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Can DePaul's Oliver Purnell get the city of Chicago on his side?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Even before his first official day as DePaul's new basketball coach on Thursday, Oliver Purnell had already begun the process of repairing the program's fractured relationship with the powers-that-be in Chicago high school basketball.

The former Clemson coach knew it irked folks that DePaul again hired someone with no ties to Chicago, so he spent the past few days calling prominent high school and AAU coaches to assure them city players will be key to the Blue Demons' rebuilding process.

"It was definitely a positive conversation," Simeon High coach Robert Smith told the Chicago Tribune. "My outlook was a lot different after the conversation. We have the same agenda. Not only building DePaul back up and doing it with city kids, but helping these young men be successful when it‘s over because not all of them make it to the NBA."

Credit Purnell for responding swiftly and directly to mounting criticism of his hire from the men with the most sway over Chicago's high school prospects. High school and AAU coaches from the city initially made it clear they felt DePaul erred hiring Purnell after a painstaking search, pointing out that he never recruited Chicago players when he was at Clemson.

'I don't know who he is,'' Mac Irvin Fire coach Mike Irvin, arguably the most influential club coach in the city, told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week. ''He has never recruited Chicago. I guess Chicago players aren't important to DePaul.''

It would be unusual for high school and AAU coaches in other cities to be so outspoken, but this is an initiation that new coaches at DePaul and Illinois have dealt with before.

Former DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright failed to win over Chicago-area coaches. It took Illinoi coach Bruce Weber some time, but he eventually succeeded.

The control over prospects' college decisions that these coaches have may be overrated to an extent, but Purnell nonetheless recognizes the importance of building relationships where there weren't any before.

"We want players in the Public League to have the opportunity to play at DePaul, " Young High coach Tyrone Slaughter told the Chicago Tribune. "We would like to be able to deal with people we know and have relationships with. It is simple: The game itself is about relationships."

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