DePaul's new staff gets mixed reviews
The hiring of Oliver Purnell by DePaul brought mixed reactions among Chicago-area high school and AAU coaches in early April, and now his choices Wednesday for the Blue Demons' staff have done the same.
Purnell's additions of associate head coach Ron Bradley, assistants Billy Garrett and Kevin Nickelberry, director of basketball operations Josh Postorino, and director of community, corporate and professional relations David Booth received a variety of reviews from Chicago's most influential coaches.
Mac Irvin Fire coach Mike Irvin, whose AAU program has arguably the largest collection of area talent, was disappointed in Purnell's decisions. Irvin wasn't high on Purnell when he was hired but thought Purnell could have made the situation better by bringing on an assistant with Chicago Public League ties.
"It was messed up from the start, but DePaul had a chance to make it right after the hiring of Oliver Purnell, which was a controversial hire, and they could have brought in some of the local Public League coaches to interview," Irvin said. "That's why I'm upset. They're all capable of doing it. The Public League has good basketball and good coaches.
I was very impressed with [Tracy Webster]. I talked with every member of the staff that was here last year. It wasn't certainly anything negative with Tracy. ... There were a number of guys, including Tracy, who I thought could fit, but I thought the other coaches were a better fit.” -- Oliver Purnell
"You want to send the car, but you don't want us to drive the car. That's a Public League thing. You don't want to hire anyone from the Public League, but you want the Public League players."
Illinois Warriors coach Larry Butler, another well-known AAU coach, believed Purnell made the right decision to retain Garrett and Booth from last year's DePaul staff. Garrett is a known recruiter in the Chicago area, and Booth is originally from Peoria and played at DePaul.
"One of the hurdles they were able to climb was to get into the Chicago area," Butler said. "Billy has proven he can not only recruit in the Chicago area, but also out of it. David Booth will be able to get all around the state, which will be good for DePaul. I think it's a solid staff."
Simeon coach Robert Smith was upset that Tracy Webster, a close friend, wasn't kept along with Booth and Garrett. Webster was an assistant under former DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright and was made interim head coach after Wainwright was fired. Smith had previously said he would cut ties with DePaul if Webster wasn't hired, and Wednesday he said he would live by those words.
"I know they're going to be recruiting [Simeon freshman] Jabari [Parker], and that has to do with his family," Smith said. "I'm not going to help them with anything. As far as our gym, they'll have to see us somewhere else. That may change in a month, in a year, but right now, I have a bad taste in my mouth. Right now, it's not good for me.
"It's not Public League versus DePaul. It's personally for me having our guys go somewhere that's good for me and for them to be around people they're comfortable with. They don't know those people."
Purnell had considered Webster.
"I did talk to Tracy," Purnell said. "I was very impressed with him. I talked with every member of the staff that was here last year. It wasn't certainly anything negative with Tracy. ... There were a number of guys, including Tracy, who I thought could fit, but I thought the other coaches were a better fit."
Illinois Wolves AAU coach Mike Mullins didn't lean one way or the other on the hirings. He said he would wait to hold judgment.
"I think Coach Purnell, like anybody running their own business, has the right to work with the guys he's comfortable with," said Mullins, whose program recently produced Demetri McCamey and Evan Turner. "He's going to be judged upon his results. Time will tell the answers.
"I think they have to have a strong presence in the community. Obviously, no matter who the coaches are, winning is what attracts players to your program. I'm old enough to know when DePaul was the hardest ticket to get in Chicago, harder than the Bulls, Cubs. It was a lot of fun. ... I wish DePaul and the new staff all the best. It's always fun when the teams in Chicago are good. Right now, they haven't been."
Mullins and Irvin have a majority of the top players in the state's loaded 2011 class in their programs, and both believed it would be difficult for DePaul to get involved with those recruits this late in the process.
"I think it depends on how DePaul is recruiting them and gets in on them," Mullins said. "I've spoken with Coach Purnell, and I've spoken with and Coach Garrett. Most of the top 2011 prospects in the Chicago area were receiving offers from major schools as freshmen and sophomores. We're talking about a few years of catching up. That makes a major difference."
Irvin was less optimistic.
"The guys we got on the Fire for 2011, they're getting recruited by major, big-time schools," Irvin said. "The guys we have on the Fire want to win national championships, not win a game in the Big East. That's what DePaul is looking to do. DePaul wasn't on their list before, and they're not looking at them now.
"DePaul, they've got their work cut for them. [Purnell] felt these [new assistants] can get the job done recruiting wise. We'll have to see. The door is still open to recruiting the guys, but it's going to be hard for the 2011 class."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.