It’s hard not to get excited when thinking about next year’s DePaul men’s basketball team.
Maybe it’s because last season, the Blue Demons didn’t finish last in the Big East for the first time in six straight seasons. Maybe it’s because Javon Freeman Liberty was once the number one scorer in college basketball. Maybe it was the two-dollar beer night, sponsored by Wolf of Wall Street cast member PJ Byrne.
For me, it’s the recognition. The recognition, not only from the city of Chicago and DePaul’s community that our basketball team is taking the steps to become competitive – but also from players.
The latter proved itself after Tafara Gapare, the 46th ranked recruit in the nation, chose DePaul over Maryland, Illinois, conference rival UConn, and the opportunity to play professionally in the NBL.
As we look at next year’s roster under second-year head coach, Tony Stubblefield, there are a lot of interesting tidbits to point out about the 2022-23 Blue Demons.
The season before the last, a whopping 11 players left DePaul. Eight of the 12 players on last season’s roster went into their first season with DePaul.
The headliners of the departures include Javon Freeman Liberty and David Jones. The former led the NCAA in scoring for a while with the Blue Demons. He is taking his talents to the NBA draft. The former… well… let’s just say playing St. John’s twice per year just got a lot more fun.
Get your popcorn ready when the Red Storm comes to Wintrust …
This year, the ratio is seven to five. Seven returners to five newcomers (not including Gapare because he is reclassing to the class of 2023). Stubblefield mentioned in his interview with The Athletic that Division 1 schools are starting to take on a JUCO-type setting, but DePaul outweighs that thinking next season.
DePaul currently ranks 49th in the nation in recruiting class rankings (transfers and commits), which is good for eighth-best in the Big East conference.
Stubblefield and his staff have so far executed an intriguing recruiting class. Composed of one freshman and four transfers, the class holds an exciting amount of athleticism and experience.
Zion Cruz – SG – Simi Valley, CA – 6-5/175
247 ranking – #68 national, #7 SG, #10 CA
Cruz is definitely an interesting piece of the puzzle. He certainly holds the most weight in terms of being a name. A four-star recruit out of California and played for the Donda Academy.
His maturity with the ball is most exciting for me. I’m curious to know how well he works off-ball because he has a terrific shot. He takes his time on offense and doesn’t force shots.
A cherish for DePaul, his dad said in his documentary “Limitless” that he wanted his son to go somewhere with a “family-oriented” type culture. Speaks levels to the culture Stubblefield and his staff is building. You can read more about that here.
KT Raimey – CG – Rogerson, ID – 6-4/170
247 JUCO ranking – #9 national, #2 combo guard
Raimey is a rare piece coming from Idaho. He was the 17th-ranked player in JUCO rankings and has three years of eligibility left.
I’m unsure if Raimey will see the starting lineup right away. The backcourt for the Blue Demons next season is certainly overflowing roster-wise.
Da’Sean Nelson – SF – Kilgore, TX – 6-8/190
247 ranking: N/A
Nelson has an impeccable size that is necessary for the Blue Demons. He will likely be replacing the ranks of Brandon Johnson. He could see the starting lineup with his size and ability if Stubblefield elects a traditional lineup.
He was the 18th-ranked JUCO player just behind Raimey. He also has three years of eligibility.
Stubblefield spoke well about his physical style of play and his ability to guard most positions on the floor. His size and defense make him a valuable asset, carrying weight for him to start in the frontcourt.
Umoja Gibson – PG – Waco, TX/Oklahoma – 6-1/168
#20 SI transfer rankings
Gibson is an outstanding shooter, making 92 threes and cashing in nearly 40 percent of his attempts from behind the arc last season. He is a small, venerable player going into his sixth collegiate season.
Gibson should see the starting lineup after pouring in 13.3 points per game in the Big 12 last year. Compared to the smaller, less versatile Jalen Terry and the question mark Ahamad Bynum poses, it’s a possibility he’ll be bringing the ball up the floor to start the season.
Caleb Murphy – SG – Loganville, CA – 6-2/170
247 transfer ranking: 46th
University of South Florida’s most beloved scorer is heading to Chicago. Murphy, like most of the transfers, also has three years of eligibility.
He’s a ball-dominant player with an acumen for getting to the rim and making plays. Starting lineup? Maybe. I’ll give a final prediction below.
Tyon Grant-Foster transferred to DePaul last year after spending one season at Kansas. This guy is no joke. I was present for his exhibition game against Montevallo last season. His game has multiple dimensions offensively. He redshirted the season after going to the hospital during halftime of an early regular-season game last season.
Javan Johnson hopped into the lineup in January after transferring from Iowa State last season. He dropped 18 points against UConn last season and made an impression on the team and staff right away.
Stubblefield had to this say about Johnson in his interview with The Athletic: “Javan Johnson transfers from Iowa State, very athletic, experienced, older guy — but he gets here over Christmas going into our COVID-19 pause. So he’s not really with us. Then he breaks his hand a month and a half later when I really thought he was getting into his groove. So that’s the guy that I think could really make a big jump for us in our team over the summer in the fall to have a big year for us next year as well.”
With the 6-foot-10 Gapare reclassing into the class of 2023, the frontcourt will be held down by Nick Ongenda and Yor Anei for another season.
Ongenda withdrew from the NBA draft, similar to his withdrawal from the portal during the last offseason to compete for another year as a senior. His offensive skill set is there, but he needs to improve his strength and become a reliable defender.
Anei, on the other hand, is a terrific rim protector but lacks the skill with the ball in his hands. He’s an exciting player but has a lot of work to do to keep himself from becoming a liability on the offensive end.
As I alluded to before, the backcourt is going to be overloaded next season. Gibson, Terry, Bynum, Johnson, Gebrewhit, Murphy, Raimey and Cruz represent a loaded backcourt. Nelson, Grant-Foster, Ongenda and Anei are left short-handed in the front court. Most even consider Grant-Foster a guard.
That leaves the Blue Demons with quite the rotational dilemma. And somewhere around five months out from their first game, I intend to take a silly stab at their rotations.
Starting – Umoja Gibson, Caleb Murphy, Tyon Grant-Foster, Da’Sean Nelson, Nick Ongenda
Second – Zion Cruz, KT Raimey, Ahamad Bynum, Javan Johnson, Yor Anei, Philmon Gebrewhit, Jalen Terry
If Stubblefield decides to go smaller in the starting lineup, I can see Johnson sliding in for Nelson since he has a strong repertoire with Stubbs.
Either way, with new names on the way and more to stay, next season will be a fun one. Stubbs wants to focus on closing games next season and making a jump in the conference standings.
Who will be willing to step up and lead the team to close the gap in the Big East?