through. As a complete professional, I took game notes on my phone’s notes app during media timeouts to prepare for my writing tryout.

Already feeling like an ESPN writer on a deadline, I rushed home and began to spill out my thoughts into a Google doc. Here is my finished product: (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QDeb5F2B90sufKyVz45qfnoMFABeBJ34AtzR6ogtJ4s/edit?usp=sharing). Beautiful, right?

As my ever so patient self, after printing the final words, I sent the document over to Chris and Rob expecting to instantly hear back. To my avail, it only took one more follow up the next day. Then, walking into my high school’s cafeteria craving some good news, I felt a buzz. For some, this would be ignored because their phones are constantly blowing up for various reasons. For me, I am the kind of person to land, turn my phone off airplane mode, and then wonder why I even turned it on in the first place.

Fumbling through my pocket, I finally secured my digital 3D rectangle. Now, from that sentence, I know two thoughts have popped up inside your head. Is he a poet? Yes. He must be an athlete, right? Obviously.

Once again, I was pleasantly surprised. As my face ID unlocked the Twitter notification, it also unlocked a smile on my face. My writing tryout was sufficient enough to grant me a spot as the newest member of the Big East Coast Bias (BECB) team.

With this new title under my belt, I reached out to DePaul Basketball Director of Communications Greg Greenwell. My request: a press pass for the upcoming game against Northern Kentucky. After some back and forth, my request had come to fruition. At that moment, I felt pure jubilation. The far fetched goal (in my mind) I had set out to reach in 4 months, had been accomplished in less than 2 weeks... all without any experience.

When the hard part, in my mind, was thought to be over, it had only just begun. All of the built up excitement that day turned to nerves. This time I walked across the skybridge alone. I would like to pretend that it was smooth, but that would probably be the exact antonym to describe the process. Teeth chattering, hands shaking, I walked through and out of the Marriott Marquis across from Wintrust Arena. Getting closer to the security entrance, both the chattering and shaking somehow increased.

After finally walking through the entrance and getting to the press room, I let out a sigh of relief. Actually... I skipped a couple parts. Before entering the hotel, you have to walk through the skybridge. The problem was that the connecting door was locked. So, I did two very awkward down and backs before someone finally opened the door. Next, I walked outside around the entire arena trying to find an entrance. Keep in mind, Novembers in Chicago aren’t the warmest. After locating an entrance, I was told by an employee that the media entrance was actually all the way back where I came from. This 30 minute process got me into the arena approximately 2 hours before tip-off. Hey, I like to show up early.

Now that I have explained how I got here, let’s talk about DePaul. Under 1st year head coach Tony Stubblefield, the hopes of returning to the Ray Meyer era once again filled the air. Stubblefield’s hire was made by another new DePaul athletics acquisition — AD DeWayne Peevy. In non conference play, the Blue Demons played so well that bracketologists had them making their first NCAA tournament since 2004.

Shortly after conference play began, these tournament hopes rapidly declined. DePaul was bitten pretty badly by the injury bug, and also faced a COVID pause in the middle of December. Nonetheless, the Blue Demons lost 9 of their first 10 conference games. A .500 back half of DePaul’s Big East stint propelled it out of last place in the conference for the first time in 6 years.

Coach Stubbs’s first cast included senior star and Chicago native Javon Freeman-Liberty, rising star David Jones, Minnesota transfer Brandon Johnson, SMU transfer Yor Anei, Oregon transfer Jalen Terry, Iowa State grad transfer Javan Johnson, juniors Nick Ongenda and Philmon Gebrewhit, and last, but not least, energy spark Courvoisier McCauley.

Being able to attend Wintrust Arena, Fiserv Forum, and Madison Square Garden to see these guys play a combined 14 times in person was truly special. I want to thank Greg Greenwell, Taylor Stapleton, and DeWayne Peevy for being so accepting of a random high school kid throughout the season. I am very grateful to have been able to cover this team, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

To the DePaul fanbase, thank you for embracing me with open arms. Although there have been some rough patches (especially with the Marquette tournament tweet), I have been and always will be lucky to have you all on my side. Doing Twitter spaces and interactive tweets has been such a rewarding experience.

Finally, to coach Stubblefield, I know you will lead this team to amazing heights, and I am appreciative to have been able to see the ground level. Your leadership and passion displayed at all times both on and off the court has really inspired me.

Although I will not be attending DePaul next year, I will always feel indebted to this program.

DePaul University, thank you.