Wednesday, January 16, 2002

DePaul coach ponders what ifs


Kennedy deals with stars leaving early

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DePaul coach Pat Kennedy can't help but have nights where he thinks, “What if?”

        What if some of his players had not turned pro early? What if Eddy Curry had not decided to skip college?

        Then the Blue Demons' starting lineup tonight against the University of Cincinnati could feature:

        • Curry, a Chicago Bull who was the No.4 overall pick in June's NBA draft out of Thornwood (Ill.) High School; he had signed a national letter of intent to attend DePaul.

        • Bobby Simmons, who left after his junior season and was chosen in the second round by Seattle last June; he plays for the Washington Wizards.

        • Steven Hunter, who left after his sophomore season and was a first-round selection of the Orlando Magic last June; he has started 21 games.

        • Quentin Richardson, who left after his sophomore season and was a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2000 NBA draft.

        “Believe me, it's not real good for the heart,” Kennedy said. “When we recruited Quentin, I thought he would be here for four years. I had never lost a player in 17 years as a head coach, so I just didn't think that would happen.

        “... We really got caught right in the middle of that as much as Arizona or Michigan State or anybody. People say, "Look how those teams are playing.' Well ... those coaches have been there a longer time and they've got more guys in the stable. When we lost that group after year three, we had only been building this thing for three years. I don't care who you are, if anybody had the same scenario that we've had to go through, they would know how difficult it is.”

        The result is that DePaul is again an up-and-down team trying to mix in a bunch of new players.

        The Blue Demons are expected to start two freshmen, two sophomores and a first-year junior against the No.7 Bearcats. They have proven capable of collecting big victories, having won at Temple and against then-No.10 Missouri in the United Center in Chicago.

        Since those wins, DePaul has dropped three straight to open Conference USA play, losing to Tulane, Saint Louis and South Florida.

        “Right now, consistency is our biggest problem,” Kennedy said.

        He thought he might have had the program turned around. The Blue Demons were 3-23 in Joey Meyer's last season as coach, then Kennedy was hired in 1997. His first teams went 7-23, then 18-13 with a National Invitation Tournament bid, then 21-12 with an NCAA berth.

        Richardson and junior Paul McPherson announced they were leaving early. Kennedy said his team should have won 24 or 25 games the next season and continued its progression. Instead, it went 12-18.

        “Bang, they're gone and you're starting all over again,” Kennedy said. “It is difficult.”

        Cincinnati has taken little mercy on DePaul. The Bearcats are riding a 15-game winning streak — the longest in the nation — and have won 20 of its last 21 games against the Blue Demons, including 10 straight at Shoemaker Center.

        DePaul is not without solid players. It still has center Andre Brown, a McDonald's All-American who had 18 points and a career-high 16 rebounds against South Florida; highly recruited point guard Imari Sawyer, who set a school record for assists by a freshman last season, and top junior-college transfer Sam Hoskin at forward. There's also Rashon Burno, the only three-time captain in DePaul history, who is tied for the third-most career steals in C-USA, coming off the bench.

        One key player is freshman forward Quemont Greer, who averaged 16.8 points during DePaul's four-game winning streak in late December, then 2.7 over the past three games, all losses. Kennedy said Greer has been ill with a viral infection. Greer practiced Tuesday and is expected to play.

        “They're very talented,” UC coach Bob Huggins said. “I think they've just had lapses where people have kind of spurted on them. They've got more quality big guys, I think, than anybody other than Memphis in our league. It's not out of the realm of possibility that they string a whole bunch of wins together. I just hope it doesn't start (tonight).”

       



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