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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Cleveland Melvin’s abrupt exit at DePaul adds to the pressure on Oliver Purnell

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Cleveland Melvin (USATSI)

When a college basketball player is dismissed from school or opts to transfer, the standard response from most coaches is issuing a statement thanking him for his contributions to the program and wishing him luck in the future.

It may be telling then that Oliver Purnell did none of that for star Cleveland Melvin.

In a terse three-sentence statement, DePaul announced Monday night that Melvin was no longer enrolled in school and was no longer part of the team. The school offered no explanation for the senior forward's departure and an attempt to reach Melvin's father on Tuesday morning was not successful.

Melvin, the Big East rookie of the year in 2011, averaged between 14.3 and 17.5 points per game all four of his seasons at DePaul but lacked a sufficient supporting cast around him to help the Blue Demons escape the Big East basement. He was averaging 16.7 points and 6.4 rebounds and shooting a career-best 47.1 percent from behind the arc this season when Purnell suspended him indefinitely following a Jan. 20 loss to Xavier.

In a tweet that followed the announcement of his departure on Monday night, Melvin was gracious about his abrupt exit.

I want to thank everyone at DePaul and the basketball program for working with me over the last four years," he said. "I wish nothing but the best for my teammates and the coaching staff the rest of this season and in the future."

The absence of Melvin comes at a time when it was already too late for DePaul to salvage a season that began with hope of improvement.

Though the perpetually rebuilding Blue Demons were 6-48 in the Big East in Purnell's first three seasons and finished higher than last only once, the return of Melvin and guard Brandon Young and the arrival of freshman Billy Garrett Jr. provided optimism. So did the move from the old Big East to the new one, a league that appeared to have more teams with which DePaul could be competitive.

DePaul provided enough occasional bursts of competency in non-league play to keep hope alive, but the Blue Demons have crashed back to earth since the start of the Big East season thanks to an inability to stop anyone defensively. They've dropped six in a row to fall to their customary spot in last place with a 10-14 overall record and a 2-9 mark in the Big East.

It was no secret that it would take Purnell time to rebuild DePaul when he left Clemson to come to the school four years ago, but the lack of improvement will leave the Blue Demons administration with a decision to make.

On one hand, Purnell has proven to be excellent at rebuilding moribund programs during stops at Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson. On the other hand, Purnell led the latter three of those schools to an NIT bid by year three and either an NCAA bid or a league title by year five, goals that still feel light years away at DePaul late in his fourth season.

Melvin's departure will surely add to the disgruntlement. He couldn't lead the revival the way many hoped during his freshman season, but he at least gave the program a few bright spots during his four years.

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